The course at E. P. Tom Sawyer State Park has gained a national following after hosting several NCAA D1 regionals, NCAA D2 regionals, and NAIA regional and national championships over the past few years. In two years, it will earn the distinction of being the host venue for the 2012 NCAA D1 National XC Championships, but for a least one weekend, it will be the host for some of the best prep talent in the Midwest. Last year’s Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational saw nineteen boys dip under the 16 minute barrier, while ten ladies broke the tape before the clock struck 19 minutes. With the field assembled for this year’s edition, there are almost that is reason to believe both of those numbers could be exclipsed in what appears to be one of the deepest editions ever. On a notoriously fast course, we might just have a high school meet that will make the whole country pay attention this weekend and with good reason.
Carmel (IN) is the team of interest this time around, after they lit up the course at the Mason Cross Country Invitational in Ohio last weekend. Carmel’s Chris Walden, who was 11 at last year’s Footlocker Nationals as a junior, ran a smoking 14:59 time to easily outdistance Milesplit #4-ranked Zach Wills (Mason, OH) on his home course. Walden has been shooting up the national radar over the past year, using his Footlocker finish last year to kickstart a spring season in which he claimed a state 1600 meter title (4:10.70), ran 9:02 for the 2-mile (8:59.08 for 3200 meters, @ Midwest Distance Gala), and placed 10 at New Balance Nationals in the 3200 (9:08.22). He’s been beaten once this season, by Terra Haute North’s John Mascari at the Indiana State Preview meet held on the state course in Terra Haute, but it remains to be seen if that will happen again after the beatdown he served up last weekend.
Meanwhile, Carmel’s ladies did some lambasting of their own last weekend. Led by a 1-2-3 finish from Renee Wellman, Sarah Bennett, and Alex Chitwood, the Carmel squad took 7 of the top 10 spots in a route at Mason. Now, at your run-of-the-mill meet, this wouldn’t be anything to write home about, but there were some quality teams at Mason and #7-runner, Lauren Kahre posted a 19:01. That makes for a 36-second split for 1-7 and a team average of 18:34.76, but this squad isn’t letting up now, not after their surprising fourth place finish at NXN Midwest last year that left them out of the national championships. They will be hungry to improve upon their performances from last week and at this same meet last year, when they ran away with the team title placing 2-5-7-14-30 in the team scoring, for a very impressive 58 point posting. With their six fastest back from last year’s squad, expect something even more impressive this weekend.
The meet isn’t all about Carmel, though, even if their boys are ranked #2 in Indiana and lead the male team entries as well, there are plenty of other athletes and teams with plenty to gain this weekend. Other teams from Indiana making the trip include a North Harrison boys squad that ranks among the top 20 in Indiana and fielded last year’s meet champion Tyler Byrne before he moved on to the University of Louisville this fall. Madison Consolidated’s ladies may not be contenders for the team title, but Chelsea Stephan’s 18:42 performance warrants her consideration among the best names. Some more local squads will make the trip as well, as New Albany, Jeffersonville, Floyd Central, and Evansville North will make the trip, but none bring in any contenders for team or individual titles.
Ohio will be sending several teams down that should make things interesting, starting with the boys’ team from LaSalle (Cincinnati). After Carmel, LaSalle brings in the most impressive group, with a #1 in Travis Hawes and a 1-5 split of less than 30 seconds as well based on times from the last three weeks. If they can put their pack up high enough, they are definitely a threat to steal the team title. Centerville’s girls have the times this year to compete for the runner-up spot behind Carmel, with seniors Devin Flood and Sarah Chilson leading the way, while their boys’ team will look to have a top five showing of their own, using a very strong pack at spots 3-4-5-6-7 to do the heavy lifting. Other Ohio teams and athletes to watch for include McAuley’s girls, both of Colerain’s groups along with standout Allison Steinbeck, Hilliard Davidson’s ladies led by Jessica Hoover, and Sycamore’s sub-19 standout Samantha Siler.
Tennessee’s Oak Ridge is headed up and they tend to really open up their season with this meet, so look for them to turn some heads with their performance and Montgomery Bell Academy’s boys will also be making the trek up from Tennessee, but they will likely be on the outside looking in on this race. West Virginia’s Cabell Midland is signed up, and they bring with them an athlete that puts together one of the great storylines of this year’s meet in Jacob Burcham. Only a sophomore, Burcham has already posted some blazing times on the track, clocking 4:14 and 9:15 for the 1600 and 3200 meter distances, as well as a 4:15 full mile, but he will have his hands full in his attempt to be the first sophomore across the line on Saturday.
Kentucky’s own Jacob Thomson (Holy Cross, Louisville) posted one of the fastest times in the nation on opening weekend in Kentucky, losing a barnburner to this weekend’s host Trinity (Louisville) harrier Jake Wildenman, with both athletes being clocked at 15:21. Thomson enters with solid track credentials of his own, having clocked 4:20.77 for a full mile in the spring. Behind Chris Walden, it may very well be the battle of the J’s with Burcham, Thomson, and Wildenman leading the title contenders. Wildenman, who was 7 here least year in 15:34, also had a good spring and his squad tends to get up a bit for this race each year, so look for him to stick with Walden until he can’t stay upright anymore.
While those four athletes bring the credentials to make a run at the title, expect a big group at the front for awhile this weekend as there are 16 entrants with times posted already this season under 16:10 and with a course that tends to give up fast times, look for the pace to be very hot early.
The girls’ race has plenty of Kentucky intrigue as Sacred Heart’s Emma Brink enters having just verbally committed to the University of North Carolina this week. Brink, whose accomplishments in Kentucky might require a page or two to summarize, returns after a close win last year over Carmel’s Renee Wellman and Sarah Bennett. With all three returning, it will definitely be a fun one at the front, but a new talent has been rising in Kentucky that will look to spoil the party. Eighth-grader Maddox Patterson of Sayre has been on fire since winning the Class A XC State Championship last fall, but has found very few challenges that she couldn’t handle of late. This will be the first time Patterson has seen Brink, or any competition of this caliber outside of a loaded road race this summer. With little experience, Patterson is definitely a wild card and might be one to look for late in the race this weekend.
Male squads to watch for from Kentucky include returning Class AAA XC State Champions St. Xavier, led by sophomore Connor Sheryak and a very deep supporting cast. On paper, last year’s 5-place squad at NXN Southeast looks to be in a battle with LaSalle and Carmel for a top two finish, but Centerville (OH), Oak Ridge (TN), Butler (Louisville, KY), and host Trinity (Louisville) will all bring squads to the table with the talent to challenge for top five finishes.
Kentucky’s female contingent includes a couple of teams of interest as well, with Assumption and DuPont Manual being the main catalysts. Assumption focuses around a developing young group with a strong senior leader in Ashley El Rady, who will be shooting for a top ten finish herself. DuPont Manual is led by sophomores Kristen and Cassidy Hale, who torched the course in the freshman race last year, dialing up times of 19:13 and 18:53, respectively. Manual’s performance on the track turned plenty of attention their way, but Assumption has proved a worthy adversary thus far. Look for Centerville (OH), McAuley (OH), Assumption, Colerain (OH), Sycamore (OH), DuPont Manual, and Hilliard Davidson (OH) all to battle for team position behind a Carmel squad that will likely be racing the clock, much more than the other teams.
With plenty of excitement expected and another great set of fields assembled, you won’t want to miss the action this weekend in Louisville. A good forecast and another dry summer, should only add speed to a course that is consitently fast and if things go right, we might just see some more national-level performances from a group that has no shortage in that area thus far. Milesplit will be out at the races, giving full coverage to what has become one of the main events in the state of Kentucky, and the Midwest, this year. We hope to see you out there!
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