By Geoffrey Decker, for PennTrackXC.com
Connecticut senior Donn Cabral tears through last mile to run #2 all-time Van Cortlandt mark and a meet record 15:09.6. Neely Spence measures her effort and pulls away from late challenges to repeat as NE champ in 17:37.4.
Pennsylvania wins girls team title - New York, the boys
On a cold but calm morning at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York seniors Donn Cabral, of Glastonbury, Conn., and Neely Spence, of Shippensburg, Pa., won the Northeast regional qualifier and earned invitations to the prestigious Footlocker National Cross Country Championships in San Diego on December 9th.
Undefeated this season, Cabral won the boys race comfortably in 15:09, narrowly missing the high school record held by Josh McDougal on the 5000 meter course. McDougal was present Saturday to witness Cabral’s performance less than a week after winning a race of his own -- the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Champs.
Cabral survived a blazing early pace set by Brandon Jarrett, of New Jersey, who faded to finish 8th, after taking it out in with a 2:12 half-mile and 4:33 mile.
Spence won the Northeast Regional for the second year in a row with a time of 17:37. A pre-race favorite who finished 8th at last year’s Footlocker National Championship, Spence beat runner-up Emily Jones of Harvard, Ma. by 4 seconds.
Carly Seymour, a Pennsylvania native like Spence, was considered the other favorite to win, but finished fourth in a time of 17:46. Seymour used an unusual surge shortly after passing the mile mark in 5:05 to open a substantial lead. She led the chase pack into the back hills, but was caught by the two-mile mark.
In all, 20 boys and girls punched a ticket to San Diego by placing in the top ten of their respective races. The boys that will represent the Northeast Region at Nationals are made up of all seniors and come from four states: Pennsylvania (three runners), New Jersey (three), Connecticut (two) and New York (two).
The girls come from Pennsylvania (three), New York (three), Massachusetts (two), and New Jersey (two)
Once Cabral broke the tape, a 15-second gap separated him from a tight chase pack of seven runners, who crossed the line within seven seconds of each other. Mark Dennin, of Pennsylvania, led that pack to finish runner-up in a time of 15:24.
The fast early pace affected the entire field of boys, though in different ways.
“I wasn’t expecting to go out that fast and when I saw that time [at 1-mile mark] I said, ‘Uh Oh,’” Jarrett said of his 4:33 opening mile. “I felt it in those back hills and my whole body just started getting weak. But it’s all good. I made it to California.”
Brian Leung, the reigning New Jersey Meet of Champions winner, finished 3rd in the race with a time of 15:26 and resisted the urge to take it out with his fellow statesman. “I knew there’d be at least one or two guys that would go out a little fast so I kind of hung back early on. I’m a pretty good hill runner so I used that to my advantage to move up on Brandon in the back hills.”
At least four other runners -- Pat Dupont, Andrew Brodeur, Andrew Judd and Zach Rivers – were outside the top-10 in the race’s middle-to-late stages before they made their moves to qualify.
“I was sitting at about 20th at the mile,” said Brodeur. “[Qualifying] is a complete surprise. I wasn’t expecting this.”
For Spence and Seymour, qualifying in the girls race wasn’t as much of a surprise. The two rivals have been closely linked in competition for two years, the most notably of which came last year at the Footlocker National Championship. Seymour finished immediately behind Spence in 9th. The two will be among the favorites to win in San Diego two weeks from now.
Foot Locker was the reason I started running in 8th grade, and after winning it last year, I was just blown away” said Spence, who has raced for Shippensburg High School since being given permission to race scholastically by the state of Pennsylvania and her local school district.
McDougal, a 4th place finisher at the 2003 Foot Locker National Championships, was also home schooled and believes that Spence’s success comes more from pedigree and coaching than her educational and competitive background.
“I think any advantage [Neely] would have is because her dad is such a good runner and obviously because he has been there and done that as a runner. So he knew how to get her prepared,” McDougal said of the elder Spence, who coaches Neely. “It depends so much on coaching and she obviously has great coaching. With those genes and that coaching, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”