NXN Girls Individuals: Baxter looks unbeatable
If you’ve watched US#1 Sarah Baxter destroy hallowed course records of Amber Trotter at Mt. SAC and Julia Stamps at Woodward Park during this epic 2012 fall campaign, you might have said, “Wow, she looks like she could be running with the boys.”
And if Simi Valley (Calif.) coach Roger Evans heard your musings, he might correct you: “She IS running with the boys!”
Baxter, Coach Evans points out, has been training with Simi’s boys since August and it’s one of a handful of reasons the senior has gone from being “merely” the best harrier in the country in a given year (last fall) to being in the all-time greats conversation.
And it’s also why Baxter is a strong favorite to defend her Nike Cross Nationals individual crown Saturday at Portland Meadows – despite the presence of 1,500-meter US record-holder Mary Cain, three-time national track champ Wesley Frazier, and super experienced senior NXN vets like Amy-Eloise Neale, Maria Hauger, Karis Jochen, and Katie Knight.
Coach Evans said Baxter began training with the Simi varsity boys some last spring and consistently beginning in August, primarily in medium- and long-distance runs, something she’d never done before. “Previously, I did not think she had the strength or desire to train with boys,” he said. “Training with the boys heightened the intensity, difficulty, and sharpness of her workouts.”
Of course, it’s hardly unusual for national class prep girls to train with their school’s boys, with varying results. It’s just that Coach Evans has seen a direct impact. “I have noted a significant improvement in her cardiovascular development. We use Jack Daniels' training as a primary basis and Sarah's training is in the 65-68 VDOT range.”
Coach Evans also has said that Baxter’s uninterrupted training since July has been a key. Her training as a frosh was diminished by a minor heel problem and then the heel flared up more intensely during her soph campaign last fall, causing her to miss four weeks of running before her 2011 Mt. SAC win. Anyone watching Baxter will note that she is stronger than she’s ever been, having adapted to being taller, and combined with better speed is well suited for what Portland Meadows could throw at her in terms of swampy conditions.
“Sarah has always been mentally tough and focused,” Coach Evans added. “But as she has progressed in her high school years she is more familiar with courses, pacing, trusting her training, and confident in achieving her goals. These attributes were present in Sarah even as a freshman, but as the years have gone on they have become much more pronounced. ... she is so darn coachable, focused, knowledgeable, and has an enormous desire to win.”
Of course, Baxter won’t be the only one at Portland Meadows with an enormous desire to win. Seven of the top 11 in the latest MileSplit Top 25 (Nov. 26) will be racing here, and 15 of the top 25. Here are eight more of the top contenders for either the victory or at least a top three spot Saturday – in order of their ranking.
US#3 Mary Cain – A lot has happened for the Bronxville junior since she was sixth here last fall. Her long list of achievements is topped by her 1,500-meter USR last summer at the World Juniors, and this fall includes topping all race champions at the Manhattan Invite and earning her first NXN New York title last week. Then, of course, there’s been her well-chronicled transition to working with legendary coach Alberto Salazar. Cain’s first race under her new mentor was cancelled by Hurricane Sandy, but Coach Salazar said her training has gone well. “She's definitely excited to race against Sarah Baxter and the other top-ranked girls running NXN ... and excited to improve on her finish from last year. But I want her relaxed and not getting fixated on always having to win ... She and her parents like the long-term approach that I plan for her like I did for Galen.”
US#4 Amy-Eloise Neale – The unbeaten Glacier Peak (Snohomish, Wash.) senior and NXN NW champ is making her fourth appearance in the Finals, having taken 14th, 3rd, and 5th the past three years. It’s hard to believe that despite the fact that she has just destroyed competition in the Northwest (and even at Stanford) all season long, and is clearly better than she has ever been, Neale will be hard-pressed to improve on her best finish of third from 2010. It’s a tough year with Baxter and Cain out there. Coach Frank Dauncey, who helps guide Neale at Glacier Peak with Dan Parker, said she came into this fall “hungrier and more focused” with a more structured summer of training. “If I was to sum up the reason for her success this season, it would be health and focus on the little things, early preparation (including the things we did last spring), and the strength work we've done. Her maturity has a lot to do with it, she's smart, she trusts, she believes.” And remember, if conditions are really challenging out there with rain and mud Saturday, Neale is as strong as anyone in the field.
US#8 Taylor Werner – It’s a big amazing that this freshman from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri has forced her way into the short list of individual favorites among all of these experienced juniors and seniors, but how can you think any less of Werner after watching her this fall? From her upset over Hannah Long back in an early September invite to her rock-solid finishes at both NXN Midwest (third) and Foot Locker Midwest (second), she has been consistent and looking less and less like an inexperienced newbie. Werner doesn’t make many mistakes out there and when she does – getting a bit “lost” mid-race at Terre Haute – she learns from them. It will be interesting to see how she can handle the rain and mud, as well as the nationals double she’s attempting.
US#9 Wesley Frazier – With just one race under her belt, and that being an open affair way out in Oregon, it was easy to forget about the Ravenscroft (Raleigh, N.C.) senior this fall. But after her impressive NXN Southeast win last weekend, here she is again. Frazier’s career has definitely had its ups and downs, with two of the “downs” definitely coming while finishing 39th at 2010 Foot Locker Finals, then a non-qualifying 31st at Foot Locker South last fall. Now she competes in her first NXN Final. You can never count out Frazier, not after she’s won three New Balance Outdoor track titles the past two years. Said she, “I went to the Nike Elite Camp this summer and thought, if I could qualify, it would be a nice trip to go back to Portland and the Nike Campus and do all that again ... and I've always wanted to run the Meadows course anyway. Hopefully this weekend will be the sloppiest ever. Coming off my college visits and the team environments there fed right into being out at the Southeast Regional and all the teamwork there. I found I was as much of a fan as a competitor and I expect that to be even greater in Portland. I hope to gain even more of an appreciation for the "we" in cross country with a little less emphasis on the "me".
US#10 Karis Jochen – She was 31st and 12th at NXN and Foot Locker Finals in 2011, then ran 10:31.23 last spring for 3,200. The Texas A&M Consolidated (College Station) senior was 23rd in the preseason individual rankings, but fashioned a fast and extremely consistent unbeaten slate through NXN South this fall, highlighted by a 5A state victory. Then she was a close second behind Sophie Chase at Foot Locker South as she’ll try another nationals double. “Karis is the definition of hard work and dedication,” said Coach Shawn Schroeder. “We made sure to put in a solid base during the summer and have done a lot of quality training to get to this point ... I think that her past seasons and progressing her mileage and workouts to fit the 5k distance has definitely been a major reasons for her success.”
US#11 Maria Hauger – Like Jochen, this Shakopee (Minn.) standout is executing her second NXN/FL nationals double – and seems to be having her best season yet as a senior. Hauger was 24th at NXN Finals last fall and 21st at Foot Locker. This season, she lost just once to in-state rival Clare Flanagan, but stormed through the rest of her season with a bevy of sub-14 times over 4k and defenses of her 2A state and NXN Heartland titles. She followed that with a very strong third at Foot Locker Midwest last weekend. Coach Mark Neu said she has increased her mileage and improved her weight training this fall. “She ran almost 900 miles from May to August,” he said. “Her work ethic is unbelievable. Her training plan, diet, and mental strength culminates on race day like a perfect storm. This year has been filled with new heights, personal records, and course records.”
US#14 Hagen Reedy – As a junior, the Buchanan (Clovis, Calif.) star really impressed here with her seventh-place finish. After a 10:21.68 3,200 best in track, she’s upped her game even further this fall. Reedy has lost only to US#1 Sarah Baxter this fall (Woodbridge Invite and D1 state) and before state had become just the second in history to run 17:01 or faster on the state meet course (her home layout). Expect Reedy to be battling for at least a top-five spot.
US#18 Katie Knight – While there are 10 ranked higher than the North Central (Spokane, Wash.) senior in this race, don’t discount experience. Like Neale, Knight will be making her fourth appearance in the Finals. She was 16th as a freshman, eighth as a soph and third last year – an awfully good progression. Knight has lost only to Neale three times this fall, and also to Alexa Efraimson at Nike Border Clash. She missed some summer training after a surgical procedure. If she can peak at the right time, though, she’ll be in the mix.
21 more to watch: Maybe not quite as talented or proven as those mentioned above, but athletes who could get top 10-15, or even better on a good day (in order of ranking, then alpha by first name).
US#15 Elise Cranny, 11, Niwot HS, CO
1st NXN SW, 1st 4A State, 5th Stanford, 29th 2011 NXN Finals
Really coming on strong at season’s end to win state and NXN SW.
US#16 Bella Burda, 10, Arlington HS, NY
2nd NXN NY, 1st NY Feds, 2nd Class A state
One of country’s most-improved; 2nd behind Cain in NY.
US#20 Alexa Efraimson, 10, Camas HS, WA
3rd NXN NW, 2nd Nike BorderClash, 1st 3A State, 2nd Richland, 2nd Stanford, 14th 2011 NXN Finals
4:42 miler did great here last year, has improved this fall.
US#22 Madeline Perez, 11, Glenbard West HS, IL
2nd NXN MW, 32nd FL MW, 1st 3A State
Super at state and NXN MW, but must bounce back from sub-par FL MW race.
US#23 Alex Davis, 12, Plainview HS, OK
5th NXN South, 4th FL South, 1st 3A State, 37th 2011 NXN Finals
Rock-solid fall; one of best ever from Oklahoma.
US#24 Courtney Ackerman, 12, New Trier HS, IL
5th NXN MW, 5th FL South, 3rd 3A State, 33rd 2011 NXN Finals
Has really come on in past month; her team got at-large bid after 4th last year here.
US HM Alli Cash, Shawnee Mission West HS, KS
5th NXN HL, 1st 6A state, 2nd Roy Griak, 40th 2011 NXN Finals
4:39 miler dominated her state; 2nd to Hauger at Griak.
US HM Clare Flanagan, 11, The Blake School, MN
2nd NXN HL, 1st 1A State, 7th Roy Griak
Only Minnesotan to beat Hauger (early) this fall; 10:20.75 2M last spring.
US HM Elle Purrier, 12, Richford HS, VT
1st NXN NE, 1st New Englands, 1st State, 32nd 2011 NXN Finals
Unbeaten this fall; 4:50 1,600 best.
US HM Erin Hooker, 12, Fort Collins HS, CO
11th NXN SW, 34th 4A state, 11th 2011 NXN Finals and 1st SW
Healing from injuries has slowed her, but can’t forget last year.
US HM Hannah Christen, 11, Lake Braddock HS, VA
2nd NXN SE, 3rd AAA State, 3rd Maymont Inv
Out of teammate Chase’s shadow here with finish behind Frazier.
US HM Heather Bates, 12, Pine Creek HS, CO
3rd NXN SW, 14th FL MW, 1st 5A State, 2nd Rim Rock
Had made it individually, then team got at-large bid.
US HM Jillian Fanning, 12, Fayetteville-Manlius HS, NY
11th NXN NY, 17th Class A state, 4th 2011 NXN Finals
Long battle with injuries this year, but who can forget her history?
US HM Katie Rainsberger, 9, Air Academy HS, CO
2nd NXN SW, 2nd 4A State
Nipped by Cranny at state; daughter of Boston Marathon champ
US HM Madi McLellan, 11, The Woodlands HS, TX
8th NXN South, DNF 5A state, 2nd McNeil Invite, 13th 2011 NXN Finals.
Qualified with team; has struggled this year, but shone in ’11.
US HM Maggie Bell, 9, Granite Bay HS, CA
4th D2 State, 12th Clovis, 1st Stanford (D2 race)
Frosh is surprising with late-season surge.
US HM Mary Kate Vaughn, 9, Oakwood HS, OH
4th NXN MW, 15th FL MW, 1st D2 State
Unbeaten through state; US-ranked earlier in fall.
US HM Reagan Anderson, 12, Tatnall School, DE
12th NXN SE, 1st State, 1st Eastern States, 8th Great Am ROC, 23rd 2011 NXN Finals
New leader for ’11 Finals 3rd-place team; shone brightest in Easterns win.
US HM Sandie Raines, 12, Kingwood HS, TX
2nd NXN South, 7th FL South, 2nd 5A State, 63rd 2011 NXN Finals
Lots of improvement in ’12 has made her contender and nationals doubler.
US HM Sara Tsai, 10, South Eugene HS, OR
5th NXN NW, 5th Nike BorderClash, 1st 6A State, 15th 2011 NXN Finals
Super run here as a frosh last year; continued progress this year.
US HM Taylor Driscoll, 12, Saratoga Springs HS, NY
3rd NXN NY, 3rd NY Feds, 4th Class A State, 3rd Great Am ROC, 22nd 2011 NXN Finals
Has led traditional power all year; expect her to show up big in Portland.
Top 15 Predictions:
1. Sarah Baxter CA/CA
2. Amy-Eloise Neale NW/WA
3. Mary Cain NY/NY
4. Karis Jochen SO/TX
5. Maria Hauger HL/MN
6. Katie Knight NW/WA
7. Wesley Frazier SE/NC
8. Taylor Werner MW/MO
9. Hagen Reedy CA/CA
10. Alexa Efraimson NW/WA
11. Courtney Ackerman MW/IL
12. Alex Davis SO/OK
13. Elle Purrier NE/VT
14. Elise Cranny SW/CO
15. Taylor Driscoll NY/NY
2011 Top Returnees (in top 40)
1. Sarah Baxter CA/CA, 11, 17:38
3. Katie Knight NW/WA, 12, 17:45
4. Jillian Fanning NY/NY, 12, 17:50
5. Amy-Eloise Neale NW/WA, 12, 17:54
6. Mary Cain NY/NY, 11, 17:56
7. Hagen Reedy CA/CA, 12, 17:57
11. Erin Hooker SW/CO, 12, 18:07
13. Madi McLellan SO/TX, 11, 18:16
14. Alexa Efraimson NW/WA, 10, 18:16
15. Sara Tsai NW/OR, 10, 18:17
22. Taylor Driscoll NY/NY, 12, 18:27
23. Reagan Anderson SE/DE, 12, 18:28
24. Maria Hauger HL/MN, 12, 18:28
25. Katie Brislin NY/NY, 12, 18:30
28. Keelin Hollowood NY/NY, 12, 18:32
29. Elise Cranny SW/CO, 11, 18:33
31. Karis Jochen SO/TX, 12, 18:34
32. Elle Purrier NE/VT, 12, 18:35
33. Courtney Ackerman MW/IL, 12, 18:35
34. Alana Pearl NY/NY, 11, 18:35
36. Summer Harper SW/UT, 12, 18:36
37. Alex Davis SO/OK, 12, 18:36
40. Alli Cash HL/KS, 12, 18:37
MileSplit US Top 25 Entries
US#1 Sarah Baxter, 12, CA
US#3 Mary Cain, 11, NY
US#4 Amy-Eloise Neale, 12, WA
US#8 Taylor Werner, 9, MO
US#10 Karis Jochen, 12, TX
US#11 Maria Hauger, 12, MN
US#14 Hagen Reedy, 12, CA
US#15 Elise Cranny, 11, CO
US#16 Bella Burda, 10, NY
US#18 Katie Knight, 12, WA
US#20 Alexa Efraimson, 10, WA
US#22 Madeline Perez, 11, IL
US#23 Alex Davis, 12, OK
US#24 Courtney Ackerman, 12, IL