The New Balance Dash for Doobie is one of the most important meets on the fall calendar, and Saturday's edition will be no exception. After all, how many meets can you name that have major impacts on TWO seasons, while also providing scholarships for college-bound seniors?
DFD began as a cross country event, designed to help runners tune up for the postseason races that lie ahead (like Foot Locker South and RunningLane). In recent years, however, it has shifted to become a crucial part of the winter track season, giving athletes the chance to qualify for the state meet while still in or near peak cross country form (and before holiday breaks disrupt training).
That tradition continues unabated on Saturday at Reagan High School in Pfafftown, as nearly 500 runners will compete for PR's and qualifying marks across 6 heats of girls and 11 of boys. No matter what else changes in the post-state-meet landscape, the Dash for Doobie will always provide an ideal atmosphere for fast times!
Dawson Reeves (Christ School) is the headliner, and the 9 minute mark is clearly his goal after clocking 9:03 at this meet last year. He has shown flashes of improvement this fall but fell just short of setting a new 5K PR. That's enough to tell us that his fitness is at least as good as it was in 2022.
The question is, can anyone else in the field stay with him, let alone help push him under nine? Jameson Pifer (Collins Hill GA) looks like the best candidate, having posted a 15:09 this fall and finished 3rd at the Georgia state meet (in the largest schools division). Just a sophomore this year, Pifer could be poised for a major breakthrough. On the other hand, Walhalla (SC) senior Elijah Poore has the better 3200 PR, 9:17 vs 9:34. Poore won the AAA state title last weekend, and could be primed for a run at 9 minutes. His teammate Chance Bloodworth could be a sleeper for a top 3 finish, as he has solid track speed to go with improved stamina.
Colden Welsh (Covenant Day) also clocked 9:17 last spring, and he improved tremendously this fall in comparison to his 2022 cross country season. Likewise for Eli Julian (South Rowan), although he is also entered in NXR Southeast on Sunday. Nicholas Grace (Ardrey Kell) doesn't have quite the same cross country times as those two, but he did run 9:27 last spring and improved this fall.
There are a few wild cards in the field that could make things interesting, like Paul Abeln (Parkland PA) - it's hard to compare North Carolina's cross country times to states from the Northeast, where they tend to run on much more challenging courses. The same could be said for junior Max Bixler (Talawanda OH), who seemed to struggle a bit over his last few races.
My prediction: Reeves pulls away over the second mile, but the chase pack will be super competitive, leading to a mad dash down the final stretch in the battle for second. Don't be surprised to see someone like Hudson Rice or Daniel Kelmer attach to the back of that group and get pulled to a big PR.
The girls field appears to be a little deeper and stronger at the top than the boys, headlined by a strong out-of-state contingent. Georgy and Adda Helmers, both sophomores at St Anne Pacelli Catholic (GA) lead this invasion, with Georgy having claimed the GIAA state championship a few weeks ago (she has a 3200 PR of 10:51). Nora Brahim (Bishop England SC) also brings a state title to the party - she won the South Carolina AA race last weekend and has run 11:05.
If they want to win on North Carolina soil, however, they'll have to get past Caroline Barton (Carolina Day) and Grace Hanson (Weddington), both of them sporting impressive track and cross country resumes. Hanson has by far the best 3200 and 1600 times in the field, having clocked 10:37 and 4:52, while Barton has 10:56 and 4:58 on her profile. They both had excellent fall seasons, as well - Barton won the NCISAA 2A title, while Hanson's 17:46 at Ivey Redmon (good for 3rd in the NCHSAA 4A race) is arguably the most impressive cross country time of the DFD contestants. While we're on the topic of fast miles, you have to believe that Justine Preisano (Cuthbertson) will be right in the thick of Saturday's race based on her 4:51 full mile and 10:41 3200 PR. She and Hanson are experienced foes, and Preisano dropped 20 seconds at the 2023 state meet in comparison to her 2022 race, a noteworthy sign of year-over-year improvement.
Of course, if you want to talk about track speed, you have to include Annie Miller (Metrolina Christian) in that conversation. Another sub-5 1600 runner, she has a 2:11 800 on her record, but has very little 3200 experience. On the flip side, keep an eye on Breanna Budzinski (West Henderson), who doesn't have those kind of track numbers but did make huge improvements this fall. Along with Preisano and Hanson, Miller and Budzinski also represent the senior class here, which could inject an extra dose of urgency for them.
The fast track times don't stop there, either! Sophomore Kasey Dingman (Lake Norman) ran 4:56 and 11:00 as a freshman, repeatedly showing that she wasn't afraid to wade into competitive races with older runners. Senior Emma Lewis (Charlotte Country Day) doesn't have big 5K cross country times, but she has PR's of 2:16, 4:59, and 10:57 on the track. Morgan Miller (First Flight) will be looking to break 11 for the first time; she ran 11:01 last spring, then caught everyone's attention with a win in the NCHSAA 2A state meet.
Nicole Alfers (Christ the King) makes it a whopping NINE girls in this race that have broken 18 minutes for 5K, albeit many of them on a WakeMed course that continues to be dubiously fast (or the Georgia equivalent, Chattahoochee Hills). Alfers appears primed for a huge PR after dropping well over a minute from her 2022 to 2023 cross country seasons.
If you want a dark horse candidate, look no further than freshman Julia Goldman (Lucy Beckham SC), who won the South Carolina AAAA 800 title last spring as an 8th-grader in 2:13. She finished 3rd in her cross country state meet, but is largely an unknown commodity at 3200.
My prediction: Hanson sits in the pack until at least the last 800 and possibly as late as the last 300, then holds off Preisano in a Union County battle to the finish line. Can they break 10:30 this year? That depends on whether someone can push the pace in the middle mile, and I think there are several candidates capable of doing that, knowing that they can't wait until the end to outkick the speedsters.