Fayetteville-Manlius is still the team to unseat, 7 years later... (Photo by Pat Bendzick)
NXN Girls Team Race: Same questions for F-M, other 21 teams
They are questions you’ve posed and heard regarding the Nike Cross Nationals girls’ team title every year since 2007. Why? Well, because until the answers change, what other questions are there to ask?
Can the Fayetteville-Manlius (Manlius, N.Y.) girls (known here as Manlius XC) win again? And if not, who can beat them?
When Coach Bill Aris’s girls won for the first time at Portland Meadows in 2006, who would have imagined that it would be 2012 and the Stotans would still reign? Repeat, three-peat, four-peat, five-peat, six-peat ... how many “peats” are too much? Hmm ... now that you look at it, “seven-peat” DOES have a bit of an awkward ring to it (too many syllables). Given that the F-M girls actually lost this year – at the Eastern States at Manhattan, their first defeat anywhere since 2006 at the same meet – maybe THIS is the year the string is finally broken.
So, returning to our original questions: Can F-M win again? Yes ... maybe. Who can beat them? Any of several teams, if they perform at their capacity.
The determining factors? First, can F-M’s pack still beat the packs of the other top six or eight teams? And, second, can F-M senior Jillian Fanning – a super fourth at NXN in 2011, a DNR at this year’s Eastern States, then limited to pack running with her teammates since while recovering from injury the rest of this fall – possibly battle with the elites and give her team those extra points that could make a critical difference?
Can F-M win without a low scorer? Although it may seem like F-M didn’t have the front runners like Fanning in the earlier years, they actually did, always scoring at least a few in the top 10 with the likes of Mackenzie Carter and Courtney Chapman – although the field wasn’t loaded with as many top individuals back then. But they were packing it together then, too, something that wasn’t as evident, say, last year.
F-M won last weekend at NXN NY with 28 points, ahead of 59 for Saratoga Springs (Kinetic RC) and 123 for East Aurora (Aurora). That was with a pack of senior Katie Brislin, junior Alana Pearl, soph Annika Avery and Fanning finishing virtually together in 3-4-5-6 (scoring), then soph Mary Barger just 11 seconds further back in 10th. Using speed ratings, that wins a regional merge by more than 40 points over California champ Great Oak.
“This team has similarities to the early teams of our NTN/NXN success,” said Coach Aris. “Strong team running is the priority, in other words.”
Coach Aris also said that, “Jillian is 100 percent healthy now (finally) and will be giving it her all this weekend, in her final HS cross-country race.” That begs the question, would she push to try and compete with the elites near the front, or would it most benefit her and the team for her to pack it up with her younger teammates and try and make sure everyone scores reasonably low?
“I wouldn't rule out anything,” said Coach Aris, “but I would say at this moment that her priority will be team strength all the way. On the other hand, if she feels the urge to go, I am not going to stop her. She has earned that right, I would say.”
It’s not likely a lot of the other teams are going to achieve decisive margins on F-M with front-runners. Among the top contending teams, there’s Taylor Driscoll with Saratoga, who scored #1 (third overall) at NXN NE; Reagan Anderson of Tatnall DE, who won Eastern States but was 12th at NXN SE; and Courtney Ackerman, who might be the best individual on a team here (5th at NXN MW and FL MW), but whose New Trier IL team was an at-large qualifier.
A final point regarding unseating F-M: While there are a lot of outstanding teams here, it doesn’t look like anyone’s on a par with the top Saugus teams of a few years ago, or the best Kinetic squads – though both are here. No school has been ranked in the top 2-3 all year as the lists have shuffled. And it might take a “great” team to top the Stotans.
So, cutting to the chase, let’s look at seven teams with the best chance of challenging for the win, or at least a podium spot:
(names are school, followed by NXN Finals name and regional name, if applicable)
US#2 Great Oak CA (Temecula XC)
Major meets: 1st D1 State, 1st SS Finals, 1st Mt SAC D1 Sweeps, 1st Woodbridge
Previous NXN: 2010(13th).
Comments: After an initial foray to Portland in 2010 nearly yielded a top-half finish, Great Oak is back with perhaps their best team ever. They won by 58 points at D1 state and by 76 in a power merge of the top teams in all classes. Coach Doug Soles said their journey to Portland really started last year, when their state top-ranked D1 squad faltered at SS Finals and State. “We graduated 5 seniors from our 2010 State Championship team, but had a lot of talent to take their place and we felt like it wouldn't be an issue,” he said. “We forgot the one thing that mattered the most, how to be a TEAM!”
The coaches made changes to help bring the girls together and bond, but “it didn’t happen overnight ... it came to a head and we met with each one of the girls individually,” said Soles. The girls finally bought in, finished a strong second to Xavier Prep at the Desert Twilight, and then ruled the rest of their major meets, with Miranda Kewley and Ashley Helbig both ducking under 18 at state to pace a D1 record effort. Soles said keys to success this weekend are running fearlessly and pressure-free, running their own race, keeping a small spread and sticking to strategy. “NXN is difficult to treat like just another race, as the course is more of a factor than the other competitors are in many instances so we have to prepare differently. This week we have been jumping hay bales and watching race videos of NXN!”
US#3 Southlake Carroll TX (Carroll XC)
Major meets: 1st NXN South, 1st 5A State, 1st Nike South, 1st Chile Pepper
Previous NXN: 2011(7th), 2010(22nd), 2009(22nd), 2007(18th), 2006(3rd), 2005(3rd), 2004(8th).
Comments: A lot of folks may not know it, but SL Carroll is tied for the most NXN Girls Championship Finals appearances with Saratoga Springs. Only in 2008 did they not earn a Portland ticket and they have placed third twice and been in the top eight four times. With just two returnees from last year’s NXN 7th-place team, getting back might have seemed difficult. However, said Coach Justin Leonard, “We felt that we had the kids in the program to accomplish the goal, it was just a matter of them buying in and putting in the work to make it happen.”
A big key, he continued, “has been the leadership of Courtney Kriegshauser and Shelby Chapin. These two young ladies are four-year varsity runners and have been to NXN all four years.” Krieghauser was 5th at state and 6th at NXN South, while Chapin was 7th and 19th. “(Saturday), the main thing is for them to believe in their abilities, run their race, and leave the course with no regrets. I firmly believe that the girls will do this and great things are going to happen.”
US#4 Saratoga Springs NY (Kinetic XC/RC)
Major meets: 2nd NXN NY, 1st NY Feds, 2nd Class A State, 2nd Great Am ROC
Previous NXN: 2011(2nd), 2010(2nd), 2009(2nd), 2008(4th), 2007(3rd), 2005(2nd), 2004(1st).
Comments: Saratoga Springs has been to NXN Finals more than any other girls program – eight times – and other than F-M has the best slate of finishes with a win, four seconds, and all eight in the top four. Of course, the legacy Coach Linda Kranick has established goes back way before NXN started, with several #1 ranking finishes by The Harrier’s Marc Bloom starting in the 1990s.
In senior Taylor Driscoll, Saratoga has arguably its best top runner since Hannah Davidson in 2007 and has a great chance to get the lowest stick of any contending team (or perhaps any team at all). Freshman Olivia Morrow and senior Keelin Hollowood can mix it up with F-M’s leaders, too, and if any of Toga’s next four runners can close the gap up to the top three, then they could start really challenging for the win.
US#5 Pennsbury PA (Lower Bucks XC)
Major meets: 1st NXN NE, 1st AAA State, 3rd Eastern States
Previous NXN: 1st time.
Comments: Three years ago, the Pennsbury name received national recognition primarily due to the performances of frosh prodigy Sara Sargent, who took 21st at Foot Locker Finals and the next spring was third in the Penn Relays 3k. Now in November 2012, Sargent is an extremely experienced senior who is one of several keys to a 3-time AAA state champion and the first-ever PA girls team to make it to Portland. In fact, she’s the only senior on an otherwise young squad that was led at NXN NE by frosh Maddie Sauer and included her 9th-grade sister Olivia.
Coach Don Little noted the team had NXN in their sights from the get-go, starting its racing a month later than last year, but also that there were bumps in the road in losing the PIAA Foundation meet (badly) and Districts (not so badly). Then, “At the State meet the team ran exceptionally,” he said. “That win put us in a great mind set for the NXN regional. We did not win every race, we were not ranked number one the entire season but the girls stayed the course and in the end, for us, it made all the difference.”
US#6 Assumption KY (Louisville XC/TC)
Major meets: 1st NXN SE, 1st AAA State, 1st Great Am ROC, 1st Palatine
Previous NXN: 2011(18th).
Comments: There couldn’t have been many clubs more thrilled to make it to Portland last year than these Kentucky girls, which was the first girls’ squad ever from the state to make the Finals. As Coach Barry Haworth likes to tell it, it all began with a sit-down prior to Fall 2011 where he challenged his team to go for an NXN berth. “At the time, it seemed very ‘pie in the sky’ to them, but they accepted (and internalized) the challenge,” he said. They began to realize what they could really do beyond the Bluegrass State borders and that led to the above-mentioned success.
That team, however, was stacked primary with sophomores, so there was plenty of firepower coming back for this fall after a successful spring track season. Coach Haworth “renewed the challenge” and the team – led by Bailey Davis and Katherine Receveur – has stepped it up further. “They’ve developed into a team that doesn’t really let their nerves overwhelm them,” he said “(Some friends say) our girls seem almost fearless ... (Also), they have developed a belief that they not only capable of competing on a high level, but that they’re capable of going after the best teams in the country. We are a team that focuses on process over results ... but for them to enter meets (now) like Great American and believe they can run with iconic programs like Saratoga Springs and Tatnall, that’s a huge step for this group.” Having also improved their performances, developed more leadership, and learned even better how to race, Assumption is a team that could move up at least 10-15 spots from their 2011 finish.
US#7 Tatnall DE (Wilmington XC)
Major meets: 2nd NXN SE, 1st Eastern States, 3rd Great Am ROC
Previous NXN: 2011(3rd), 2010(5th), 2009(14th), 2008(3rd), 2007(20th), 2006(12th)
Comments: The girls of the tiny Tatnall School, under Coach Pat Castagno, have developed over the past five years into a consistent distance power – led by national stars like Juliet Bottorff and Haley Pierce, but having continued nearly as strong even as they’ve graduated. In five trips to Portland, Tatnall’s high points came in 2008 and 2011, but it has been this fall when they’ve become the first team since October 2006 to topple mighty Fayetteville-Manlius (at Eastern States).
Of course, as Castagno stated then, everyone understood F-M was without its NXN Finals fourth-place finisher Jillian Fanning. But he was extremely pleased about the way his squad had grown and leaders like Eastern States individual champ and senior Reagan Anderson had emerged. Tatnall hadn’t run as well a few weeks earlier at Great American, and would surrender their NXN SE crown to Assumption last weekend by single point. But this is a squad that if everyone is on their game can definitely challenge for a podium position and maybe more.
US#8 Carmel IN (Carmel XC/Carmel Distance Project)
Major meets: 1st NXN MW, 1st State, 1st Culver, 1st Trinity/Valkyrie
Previous NXN: 2011(5th), 2010(7th).
Comments: For their third straight trip to Portland, this Indiana power has looked to tweak some things as they get ready, such as some extra anaerobic conditioning to make sure they get out strong and finish strong. “200s, 300s once or twice per week,” said Coach Mark Ellington. “This is not something we normally focus much on during the regular season.” Every little bit helps, though, as this team tries to get on the podium after finishing just 13 points out of third place in 2011. They’re not heavily front-loaded like some teams, so Carmel’s pack will have to stay together and focused.
With the likes of Renee Wellman and Sarah Bennett graduating last spring, Carmel needed to find new leadership this fall. “The group of seniors that graduated last year had been so influential over the previous three seasons, that many of our girls this year spent some time looking around for the leaders on this team,” said Coach Ellington. “We’ve had several good seniors on this year’s squad, but it took some time for them to fill the void.” After a narrow escape in their first meet, the team realized “that they were waiting on each other to perform. I think they were hoping that the previous year’s seniors would be there to help bring them home. Of course, they didn’t really believe that.” As the team started focusing on closing gaps, they got better, and eventually emerged as their powerhouse selves. By (state) we had changed the confidence level of the team. They really believe they should be competing with the best teams in the nation, and that makes a huge difference.”
Additional team rundown:
(quick hits of remaining teams by region)
NE#2 Voorhees NY (Hunterdon XC)
Major Meets: 2nd NXN NE, 1st MOC, 1st Grp 2, 1st Shore ‘C’, 1st Paul Short.
Previous NXN: 2010(20th), 2007(13th)
SO#2 The Woodlands TX (The Woodlands XC)
Major Meets: 2nd NXN South, 4th 5A State, 1st McNeil.
Previous NXN: 2010(19th), 2009(14th).
MW#2 Naperville North IL (North Naperville XC)
Major Meets: 2nd NXN MW, 1st 3A State, 1st Roy Griak.
Previous NXN: 2011(4th), 2005 (4th).
HL#1 Wayzata MN (Wayzata XC)
Major Meets: 1st NXN HL, 1st AA State, 4th Roy Griak.
Previous NXN: First time.
HL#2 Eagan MN (Eagan XC)
Major Meets: 2nd NXN HL, 2nd AA State, 3rd Roy Griak.
Previous NXN: First time.
SW#1 Davis UT (Davis XC)
Major Meets: 1st NXN SW, 1st 5A State, 2nd Stanford, 1st Bob Firman
Previous NXN: 2007(9th).
SW#2 Fort Collins CO (Fort Collins XC)
Major Meets: 2nd NXN SW, 2nd 5A State, 1st Liberty Bell, 1st Titan.
Previous NXN: 2011(6th), 2010(6th), 2009(3rd), 2008(7th), 2007(7th), 2005(8th).
NW#1 Coeur D’Alene ID (Coeur D’Alene XC)
Major Meets: 1st NXN NW, 1st 5A State, 1st Sunfair, 3rd Tracy Walters.
Previous NXN: First time.
NW#2 Camas WA (Camas XC)
Major Meets: 2nd NXN NW, 1st 4A State, 4th Stanford, 1st Richland.
Previous NXN: First time.
CA#2 St. Francis (Sac.) CA (East Sacramento XC)
Major Meets: 2nd D1 State, 2nd Clovis, 1st Stanford
Previous NXN: First time.
At Large #1 Pine Creek CO (Colorado Springs XC)
Major Meets: 3rd NXN SW, 3rd 5A State, 2nd Titan Thunder, 1st Rim Rock.
Previous NXN: First time.
At Large #2 New Trier IL (Wilmette XC)
Major Meets: 3rd NXN MW, 4th 3A State,
Previous NXN: 2011(4th).
At Large #3 Saugus CA (Santa Clarita XC)
Major Meets: 1st D2 State, 1st Mt SAC (D2 Vars.),
Previous NXN: 2011(12th), 2010(3rd), 2009(4th), 2008(2nd), 2007(2nd), 2006(18th).
At Large #4 East Aurora NY (Aurora XC)
Major Meets: 3rd NXN NY, 2nd Class B State, 2nd McQuaid.
Previous NXN: First time.
Top 10 Predictions
1. Fayetteville-Manlius NY/NY
2. Assumption SE/KY
3. Tatnall SE/DE
4. Great Oak CA/CA
5. Pennsbury NE/PA
6. Saratoga NY/NY
7. Carmel MW/IN
8. Southlake Carroll SO/TX
9. Davis SW/UT
10. Fort Collins SW/CO