Weekend Preview: The Season Heats Up, Big Meets All Around

The past month has been an exciting one with the start of the cross country season. This weekend the season really gets going with numerous national-level match-ups get going across the land. Big meets in Virginia, Kentucky, Idaho, New Jersey, New York and Colorado feature top invitationals, while a half dozen others showcase nationally ranked squads and individuals. See who's where this weekend in our weekly weekend preview.

Weekend Preview (9/19-9/21)

Cherokee Challenge (NJ)

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NJRunners.com Meet Article

Teams Attending (NJRunners.com)

While a lot of the talk this week has focused on bit meets in Idaho, New York, Colorado, etc., one of the best meets of the weekend takes place in New Jersey. The annual Cherokee Challenge brings together many of the top squads in the state and surrounding region, capping it as a "must see" invitational.

Leading the way individually is a great match-up between regionally ranked Robby Andrews (Sr., Manalapan, NJ) and Brett Johnson (Sr., Ocean City, NJ). While these two are better known for their mile accomplishments on the track, they are both looking to make significant leaps on the cross country course, both having national championship hopes in 2008.

On the girls side Chelsea Ley (Jr., Kingsway, NJ) and Jillian Smith (Sr., Southern Regional, NJ) clash. Ley was a Foot Locker finalist last year, while Smith had a dominant season on the track. These two should match up quite well and help sort out the pecking order of sorts in the deep and talented field of New Jersey.

Haddonfield (NJ) seems to be the team to watch on the boys and girls sides. The squads are competing very well at the moment and have to enter Saturday's competition with the favorite lable placed on them.

Bob Firman Invitational (ID)

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Official Meet Website

Every year since its inception, the Bob Firman Invitational has hosted some of the best talent in the Pacific Northwest. Teams from Oregon, Washington, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and even California, make the trip to Idaho to take part in this annual barn-burner.

This year each varsity race is looking strong, as the meet showcases many of the top teams in the region. The top team in the field this season is US #1 North Central (WA), who will square off against the competition in the boys field. While the squad has faced the best Washington state has to offer, this is their first chance of the season to see teams from other states that may challenge them at national level competitions. Led by Andrew Kimpel, North Central should do very well, as this is their first time to really show all their cards on a national scale.

Challenging North Central will be Timpview (UT) and Boise (ID). Both these squads have shown strength throughout the season thus far, with Timpview having enough up front to compete with North Central and provide the strongest challenge. Boise is led by Eric Fitzpatrick, who will look to contend for the individual win against Kimpel.

The girls side is wide open, with teams like Mountain View (ID), Boise (ID) and Davis (UT) each having a shot to prove just how good they are in 2008. Davis is led by senior front runner Candace Eddy, who should make a strong invitational debut this weekend. Another top individual is Foot Locker finalist Nicole Nielsen (Sr., Borah, ID). Nielsen has high hopes for her final high school cross country season, and the Bob Firman Invitational gives her a great shot to kick-off her season in the right way.

Bowdoin Park Classic (NY)

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Teams Attending (ArmoryTrack.com)

Call it NXN Pre-Regionals or call it the Bowdoin Park Classic, either way, this meet in New York is loaded with Northeast talent. Teams from New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Pennyslvania and others, will converge at the NXN Northeast/New York course, all hoping to get a glimpse of what they might be facing come November.

Talent will be seen throughout each varsity race, with the girls race being the showcase event. State ranked teams from Emmaus (PA), Voorhees (NJ), Shenendehowa (NY), Lincoln-Sudbury (MA) and Immaculate Heart Academy (NJ) each have a shot to win the invitational. Lincoln-Sudbury is currently ranked in the MileSplit US top fifteen , but that's not to say one of the other squads can't come in and upset the L-S squad.

On the boys side US #2 Shenendehowa (NY) takes on US #10 Morris Hills (NJ), in the best team battle of the week nationally. Shenendehowa comes in with the weight of huge expectations riding on their shoulders, while Morris Hills is deemed as the underdog. Both squads have good runners up front and a strong pack, so the battle here should be quite fun to see.

Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational (KY)

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Pitting many of the top teams in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky together, means that the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational will be one of the best in the country this weekend. The team to watch on both sides is IN #1 Carmel (IN). The Greyhounds are ranked IN #1 in both the boys and girls rankings, while the boys are also ranked in the MileSplit National CC Rankings at US #9. Both squads have great depth to go along with their top runners that usually compete for the individual win.

Behind them are a slew of top ranked Kentucky teams and a few top teams from Ohio. While Carmel will be the favorites in both varsity races, teams will certainly step up and challenge, hoping to pull off the upset.

Oatlands Invitational (VA)

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The major seasonal debuts of Saratoga Springs (NY) and Solomon Haile (Sr., Shorewood, MD) are two of the main attractions of the Oatlands Invitational this weekend in Virginia. This annual invitational brings together many of the top teams and individuals in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and a few teams from New York, giving a very intense feel to the competition.

Saratoga Springs has high expectations this season. With a lot of talent coming back off of last year's NTN qualifying team, and having a great summer of training, this squad looks to make a statement on Saturday. A few of the top coaches in New York have labeled Saratoga Springs as the team to beat, more so then US #2 Fayetteville-Manlius and US #3 Burnt-Hills. With a tradition behind them of excellence and gritty determination, this squad should be looking to dominate.

Meanwhile, Haile is the top individual to watch. After sitting out the cross country season last fall after moving from Ethiopia to the United States, he started his national track competition with wins at the Nike Indoor and Nike Outdoor National 5k events. While he doesn't have the same speed some other nationally ranked runners have, Haile has shown time and again that he can simply grind athletes down over 3.1 miles.

Haile will receive some challengers early on at least. Ben DeJarnette (Sr., Atlee, VA) is running extremely well currently. To start the season DeJarnette has looked like the top runner in Virginia. He gave Haile a challenge this past sprint at NON over the first two miles in the 5k, only to fade over the last four laps. However, he seems to have made another leap in performace this fall, which could create quite the match-up on Saturday. DeJarnette also leads his Atlee (VA) team into the invitational as the varsity boys favorite.

John Martin Invitational (CO)

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By Alan Versaw (ColoradoTrackXC.com)

Prestige is a hard thing to measure and mostly in the eye of the beholder, so I won't try to measure it here. But, it's probaby safe to say that the John Martin Invitational at Fort Collins HS brings together the most intriguing set of teams of all the meets this weekend.

The John Martin Invitational is run at Fort Collins HS and has two divisions, Divisions I and II. Okay, zero points for name creativity, but it's still a good meet. Teams from as far away as Antonito and Green River, Wyoming, will be competing. Click Here for Full Article

Peoria Notre Dame Invitational (IL)

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Last weekend saw teams from Illinois, Indiana and Iowa take part in the Peoria Woodruff Invitational, held on the Illinois State Meet course. With heavy rains, the course became a mudbath and many wondered how the course would hold up for this weekend's big meet.

Well, it seems as though the course dried out over the week, and while the footing isn't great in stretches, the course is ready to go for another round. This means that the varsity races should be very fast, especially on the girls side, where many of the top teams in the state are traveling down from the Chicago area to take part.

Top Illinois ranked teams Palatine and Lyons Township have yet to face each other this season, but they go head-to-head Saturday. Palatine finished a very close second to IL #2 Hinsdale Central a couple weeks back at the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational, while Lyons has yet to be fully challenged.

Midwest ranked Linsday Flanagan (Sr., Lake Park, IL) and Lizzy Hynes (Sr., St. Charles East, IL) will battle individually.  Flanagan and Hynes are very well matched on paper, both showing considerable strength over the rest of the field.  Sarah McIntosh (So., Palatine, IL) is having a great season thus far as well, and should content with Flanagan and Hynes.

On the boys side the race is seemingly wide open, as many of the top ranked squads either competed in last weekend's Peoria meet or are bypassing this year's. However, similar to the girls race, Palatine and Lyons Township will face off here as well, both being ranked very high and having strong 1-5 packs. The difference will come down to who has the strongest fourth and fifth runner, which will tell a lot about both teams moving ahead.

McCallie Invitational (TN)

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Many of the top teams in the Southeast will travel to the McCallie Invitational Saturday morning to see where they stack up in the region. Three of the top favorites, Baylor (TN), Hoover (AL) and Oak Ridge (TN), will face each other in the boys varsity and girls varsity competition, with each team hoping to one up the others and take home the championship trophy.

The boys individual battle could be a good one, with Patrick McGregor (Sr., Hoover, AL) and Bill Matthews (Sr., Baylor, TN) facing one another. Matthews has been a bit inconsistent this fall, where as McGregor has shown he is one of the best in the South thus far. Oak Ridge will have a few runners in the mix as well, which bodes well for each squad.

Gwinnett County XC Championships (GA)

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GATFXC.com Meet Article

With near perfect weather, and a flat and fast course to run on, the Gwinnett County Cross Country Championships is hands down one of the best meets in the Southeast this weekend. US #4 Collins Hill (GA) girls lead the way, with Amanda Winslow looking to continue her individual domination of the state. Collins Hiil is the heavy favorite, but GA #2 North Gwinnett (GA) looks to push the defending champions.

The boys side represents a similar GA #1 v. GA #2 match-up. GA #1 Brookwood GA) comes in to the meet with pre-race favorite status, while GA #2 Collins Hill (GA) looks to create an upset. However, teams cannot overlook Peachtree Ridge (GA), who currently ranks GA #4. The depth in this meet is outstanding and will shape Georgia the rest of the season.