That pink blur at McAlpine on Saturday? That will be Alana Hadley, gunning for a return trip to San Diego and a higher goal.
Foot Locker South is an interesting race: runners of all ages and abilities go there seeking one last PR, but most who participate don't achieve that goal (often because they have passed their peak earlier in the season and were unable to sustain their training). There are 8 races for high school runners, plus more for younger athletes and even two open races for adults, but in the end most of the attention is on the seeded Championship Races. Last year, North Carolina qualified two boys and two girls for Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. That is always a tough feat to repeat, but there are enough strong runners from the Tar Heel State in the seeded races to give the Old North State a good chance. The top 10 individuals from each seeded race will advance to run at Balboa Park in two weeks, and below are the North Carolina athletes that have the best chance to be there (based on the entry lists posted on the Foot Locker South website as of Thursday morning).
(State-by-state previews, meet history)
Boys' Championship Race
I can see three legitimate candidates to advance to the national meet in this race, with varying chances based on how fast they have run this season. Bakri Abushouk (Cary) seems to have the best chance, and he is also the NC runner most likely to break 15 minutes on Saturday (his PR is 15:03, and he clocked 9:04 for 3200 two weekends ago). The absolute worst Abushouk could be ranked in this race would be 11th, but many of those from the Southeast who have run faster times will be at Nike Cross Nationals, putting him firmly in the top 10 coming into the race. If Colin Godwin (Cary Academy) is back to full strength, he has a chance to advance, but a nagging injury has limited his training at times over the past month and that takes its toll. Don't count out Trevor Sleight (Carolina Day); although his best time this year is 15:27, which would not normally make him a contender, he has been focusing his training on this race all year and has not been challenged in a 5K over the past month. Sleight might have trouble matching the pace of the leaders over the first two miles of the race, but his elite stamina kicks in during the final mile, and he could make a late charge toward the top 10.
For the rest of the NC runners in this race, Saturday is more about running a PR and perhaps comparing themselves against the other NC runners. If they all run in the Championship Race, then you can expect to see Tanis Baldwin (East Henderson), Wyatt Maxey (Providence), Dalton Nickel and Ian Milder (Mount Tabor), Nikolaus Kreiling (Jordan), Patrick Sheehan (Lake Norman), and Philip Hall (Terry Sanford), as well as many others.
Girls' Championship Race
In all honesty, North Carolina is only putting up two girls that are contenders to make it to the national meet, but both of those girls have the benefit of having made it to nationals before. Alana Hadley has left no questions about her ambitions this fall, as she plans to return to Balboa Park and contend for the win there. She has upped her 5K racing load this fall, producing the #19 time in the nation back in September, and her workouts lately have shown she is clearly fit and prepared (9:55 for a solo 3K on the McAlpine course a few weeks ago, with a 5:13 first mile). On the other hand we have the mysterious Wesley Frazier, who has only raced once this fall that I can determine, although I am certain she would like to repeat her 2010 trip to San Diego after missing out last fall. Frazier certainly has the pedigree and the speed to compete in this race, but the Fraziers keep their training (and motivations) under wraps during the fall season, and I have no information regarding her fitness level or any possible injury troubles she may have suffered this fall.
Behind those two, there are a number of girls who are strong on the state level but are not contenders for the top 10, and they will try to find and beat their North Carolina rivals while seeking PR times. Interestingly, most of the top 15 runners in the girls' North Carolina rankings appear to be heading to NXN Southeast (or have ended their season already), but fans at McAlpine will still get to see many familiar names: Gabby Merritt (Greensboro Day), Kayla Montgomery (Mount Tabor), Tori Churchill (Grimsley) and her teammates Blair Ramsey and Gabrielle Maudiere, Emily Grimes (Reagan), Natalie Andrejchak (Robinson), Tristin van Ord (Chapel Hill), Sonia Payerpaj (Myers Park), Malia Ellington (CSD), and Grace Sullivan (Providence) among many others.