Former champions Hasay, Brasovan and Kroeger battle each other as well as a top Foot Locker field, vying for a second national title
She was really short and went out really fast. And she actually finished second because she didn’t know she was supposed to sprint at the end.
Those sketchy details pretty much encapsulate the one-mile jaunt that was Jordan Hasay’s first race.
She was in fourth grade at the time; her signature ponytail much shorter.
Not much has changed for the tigerish Hasay in the intervening eight years. As was the case then, if there is a race and she is in it, you will find her up front, battling for the lead. Her frequent victories haven’t always been easy and never has she taken the success for granted, but it certainly has become second nature.
In fact, that aforementioned loss was her last before she entered high school. Since then you can count the number of times that she has finished second or worse on one hand, a testament to a stellar prep career.
That she will meet two of the architects of those rare defeats on the same starting line this weekend in San Diego is an indication of the depth and quality of the girls’ field as Foot Locker turns 30.
What better way to celebrate a milestone birthday than to assemble one of the top girls fields in the three decades of the meet? For the first time in the storied history of this great event, three former champions will face each other when Hasay (Photo by Margot Kelly, CALrunners.com), meets defending champion Ashley Brasovan and 2006 winner Kathy Kroeger.
“It’s really exciting,” said Hasay, who last weekend became the first four time regional champion with her win in the West. “It’s just cool being a part of the history of Foot Locker. Ashley and Kathy are really great people. We’ve been emailing each other all season. I think we’re just excited to make it back to San Diego.
Any of the three could have chosen to skip Foot Locker altogether this year, opting instead to test the waters at the reorganized Nike event, which for the first time offered an individual component to its National Championship. But the former champions declared early this season that they would all be returning to San Diego, setting up the much-anticipated showdown, igniting the hype.
Of course, 37 other girls will line up with the three champs on Saturday. All 37 with impressive resumes. All 37 have put in the time. All 37 would love to leave as champion as well.
“It’s very possible that there could be another champion crowned that’s not one of the three defenders,” Hasay said. “I think once you get to that level, everybody is so good. Every year there are some people who just show up who you never even heard of and do really well. There’s really no race that can compare to the national, race and there’s really no race that can prepare you for it. There’s really no race strategy that is going to be set in stone. So you really have to be ready for anything and anyone.”
Added Brasovan: “I think everyone’s out there to race hard. All of these girls have been working for the past six or seven months. I know it’s going to be a tough race and ultimately it’s going to come down to whoever is having the best day that day. Because there are so many people who are so good out there.”
For those of you keeping score it went Brasovan, Kroeger and Hasay a year ago, with Brasovan upsetting the two former champions looking to repeat. Hasay’s victory as frosh derailed Aislinn Ryan's chance to become a repeat victor. As Brasovan said, it really is anyone’s race.
Photo by Don Rich, PennTrackXC.com
So then, who is the favorite? Is it Brasovan the defending champion, who comes in with
the fastest 5k time in the nation this season, a sizzling 16:47 at flrunners9. Or Hasay, who burst on the scene in 2005 to become only the second freshman to win Foot Locker?
After that performance, conventional wisdom was that she would be chasing her third or even fourth FL crown by now; if it were only that easy. She will be more than happy for the bookend win to finish off her career.
Hasay may have the best credentials, capturing the fancy of the track and field world when she advanced to the finals of the 1500 at the U.S. Olympic Trials this past summer. Spending her vacation racing in what amounts to rush hour traffic on the LA freeway against runners of considerable experience has to pay dividends.
“Since I’ve been in more situations where people are the same caliber as me or even better, it helps me to not panic when I am surrounded by other people,” Hasay said. “It gives me confidence and perspective. It gives me confidence when we get down to the last mile and stuff knowing that I can run 4:14 1500m and I just think about that during the race. I think it helps, but at the same time I don’t think of myself as being better than Ashley or Kathy or anybody else because I’ve run the trials and stuff because track is different than cross country.
“It definitely helps to have run a lot of different races where I had to run different strategies because most of the year I’m just running out front by myself. It’s hard for everyone because we’re all just used to being two to three minutes ahead of everyone else, and suddenly we’re surrounded by 40 runners of the same caliber.”
Brasovan is the prefect example that it can be anybody’s race. With defending champions Hasay and Kroeger looking for their second title each, the Floridian chalked one up for the underdogs, surprising the favorites, and herself, with the victory.
“It was definitely the most shocking and probably the best day of my life last year when I won it,” Brasovan said. “I mean I was in shock for about a week and a half because I had no idea I was even going to be close to winning. Everything kind of pulled together after that. There’s no way to even explain the feeling.
So is the target on Brasovan’s back?
“It’s a little bit more pressure than last year, definitely,” Brasovan said. “I feel really honored just to have won it once. Even if I don’t come back and win it again, I still won it once and not that many people can say that.”
Then there's the 2006 winner, the Tennessee belle, who for some reason when mentioned in the same paragraph as Brasovan and Hasay is tantamount to the middle sister, slipping through the cracks, if not ignored, as a serious contender despite her moniker as former champ. She's legit, winning the South Regional that included Brasovan and taking second to Brasovan at the Great American XC Festival in a star-studded field that included the likes of three-time FL finalist Emily Sisson. Nine of the top 10 finishers that day advanced to the finals of either FL or Nike this year.
“I don’t really mind not getting as much press or hype,” Kroeger said. “It’s not a big deal to me. I prefer to be more under the radar, I guess. Not that I’m under the radar at this point. I’m not really worried about other people having more things written about them online.”
Kroeger knows exactly what that is like to run with the anvil of expectations as returning champ. Handling it like a pro, she ran composed and finished second in her defense a year ago.
“Two years ago I had the race of my life,” said Kroeger. “Its pretty unbelievable. I definitely wasn’t expecting to win. I guess now it gives me a little more confidence knowing I can compete with these girls.”
Should be one heck of a race.
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