The second full weekend of the season has many of the top teams and individuals in each state opening up their seasons. From Texas, to South Carolina, to Colorado, to New Mexico, MileSplit will have on-site coverage of nearly a dozen meets this weekend. Check out our weekend preview for the top meets taking place this weekend.
Weekend Preview (9/5-9/7)
UNM Lobo Invitational (NM)
Every season the University of New Mexico Lobo Invitational kicks off the New Mexico cross country season in grand fashion. With most of the top boys and girls teams in the state competing in the annual meet, fans both in the state and out can see just how good the top teams will be.
This year once again showcases two of the top boys teams in the country, as U.S. #4 Albuquerque Academy and U.S. #10 Los Alamos go head-to-head for early season bragging rights. Last year Academy beat Los Alamos soundly, however, as the season progressed Los Alamos showed they were on par with Academy.
This season Academy seems to have a slight advantage based off returnees, giving them the edge on Saturday. Led by Pat Zacharias, Academy will look to pack up their back-end scorers, hoping to create a strong 1-5 split. Los Alamos will follow the lead of the front-running tandem of Gareth Gilna and Kyle Pittman, while Cibola, Gallup and St. Michael's all look to compete for a top three spot.
Individually, Zacharias, Pittman and Gilna all have a shot to win the overall race, while Eldorado's Bryce Palmer is the top returnee after finishing third in '07. On the girls side the race seems even more wide open, with numerous athletes having a shot to take home the title. With Eldorado's Rachel Velarde graduated, no fewer than six runners look to compete for the win. Holly Walker (Los Alamos) is the top returnee from last year, where she placed second.
Similarly on the girls side, Albuquerque Academy hopes to earn the team title. While the squad is ranked second currently in the state 4A-5A polls, they will face NM#1 Eldorado, a team that returns a strong line-up from last year's state championship squad. With both squads showing great strength up front, it seems the race will come down to the 4-5 runners of each squad. Expect a close one here.
Marcus I Invitational (TX)
With the season starting only a few weeks ago in most states, with top competitions not really kicking-off until last weekend, few top individual match-ups have taken place throughout the nation. With the season starting to heat up however, fans can expect top runners to start seeing each other in invitationals.
Perhaps the top match-up of the weekend takes place in Texas at the Marcus I Invitational. South ranked athletes CJ Brown (Sr., Southlake Carroll, TX) and Craig Lutz (So., Marcus, TX) square off in what should be quite a battle. Last fall Brown followed the lead of teammate Colby Lowe, placing well at NTN (top six), as well as qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals. This year Brown will set his own path and many are awaiting to see if he'll be more dominant than last year.
Meanwhile, Lutz rides into the season as perhaps the top sophomore in the country. After such a strong freshman year, the expectations now take another step, with state championship hopes in sight. Lutz showed continual improvement throughout his freshman year, so it should be no surprise if he comes out of the gates with a very strong statement race.
Other individuals to watch are Jim Stitt (Sr., Mansfield Timberview, TX) and Chelsey Sveinsson (So., Greenhill, TX). Stitt could be the surprise contender in the boys race, especially after a great spring, which saw the Timberview product break 4:20 for 1600m. Sveinsson should produce the top girls time on the day, as she starts her sophomore season with high expectations. Last fall Sveinsson proved she was the top freshman in the country, earning a trip to Foot Locker Nationals and earning all-American status. Another summer of building the mileage base should mean Sveinsson's even faster in 2008.
In the team race, Southlake Carroll (TX) should dominate on the boys side. The team consistently produces top squads with a lot of depth and this year seems no different. With the low score of Brown up front, this could be another great Southlake Carroll showing. The girls side should have a great battle of Keller (TX)and Highland Park (TX) up top.Both squads return a good amount of talent from their first and second place squads of last year.
Terre Haute State Preview (IN)
It's going to be hard for U.S. #13 Carmel (IN) to win the boys race at the Terre Haute State Preview this weekend. After having a tough battle Wednesday at the Hamilton County Meet, which was delayed due to the weather, Carmel now has to bounce back three days later and take on one of the best fields assembled in the state this season.
The Greyhounds have shown the talent so far this season to pull off the victory though. Led by senior frontman Daniel Kinn, Carmel will look to run with a tight pack, hoping to place their top five in the top twenty. However, Carmel will find a strong challenger from IN#2 Fort Wayne Carroll, who have a talented tandem up top in '07 state runner-up James Martin and Robbie Kleber. Both Martin and Kleber will challenge for the individual win.
Scott Lasiter (Sr., Franklin Central, IN) and his Franklin Central teammates will have something to say though. Ranked seventh in the state currently, Franklin Central follows the lead of Lasiter, who is one of the top returnees from 2007. Similar to Fort Wayne Carroll, Franklin Central will rely on a low score up top and then hope their 4-5 runners can match the strength of Carmel's back-end scorers.
The girls side should be equally as entertaining, as IN#1 Carmel look to match the success of their boys squad, but should receive a challenge from IN#4 Fort Wayne Carroll and IN#8 Westfield. Carmel will use pack running tactics to take home the team title, while FW Carroll has a bigger 1-5 split, but sophomore sensation Brianna Johnson could very well win the individual title for her team. Westfield will follow the lead of senior leader Kaitlyn Love, who will need to race better than she did at the Hamilton County Meet on Wednesday.
Hornet-Red Devil Invitational (IL)
Most of the top teams in Illinois start their invitational season this weekend, with the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational being the top meet in the state. The talent and depth on each side of competition should create quite the atmosphere Saturday. Leading the charge is U.S. #9 Neuqua Valley (IL), the defending NTN boys champions.
Neuqua Valley returns a great nucleus of talent, led by senior Danny Pawola and junior Aaron Beattie. Both Pawola and Beattie made huge strides last year, both showing they could be top three finishers in 2008. Both athletes will be in contention for the individual win on Saturday, as will Palatine junior Chano Bernardo. This trio should create quite the battle up top.
Meanwhile, Neuqua Valley's depth gives them the pre-race favorite label. With four athletes running 9:45 or faster in the 3200m, along with another handful capable of breaking 10 minutes, Neuqua Valley continues to show why they are one of the top teams in the land. Their chief competition should come from Palatine (IL). Palatine is currently ranked fifth in the Illinois Cross Country Coaches Poll, and follows the lead of Bernardo, junior Alec Bollman and senior Adam Bethke. While this squad lost five of their seven athletes from last year's third place team, Palatine reloaded with some very strong junior/senior talent.
While Neuqua Valley will steal much of the spotlight, the girls varsity race should be even strong. Five of the top twelve ranked teams in the state are entered, with IL#2 Hinsdale Central leading the way. Last fall Hinsdale Central ran away with the team title at this meet, and while they return more talent than everyone else, they should be challenged a bit more than in 2007.
Providing the strongest challenge should be IL#4 Palatine and IL#5 Neuqua Valley. Each team has much returning experience, as well as some younger runners that didn't leave their mark in this race last year. The two other IL top twelve squads are IL#11 Stagg and IL#12 Wheaton Warrenville South.
Individually, Elaine Kuckertz (Sr., Hinsdale Central, IL) leads her squad and should vie for the individual title. With defending champion Annette Glaz (Stagg) graduating, this leaves the race wide open for a new champion. Kuckertz finished second in '07, leading back two other Hinsdale Central runners that finished in the top six. One other athlete to watch is Sarah McIntosh (So., Palatine, IL). Last year McIntosh finished 14th in the open race. Since then she's transformed herself into an all-state runner in track and one of the top cross country runners in the state.
Eye Opener (SC)
One of the top, if not the top, invitational in the south this weekend takes place in South Carolina. The Eye Opener is always one of the top early season invitationals in the region. While many of the top performers from 2007 graduated, the talent here is still quite strong.
Perhaps the best match-up of the competition comes in the girls international race, which pits '07 champion Daniel (SC) against '07 runner-up Science Hill (TN). Both squads return a heap of talent, with Daniel returning six of seven and Science Hill returning all seven. Last fall Daniel beat Science Hill 93-106, and you can bet Science Hill will be looking to earn the victory this season.
Individually, the battle up top will be exciting. A trio of competition should vie for first place. Seniors Allie Scalf (Science Hill, TN) and Kate Borowicz (J.L. Mann, SC) are considered two of the favorites, while Sinead Haughey (So., Daniel, SC) should also challenge. These three placed 1-2-3 in 2007, with Borowicz besting runner-up Haughey 18:47-18:55 over the 5k course. Scalf placed third in 18:59.
On the boys side defending champion Mooresville (NC) looks to earn another championship trophy. Last fall the squad crushed the competition, following the lead of Foot Locker finalist Patrick McGregor. While McGregor graduated, five of their seven return. The squad should feel the pressure of Wando (SC), the runner-up squad from last year, who return six of seven. J.L. Mann (SC) could also challenge behind the front running efforts of Daniel Myles and Parks Edwards.
The best showing in last year's field came in the boys international race, which saw a trio of Foot Locker qualifiers square off against one another. While all three graduated, the best race this time around could come in the battle between South Carolina favorites Morgan Bateman (Jr., Wade Hampton, SC) and Aaron Ramirez (Jr., Woodmont, SC). Last year they placed second and third respectively in the championship boys race. It will be interesting to see if they are moved into the international boys race this year.
Gettysburg Invitational (PA)
Some great team action takes place on Saturday at the Gettysburg Invitational in Pennsylvania. A few PA top ten teams will square off against one another for early season bragging rights. On the boys side three top ten teams match-up, as PA#5 Coatesville, PA#7 Carlisle and PA#9 Holy Ghost Prep meet. Each squad brings some talent up front and quality depth in the 4-5 positions, giving each squad a chance to bring home the title.
Each squad is led by a strong front runner. Pre-race individual favorites Chris Rosato (Sr., Coatesville, PA) and Michael Pierce (Sr., Carlisle, PA) lead their squads respectively, while John Pope (Jr., Holy Ghost Prep, PA) hopes to improve on his finish last year and make a challenge against Rosato and Pierce. Altoona is another team to keep an eye on after knocking off Coatesville last weekend with a strong pack.
On the girls side, PA#2 Latrobe and PA#4 Cumberland Valley match up. On paper these teams are very similar, both returning their entire top seven from last year's state teams, while having a strong frontrunner, capable of winning any race their in. Latrobe is led by '07 fourth place state finisher Natalie Bower (Sr., Latrobe, PA). Bower progressed nicely throughout her junior year and looks to make her mark as the top PA runner in 2008. Cumberland Valley is led by sophomore standout Leigha Anderson, who finished in the top ten at state in '07. This should be quite the battle.
Another great part of the meet on Saturday is the addition of U.S. 20k Champion James Carney, who will be a special guest of the meet.
Pleasant Valley Challenge (IA)
The Pleasant Valley Challenge seems to be the annual kick-off to the Iowa cross country season. This year many of the top boys and girls team in the state will take part, as well as highliy ranked Illinois squad Naperville North.
Last fall Pleasant Valley (IA) dominated the boys race, showing why they were one of the best teams in the region. While many of their top runners graduated, this squad has a young nucleus looking to carry on the team's tradition of excellence. However, unlike last year when they cruised through the field, this team will face some strong challenges, including a strong squad from Iowa City High.
The girls side should showcase a strong battle between Iowa City High and Naperville North. Both these teams return a lot of talent and look to impress after top three finishes last year at this meet. Year to year this race tends to be fairly close and produce some results that lead to great regional rankings for top squads. If either of these teams are of Nike Cross National quality this season, Saturday fans will find out just how good they can be.
Great Meadow Invitational (VA)
The Great Meadow Invitational had great fields set up to compete this weekend on both the boys and girls sides. However, due to Hurricane Hannah weather, the meet was canceled.