Jacob Burcham (bright green, center) had to fight some traffic in the first 200 meters, but stayed in front the rest of the way.
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Jacob Burcham (Cabell Midland WV) took over the lead early and crossed the 800 mark in 2:05, but he did not really open up a large lead. By the time the mostly flat first 1000 meters was over and the field had made its way back to the mile mark (and the base of the first hill), the pace was slower but still strong, with Burcham crossing in 4:35. The real story at this point was the incredible start by Tatnall DE (in the red Wilmington XC jerseys), as they had four in the lead pack and seemed determined to match the success of their storied girls' program. Belen Jesuit FL, in orange, also had a great start, as did Chantilly VA (in blue XBC uniforms, running without #1 Sean McGorty, who was at Foot Locker South). Ben Huffman (Providence Day NC, in white Murdock jersey), William Roberson (Broughton NC, in white Capital Distance jersey), and Zack Langston (Lexington SC, running unattached in red SC Elite jersey) were the early contenders for the individual qualifying spots in the national race.
Burcham hit the 2K at 5:53.2 and still had 6 runners within a few seconds of him as the leaders made their way up the hill for the first time. A set of timing mats at this point showed that Tatnall had a narrow lead over Belen Jesuit and Chantilly, while St. Xavier had work to do. Note that Blacksburg was in 13th place at this point, although the field was still so tight that nearly everyone was still in possible contention.
By the midpoint of the race, the chase pack was down to six men, with a huge main pack following some ways behind. Burcham seemed content to maintain his small lead, perhaps saving for the final 2K of the race. Huffman, Langston, and Roberson were joined by Jack Hagood (Tatnall DE), Logan Miller (Chantilly VA), and Avery Lopez (Belen Jesuit FL) all of them keeping an eye on catching Burcham if he faltered. Tatnall still had two runners in the top 10 but were starting to string out a little, and St. Xavier was starting to move up through the traffic; Belen Jesuit was showing signs of fatigue.
As the leaders headed back downhill and into the final 2000 meters of the course, Burcham finally began to pull away. Huffman and Langston, who raced each other two weekends ago at a two-mile tune-up in North Carolina, were at battling for second while trying to hold off Hagood and Miller. Roberson had dropped back just a bit, and his only hope to advance as an individual lay with either Tatnall or Chantilly advancing as a team. Meanwhile, Blacksburg VA's Nick Link had moved to the front of the second group, and his teammates were moving up through the crowd not far behind. Tatnall, Belen Jesuit, and Chantilly still had good position up front, but their security was eroding rapidly as St. Xavier was on the move.
Burcham continued to stretch out his lead, eventually making it almost 10 seconds, although he never fully seemed comfortable and did not really "drop the hammer" in terms of his kick. Behind him, the entire complexion of the race changed dramatically when Hagood fell early on the final hill, taking Tatnall out of contention in the team scores. Miller won the chase pack's dash for the finish with Langston hard on his heels, while Link finished fourth to complete an improbably rise from Blacksburg over the final mile. Huffman and Alec Thomas (Brentwood TN) were the final two individual qualifiers.
Connor Sheryak (second from right below) and Sam Lewis managed to get into the top 10 by the finish line, keying St. Xavier to the team win; their teammates displayed poise and determination in overcoming a difficult start to get back into championshp position. Blacksburg, considered by many to be underrated coming into the race, proved that view correct by getting all the way to a tie for second place with Virginia rival Chantilly. Blacksburg took the final team qualifying spot based on their sixth man, as Chantilly (missing McGorty and another top-5 runner) only put 5 guys into the race; although certainly deserving after such a tremendous performance, Chantilly was passed over for an at-large berth in Oregon next weekend.