Deja vu: Philip Hall and Libby Davidson won at WakeMed two weekends ago, and they're back for an even bigger race.
In 2013 it was the boys Race of Champions that stole the show at Great American, with 5 guys running under 15:10 in a constantly-shifting lead pack (plus a team battle that wasn't clearly decided until the final mile). In contrast, only 2 girls cracked the 18-minute mark, although the team race was hotly contested. Those top 5 boys all graduated in the spring, and now it looks like it might be the girls' ROC that promises the individual fireworks for 2014. One thing is certain: if the weather forecast holds (68 degrees and dry), then the opportunity will be there for some exceptionally fast times. If you're not familiar with the WakeMed course (see the Video Course Walk below), it has a blistering first mile that transitions from downhill to flat and gets the runners off to a very fast start. The last two miles are hillier than you would expect for a course with such a fast reputation, but the footing is extremely good, and when the competition is strong the times can be outstanding! And the competition is VERY good, with talented participants from 12 different states bringing it to the site of Nike Cross Nationals Southeast for a chance at glory and PR's.
More Great American Info:
Course Records: Boys | GIrls (via NCPrepTrack.net)
Girls ROC Preview
Bonnie Angermeier (Blacksburg VA) came oh-so-close to a milestone performance earlier this season, but she is looking for another kind of breakthrough at WakeMed. I wouldn't call this course her nemesis, as she has run well here in the past, but she has struggled to get back to the 18:09 that she ran in Cary during the 2013 adidas XC Challenge. That hasn't been a problem for her Blacksburg team, which thrives off of pack-running rather than individual virtuosity, but you just get the sense that we haven't seen Angermeier's best yet. This could be the race to pull that out of her, because there is a trio of superstars at the front, led by sophomore Libby Davidson (E.C. Glass VA). Davidson cranked out a 17:16 on this very course less than a month ago, making her the heavy favorite for an individual title. Morgan Ilse (Marist GA) and Ryen Frazier (Ravenscroft NC, running unattached) are likely to duel the entire meet, and both will certainly try to hang with Davidson. You also have to factor in Eliza Dekker (Durham Academy NC), who has run 17:44 but has had a difficult season; the change in the weather could be exactly what she needs to break out of her slump. Green Hope's Elly Henes has yet to be turned loose 100% by her coach, but still has an 18:11 to her credit this year - expect sub-18 from her as the Falcons, 5-time defending North Carolina 4A champs, look to up their national credentials with one of the strongest squads they've had over that span. Maggie Allen (Sacred Heart KY) is a bit of a wild card in this race: she ran 17:38 on the track in the spring after sitting out the entire 2013 fall season. Allen's 18:13 so far this season is close to her 2012 PR, and she could be primed for a big race. It has been a slow start to the season for Oakton (VA) star Allie Klimkiewicz, who has "only" run 18:31 so far. Don't let that fool you, though - if she's healthy, she has sub-17:30 talent and the ability to crack the top 5 here. Finally, Eliza Rego (LaSalle RI) posted two sub-18 marks at the end of last season, and that makes her a candidate for what is looking like a very deep lead group. Behind those candidates to break 18 minutes, there should be a loaded chase pack filled with girls that have 18:20 or better potential, a list too long to name here. I'll just put one more name out there as someone to keep an eye on: Rafaella Gibbons (Winter Park FL) is a freshman, but she has a ton of experience and has run 10:10 for 3000 meters in the past.
If you go by the Virtual Meet, then Blacksburg is the class of the field. As one of the top girls' squads in the country, the Bruins have the ability to dominate this race, and their top 7 certainly has the experience (on this course and in high-level competition in general). Saratoga Springs (NY), however, is currently ranked #2 in the nation by MileSplit's intrepid national editors, and this will be the first chance for the longtime powerhouse to justify that position. Saratoga has 7 girls that have run 18:30 or faster for 3 Miles this season, including the two that have broken 18 referenced above. Expect the team score to come down to those two squads duking it out over the final mile, and that will clarify a lot about national rankings and postseason prospects for both schools. The battle for the final spot on the podium could also be intense, especially because there are two Kentucky rivals in the mix. Sacred Heart (KY) comes in with the better times this season, followed closely by LaSalle (RI), and there is always the specter of the two-time defending champion Assumption (KY) girls (even though they graduated their top 4 runners from this meet last year). Expect Green Hope, running on what is essentially their home course, to also contend for a stage visit during the awards ceremony. It seems like every year a Virginia school comes down and greatly exceeds its statistical forecast, and this year that "sleeper" team could be Oakton.
Boys ROC Preview
The only returning sub-15:20 guy from last year's edition of this meet is Philip Hall, who is now at South View (NC). In addition to already sporting a 15:10 time from earlier this season, Hall now has a powerful squad behind him (more on that later). He also has the benefit of a ton of experience on this course, and his strength in the 1600 and 800 could factor into the final push up the long front-side hill (which leaves runners less than 100 meters of flat before the finish line). Hall could be pushed by Stephen Garrett (Tatnall DE), who finished 10th here in 2013 and then went on to drop a 14:53 at New Balance Nationals Indoor. There is an excellent chance, however, that Philip will pull away from everyone in the final mile, gunning to be the second-straight North Carolina boy to win and break 15 minutes in this race. If that happens, then the lead pack behind him could become stupendously competitive, as there are several guys that look ready to run between 15:10 and 15:20 in good conditions: Andrew Hunter (Loudoun VA) and Adam Bernard (Daniel Boone TN) both ran under 15:10 at Foot Locker South last year, but this course is a bit more challenging and it may be just too early in the season to duplicate that. David Principe (LaSalle RI) and Nick Linder (Providence Day NC) both have an excellent shot at the top 5, but that is definitely not a lock for either as there are a few strong runners lurking further down in the Virtual Meet. Take Aidan Tooker (Saratoga Springs NY), for example: he ran 15:16 last November, but has barely cracked 16 so far this season. Another candidate for the lead pack and the top 5 is Ryan Speer (North Raleigh Christian), who was on his way to roughly 15:30 in his first major race of the season (one month ago) when he fell in the final 200. With a PR of 15:24 and strong track credentials, he will be dangerous if he can hang around the front of the race until the final 500. Finally, I should note that the cubbard has not been totally emptied by graduation at Brentwood (TN), where they have a freshman named Brodey Hasty that is currently ranked #2 in the country among members of the class of 2018.
(photo by Mary Ann Magnant)
The boys team competition took a big hit with the graduation of pretty much all of Brentwood (TN)'s team, as well as the decision of regular contender St. Xavier (KY) to bypass this year's meet. For all practical purposes, five of the top 7 teams from the 2013 meet are gone! Still, there are some interesting stories coming into this meet, and there is a decent chance the story will be even better once the race is over (especially if an off-the-radar team takes advantage of the thinner field to make a big statement). Through the 15 iterations of the Great American Festival, only one team from the state where the meet was held has actually won the Race of Champions (that was the Mountain Brook AL girls in 2007, when the meet was held in Hoover). That makes South View (NC) a very compelling contender, especially since a championship Saturday could be a springboard into the North Carolina 4A title chase. Another team with its collective eyes on the big prize: LaSalle (RI), which can boast of 4 guys at 15:45 or better already this season, although there is currently a big drop-off to the Rams 5th runner. St. Pius X (GA) has an extremely deep team but lacks the front-running punch of LaSalle and South View, although their 1-5 split of only 30 seconds could make up for that (and capitallize on any depth problems from the other contending teams). Two schools from the Northeast, both known more for the traditional success of their girls' teams, will seek to continue proving that the boys at each school are just as talented and dedicated. Tatnall (DE) tends to start the season slowly and doesn't really ramp things up until October, so you can't really put much stock in the 8th-place ranking that the Virtual Meet gives them. Tatnall finished third at this meet in 2013, but did graduate 4 seniors from that squad, which is hard for even the deepest programs to overcome. Meanwhile, Saratoga Springs (NY) would absolutely LOVE to head back up I-95 with two team titles, and the potential is there, but the Blue Streaks graduated five from last year's 5th-place finisher. The only time in Great American history that the same school has taken both ROC races? That was in 2005, and it was...you guessed it...Saratoga Springs!
(photo by Stephen Mazzone)