Looks like 2019 NXN Southeast Regional will enjoy slightly better weather than experienced by runners in 2018.
When many of these same teams met at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina at Great American in early October, the pecking order went as followed among top girls cross country teams in the Southeast Region:
1. Loudoun Valley (VA)
2. Pinecrest (FL)
3. Chapel Hill (NC)
4. Cuthbertson (NC)
5. Bolles (FL)
6. Marist (GA)
7. St. Pius X (GA)
8. Blacksburg (VA)
9. Howard (MD)
10. Midlothian (VA)
Fast forward now a month and half later with some additions and improvements by some teams, other teams trending in opposite direction or stagnating, and one team completely bowing out for the season leads to a very intriguing and exciting championship girls race for Saturday's Nike Cross Southeast Regional back on the same course.
The Favorite To Win - Loudoun Valley (VA)
The Loudoun Valley girls have been able to watch up close and personal their boys team enjoy national stardom over recent years including back to back NXN titles in Oregon, but it appears that instead of spectating and cheering for their boys that they want to be part of and competing right with them at nationals this fall.
They made huge strides last year to elevate to a 6th place team finish at the Nike Cross Southeast Regional and were perfectly set up to make another jump in 2019 with only one varsity runner graduating from their top 7 along with getting an impactful transfer in sophomore Ava Gordon within their county at nearby Rock Ridge High School.
At Great American earlier this season, Loudoun Valley was the Southeast Region's top finishing team as a runner-up in the Race of Champions behind only California powerhouse program Great Oak. Their team also scored major invitational victories this fall at Oatlands and PTXC. At the Virginia state cross country championships, Loudoun Valley defeated the program that has been the model program for the state and arguably the entire Southeast in Blacksburg for the class 4 crown by a score of 36-59.
Loudoun Valley girls have arguably the best top 3 in the meet with the likes of Ricky Fetterolf, Ava Gordon, and Elise Abbe. Fetterolf was consistently the team's front runner last year including an 8th place finish (18:05) to finish the season at NXN Southeast with Abbe right behind her as she took 9th place (18:19) in the same race. Adding in Gordon, who placed 15th running unattached as individual at the 2018 NXN Southeast Regional, gives Loudoun Valley 3 girls who placed among the top 15 in last year's race who very well could all move into the top 10. It would be tough for any other squad in the race to overcome that advantage if they could replicate having 3 girls finish so high individually on Saturday.
Gordon won the individual title in the Virginia class 4 race with a 18:04 performance and will be looking for her first sub 18 minute performance at WakeMed. Meanwhile, Fetterolf was the team's top finisher at Great American with a sub 18 run in 17:53 for 9th place in the Race of Champions. The back end will need to remain serviceable though to insure Loudoun Valley secures a potential tandem national berth spot with their boys.
A 40 second plus gap roughly exists between their #3 and #4 runners as after Abbe with a season best 5K of 18:18 comes Ally Talley (19:04), Scarlet Fetterolf (19:09), and Cecelia Fetterolf as the next runners expected to fill out their scoring. The irony is that Fetterolf could be leading the team up front in Ricky, but it will be her siblings in Scarlet and Cecelia who will have the most important roles of the day for their team.
The Team Due To Get Over The Hump - Pine Crest (FL)
Plenty of Florida teams have come up to WakeMed having run fast times down on the pancake flat and fast courses found throughout their season and looked good on paper to qualify, but many have struggled in the past to replicate those performances measuring up against teams who come from states with regular hilly courses that view WakeMed as one of the easier courses to race on all season.
Pine Crest is looking to destroy that narrative and become only the third girls team to qualify for nationals from the state of Florida in the meet's history. They would also be exercising some demons and getting over personal disappointments themselves including last year's squad who came in as one of the better ranked squads by finished a distance 11th place in the team standings at the 2018 NXN Southeast Regional. They had finished fourth at NXN Southeast in 2016 and 2017 with high expectations to make it to nationals last year.
One way to build confidence in their chances was by making the trip to Great American as they did in early October and finishing third in the Race of Champions behind only Loudoun Valley from the region by 22 points, while more importantly ahead of the majority of the other regional teams who are expected to be vying for one of the those auto spots with them this weekend.
The margin of error is small for them as they have a strong top 5 that averages 18:21 as a group, but not much back up after that with their #6 and #7 runners over 20 minutes for their season best 5K's. Pine Crest actually has a top 3 that matches up very well with Loudoun Valley's trio and actually did when they raced head to head at Great American. Their two senior front runners in Tsion Yared (5th, 17:35) and Emily Faulhaber (11th, 17:56) both broke 18 minutes at WakeMed in the Great American and their third runner in senior Maya Beleznay (31st, 18:20) found herself up there as well in a deep field.
The key as will be for Loudoun Valley and really any team going to nationals is who is the first team to get five runners across the finish line on Saturday. At Great American, Loudoun Valley gained a 24 point advantage on Pine Crest in the #4 and #5 runner spots, while Pine Crest had a 2 point advantage on Loudoun Valley in the #1-3 runner positions. The team title likely will be decided on the back end of the scoring five.
Other season highlights for the Pine Crest girls included winning the FSU Pre-State Invitational as well as earlier this month winning the 2A state team title in a formidable matchup with the second best team in Florida regardless of classification in Bolles by a score of 33-54. Bolles was actually 8th in last year's NXN Southeast Regional as Florida's highest finishing representative ahead of Pine Crest.
The Team On The Rise With History On Their Side - Blacksburg (VA)
Based on their showing at Great American earlier this season when they finished back in the field as only the Southeast's 8th highest finishing squad, it appeared that you could possibly count out Blacksburg from attempting to keep one of the longest active streaks in the country for Nike Cross Nationals team appearances going into year #7.
But it would not be wise. Especially considering that their team ran that race as well as another big invitational in the MileStat.com XC Invitational against another national berth contending squad in Chapel Hill of North Carolina without their top returning runner in Kaitlyn Wolfe.
She is a significant point swing after being inserted back into the lineup in time for championship season as well as the clear experience and history advantage on their side to see Blacksburg ready to leap frog many of those same times ahead of them at Great American in NXN Southeast Regional on Saturday.
Wolfe did race at WakeMed earlier this season, but not with her team as she instead race in mid-September at the adidas XC Challenge with a third place effort of 18:05. Wolfe along with teammate Audrey Link and her season best 5K time of 17:48 should give Blacksburg two girls possible of scoring single digit score cards and certainly capable of top 20 finishes.
The weak area for Blacksburg when matching up against the likes of Loudoun Valley and Pine Crest will be in the #3 runner spot as they don't have a third runner who has ventured into the 18 minute range this season, while both top ranked teams have their 3rd fastest girl well into the 18's. It will require either subpar races from those teams in those spots or some perfectly timed peak races from the Blacksburg's #3-5 spots in order for them to leap frog those two squads and move into another nationals berth.
Blacksburg has 3 girls knocking on the door of their first sub 19 minute races in Mari Garza (19:05), Mia Jones (19:06), and Annika Griggs (19:09). If they can suddenly make the time drops into 18:40's runners then watch out for Blacksburg to once again be called up as one of the two teams that will be Portland bound.
The Local Rooting Favorite - Chapel Hill (NC)
Nothing is better at past NXN Southeast Regionals than when a local team is able to make it to nationals with a huge crowd of fans able to attend to celebrate the achievement. The Chapel Hill girls would fit that description this year being only a 30 minute drive from the course in Cary, North Carolina.
The Chapel Hill boys qualified back to back years for Nike Cross Nationals in 2005 and 2006, while the Chapel Hill girls are looking to make their own history presently and become a first time qualifier. They have had a steady and outstanding season including a strong fourth place finish at Great American and only 22 points behind Pine Crest and 44 points behind Loudoun Valley as North Carolina's top squad.
They traveled up to Virginia and competed in one of that state's deepest and fastest meets in the MileStat.com XC Invitational and scored a major win against the 7-time national qualifiers from Blacksburg head to head.
Chapel Hill did not celebrate victory in their last race though as they were part of an incredible fierce 3 way battle for the North Carolina 3A girls title and ended up taking runner-up honors by 17 points to Cuthbertson, but ahead of another strong team in third place Weddington by 8 points. They will not have to worry about Cuthbertson this weekend though as that team has decided to shut down their cross country season and certainly found themselves in striking distance of the Southeast region's top two ranked programs earlier this season at Great American.
Chapel Hill has an entire top 5 of girls who have broken 19 minutes for 5K this season, which is feat rarely achieved by many programs prior to the NXN Southeast Regional. Loudoun Valley, Pine Crest, and Blacksburg have yet to see 5 of their girls break 19 minutes in the same race this season. A 35 second spread from top runner Megan Marvin at 18:24 to fifth runner Nora Daley at 18:59 separates their scoring five. If they can keep that pack tight as well as move further up in the field, Chapel Hill could certainly do some damage especially if any of the top ranked teams have any issues with their back end of their top five finishing in time.
Their group of girls looked fit last weekend racing in the Dash for Doobie 3200 meter races on the track with 6 girls under 11:50 including Abby Weber (11:11), Amelia Maughan (11:12), Sydney Runkle (11:32), Megan Marvin (11:38), Nora Daley (11:44), and Virginia Pridgen (11:48). Bunch of PR's in that group hoping it all projects to more 5K PR's on Saturday.
The Under The Radar Team - Weddington (NC)
While not necessarily the hometown team, the Weddington girls are certainly within the jurisdiction of a home state team to root for as come from the suburbs of Charlotte a few hours away. They were in that dog fight of a race for the 3A girls championship at the North Carolina state meet and got the short end of the straw in third place. Would it not be remarkable if a team were to somehow go from third in their state meet to finishing among the top 3 in an entire region comprising a total of 11 states?
It is not beyond the realm of possibility at all. The Weddington girls were one of the few teams considered among the top 10 ranked in the entire region who did not compete in the Race of Champions at Great American. Instead, Weddington came to preview the NXN regional course at WakeMed earlier in the season in September at the adidas XC Challenge when they scored a resounding 90 point margin of victory and swift 18:42 early season team average ahead of the likes of Virginia 6A state champions Lake Braddock and Virginia 5A state runners-up Midlothian. At Great American, only two Southeast region squads in Loudoun Valley at 18:31 and Pine Crest at 18:32 had faster team averages despite racing two weekends after Weddington's performance at WakeMed.
Another stat that projects well for Weddington's chances to really surprise at the NXN Southeast Regional. Their varsity girls last weekend tuned up for this race by competing in the Doobie for Dash 3200 meter time trial races which ended up being moved indoors last minute due to weather to the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem. The Weddington girls matched up well with Chapel Hill who also had a bunch of their girls compete in the same meet as well with 5 girls breaking 12 minutes including Anna Ritter (11:06), Anna Davis (11:23), Emma Jones (11:27), Paige Starkie (11:36), and Audrey Wright (11:53).
The Team Missing In Action - Cuthbertson (NC)
The biggest story going into the NXN Southeast Regional might not be the teams racing in the meet, but the team that has opted not to run in the meet at all in Cuthbertson. After just listing off reasons why two North Carolina teams in Chapel Hill and Weddington are so formidable and teams to watch on Saturday, it is hard to not be disappointed to know that the team who actually beat both of those two strong squads for the North Carolina 3A state title will not be on the starting line with them trying to qualify for nationals as well.
Their coach put out a tweet last week announcing that the team would not be racing at NXN Southeast, but plans to have the meet in their plans for the 2020 cross country season. The reasons for the decision to shut their season down was not divulged in the tweet and we have not dug deeper into the reasons why. Cuthbertson only graduates one runner from their state champion squad, albeit top runner Gabrielle Castro, so certainly expect them to be one of the preseason favorites next fall to compete for a national spot out of the Northeast region. Cuthbertson had finished 5th earlier this season at WakeMed in the Race of Champions at Great American as the region's fourth best squad.
Other Teams To Watch
Bolles girls were competitively close in a runner-up finish to Pine Crest in the Florida 2A state race and only graduated one runner from a team that finished 8th one year ago at the NXN Southeast Regional. An improvement in the team standings is very likely as well as top 4 finish is certainly within reach to put them into eligibility for at-large consideration.
Bolles finished 6th at Great American and were only nudged out for fifth place by North Carolina state champions Cuthbertson on a sixth runner tiebreaker as they had identical team scores of 176 points. Only 38 points separates the season best 5K times of their top 5 runners from #1 runner Elizabeth Csikai at 18:22 to #5 runner Layne Rivera at 19:01.
The pack is there and the point swing changes are right in front of them to pick off some teams and surprise. Bolles could also end the season as the top Florida squad as they will renew their in-state rivalry with Pine Crest many miles away from their state border as 21 points separated them in their state meet battle earlier this month.
The Georgia teams Marist and St. Pius X have also not got a lot of attention going into the meet, but they were also within striking distance of the region's top ranked schools at Great American with top 10 finishes. Marist is the better packed team with 5 girls having season bests under 19 minutes and only 42 seconds separating them, while St. Pius X has the better front running with two girls in Morgan Vaden and Mary Brady who have dipped under 18 minutes this season. It has also been some time since a Georgia girls team made it to nationals with Collins Hill making two consecutive trips to Oregon a handful of years ago.
The West Virginia state champions of Morgantown have been running nothing but difficulty and hilly courses in the terrain that they find often at meets in their home state as well when they venture north into Pennsylvania. They are a dark horse team to watch who could really surprise and catch many off guard if not paying attention.
Loudoun Valley and Pine Crest were lauded earlier about having the best top three in the region, but there has to be room as well to make a case for the trio at Morgantown in Lea Hatcher (17:24), Athena Young (17:35), and Irene Riggs (18:05). Hatcher is one of the individual favorites at NXN Southeast after posting the second fastest time ever on the West Virginia state meet course and it would not be surprising to find her teammates Young and Riggs quickly following her in the finish line chute among the top 15 finishers.
The biggest deterrent or hinderance why the Morgantown girls might struggle to compete for a top 4 finish is that their fifth runner right now falls back with a 20:09 season best and their fourth runner as well just under 20 minutes. They simply cannot have two runners among their top 5 potentially adding over 100 points to their team scoring each when most years requires teams to be under 200 points total to be inside the top 4 team standings.
Girls Individual Preview
Defending NXN Southeast Region individual champion Sasha Neglia from Dobyns-Bennett High School in Tennessee is back to attempt to repeat at WakeMed. Neglia won last year's race with a 17:37 and it should certainly require a faster time to win again this year, but she appears to be in an even better shape than last fall. Neglia has an incredibly consistent with her times this season running in the mid 17's at 17:34, 17:29, 17:35, 17:42, 17:27, and most recently a 17:22 season best victory in the Tennessee state meet against our familiar rival and a Foot Locker All-American in Jenna Hutchins.
While the two Tennessee stars won't be racing head to head this weekend with Hutchins at Foot Locker South, they faced off against each other last week in a 3200 meter time trial race with Hutchins just ahead of Neglia as the UNC commit ran a lifetime PR of 10:17 in the runner-up effort. Neglia earned All-American honors last fall with a 15th place showing at Nike Cross Nationals.
Last year's NXN Southeast Regional runner-up Tsion Yared is back hopeful to qualify for nationals this time around with her Pine Crest team as well. Yared ran a season best time of 17:35 earlier this season at WakeMed with a fifth place finish at Great American and is coming off winning a third straight Florida 2A state cross country individual title.
Yared had a stellar run out in Portland last December when she finished 23rd in the Nike Cross Nationals race after securing her spot in Cary. She went onto run 10:24 for 3200 meters and 4:52 for 1600 meters this past spring.
The West Virginia state champ and Morgantown sophomore Lea Hatcher might be the speediest runner in the field after running a 2:08 800 last spring as a freshmen. She made quite an impression to start her season when defeated the Penn Relays mile record holder Tori Starcher at the West Virginia pre-state meet and then rolled to 17:24 on the same course to win the West Virginia AAA state cross country title two months later.
This will be her first time racing at WakeMed, so it will be interesting to see how her times translate but can expect a fast time well into the mid to low 17 minute range. Hatcher (#31) and her teammate Athena Young (#45) are actually rated among the top 45 fastest runners in the nation this fall based on the Tullyrunners speed rating system. Morgantown might not send their entire team to nationals, but they could be well represented with two individual qualifiers potentially.
A two-time North Carolina 4A state cross country champion in Carmen Alder of Pinecrest (not to be confused with the Florida squad Pine Crest) has a great opportunity to make it to her first cross country national meet as a junior. She was not too far off a national spot last year when she finished 10th as an individual in the 2018 NXN Southeast Regional race.
Alder has had two strong races this season at WakeMed already running 17:36 to win the adidas XC Challenge in September and posting a 6th place time of 17:39 at Great American in October. She went onto repeat as the North Carolina 4A state champ and last week tuned up for this meet by running a 10:30 3200 indoors to win the Dash for Doobie race in Winston-Salem.
Right behind Adler at Great American in 7th place in a 5K PR of 17:42 was eventual Maryland 4A state runner-up Charlotte Turesson of Richard Montgomery. She is returning back to Cary this weekend to see if she can grab one of the five individual spots to nationals. She has finished second in a lot of races this season as she had to deal with racing against a very strong runner within her own county in Maryland in Walter Johnson's Jenna Goldberg who just missed the Maryland state meet course record by a second.
Goldberg will be up at Foot Locker Northeast this weekend, so it will be Turesson's opportunity to shine as the top runner from Maryland. Another runner from Maryland to watch is two-time 3A state cross country champion Oakley Olson of Northern-Calvert. She placed 11th in last year's NXN Southeast Regional.
As mentioned prior, some of the favored teams will have individuals racing up into the top 10 such as the duo from Loudoun Valley in Virginia 4A state champ Ava Gordon and Ricky Fetterolf. Fetterolf (9th) and teammate Elise Abbe (10th) were actually both top 10 finishers and a few spots from nationals one year ago at NXN Southeast.
MEET DATE & LOCATION
WakeMed Soccer Park
DE - MD - VA - NC - SC - GA - FL - AL - TN - KY - WV - DC
FRIDAY - 11.29.19
NOON - 5:00pm: Course Open for Preview
NOON - 5:00pm: Packet Pick-up available at course (MGMT TENT)
NOON - 5:00pm: Nike Retail Open at The Course
6:00pm - 8:00pm: Pasta Dinner at Herbert C. Young Center
SATURDAY - 11.30.19
7:00am - Packet Pick-up available at course (MGMT TENT)
7:00am - Nike Retail Open at The Course
8:20am - GIRLS "Rising Stars" Race (Open to FR/SO runners)
8:45am - BOYS "Rising Stars" Race (Open to FR/SO runners)
9:10am - GIRLS Open Invitational Race
9:35am - BOYS Open Invitational Race 1
10:00am - BOYS Open Invitational Race 2
10:30am - Community 5k Race
10:30am - Awards Ceremony for Rising Stars and Open Races
11:10am - BOYS Championship Race
11:50am - GIRLS Championship Race
*Due to the size of the field in the Boys Open Invitational Race, the race has been split into two separate sections. AWARDS FOR BOY'S OPEN INVITATIONAL RACE WILL BE AWARDED ON COMBINED RESULTS OF THE TWO SECTIONS.
Packet Pick-up will be available during the following hours at the Meet Administration Tent located adjacent to the start line
Friday, Noon - 5:00pm (AT MANAGEMENT TENT ADJACENT TO START LINE)
Saturday, 7:00am - 11:50am (AT FRONT ENTRY GATE OF WakeMed Soccer Park)
WakeMed Soccer Park Cross Country Course
201 Soccer Park Drive
Cary, NC 27511
DIRECTIONS TO RACE COURSE
Nothing's worse than getting lost on race morning. Know where to go! Check out directions below.
Directions to and from Hotels, Venues and RDU International Airport
From I-40 Eastbound (Chapel Hill/Durham):
Take the Cary 54 Exit (Exit 290) off of I-40. Turn right on top of the exit ramp (towards Cary). Turn left on SE Maynard Road. Take a left on Chatham Street and Wake Med Soccer Park is 1⁄2 mile on the right.
From I-40 Westbound (Fayetteville):
Take Exit 291, Cary Towne Boulevard. Turn right on Cary Towne Blvd, then take a right on SE Maynard Road. Turn right on E. Chatham Street and Wake Med Soccer Park will be 1⁄2 mile on right.
From Downtown Cary:
Head East on Chatham Street towards Raleigh. Wake Med Soccer Park will be on your right.
From Beltline, take Western Boulevard exit and head west (toward Cary). Continue after merge with Hillsborough Street until it becomes E. Chatham Street. Wake Med Soccer Park will be on your left, 1⁄2 mile before Maynard Road intersection.