* Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
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PORTLAND, OREGON -- After convincing victories in 2017 and 2018, North Rockland High School's Katelyn Tuohy held off a late rally to win her third straight Nike Cross Nationals girls championship race on Saturday in 17:18.36. The 17-year-old became the first athlete to win three straight NXN individual championships.
But while Tuohy left zero doubt over her past two seasons, on this day she made the race interesting.
A group including Rawlins (WY)'s Sydney Thorvaldson, Beavercreek (OH)'s Taylor Ewert, Fayetteville-Manlius (NY)'s Claire Walters, and Northern (PA)'s Marlee Starliper chased the New York distance runner with calculated precision.
"I wanted to go out a little slower, because the last two years I've been going out in 5:05," Tuohy said. "Just trying to calm down in the first mile."
But the course was a mess. Driving rain and a biting cold enveloped the Glendoveer Course throughout championship day. Footing was slick and athletes had to navigate patches of mud and slop.
But Tuohy charged forward with confidence. She brought the race through the first mile in 5:15, with Thorvaldson driving along in 5:16, Walters in 5:17, and three others between 5:18-5:19.
By the 2K mark Tuohy made a surge, using the crowd as support.
"I tried to push up the hill and the downhill," she said. "When I got around to 3K, Brooke Rauber's mom was really cheering for me. I made a little bit of a surge there. 4K to go, everyone was going crazy."
By then, however, Thorvaldson and Ewert began to close the gap. And on the final hill, as Tuohy wavered slightly, both seemed to pounce.
At the crest, the race almost seemed even.
"It really seemed like everyone was struggling up that hill, Katelyn and me too," Thorvaldson. "Mentally it was just, 'Get up the hill as hard as you can, you're almost done.'"
But Tuohy showed a response unlike anything before, finding a second wind as she sprinted to the line.
It was a three-horse race to the finish line, with Tuohy taking the tape and holding off the charge from Ewert (17:19.05) and Thorvaldson (17:19.37).
"I practically walked up the last hill," Tuohy said. "But I gave it my all the last 100 meters or so. No one has good days every day, everyone has a bad day. So I think today was more mental than physical."
"That would have been an easy spot to hold up the tent, pack it in and say 'Today's not my day. I don't feel great.' Then she showed the heart of a champion," North Rockland head coach Brian Diglio said. "That determination she showed coming down the line was really special.
It turned out being the closest 1-2-3 finish in NXN history, no doubt one of its most entertaining finishes.
"For the last 100 meters I just heard screaming," Thorvaldson said.
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1. Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland, NY, 17:18.4
2. Taylor Ewert, Beavercreek, OH, 17:19.1
3. Sydney Thorvaldson, Rawlins, WY, 17:19.4
4. Claire Walters, Fayetteville-Manlius, NY, 17:28.4
5. Marlee Starliper, Northern, PA, 17:36.4
6. Carlie Dorostkar, Canyon Crest Academy, CA, 17:36.4
7. Brooke Rauber, Tully, NY, 17:38.6
8. Charlotte Bednar, Lawrenceville, NJ, 17:40.5
9. Kate Peters, Lincoln, OR, 17:43.7
10. Fiona Max, Summit, OR, 17:50.2
11. Erin Strzelecki, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, IN, 17:51.3
12. Corie Smith, Buchanan, CA, 17:56.2
13. Jenna Schulz, Liverpool, NY, 17:56.5
14. Ella Kurto, Saratoga Springs, NY, 17:58.3
15. Samrawit Dishon, Niwot, CO, 17:58.7
16. Annalyssa Crain, Edgewood, IN, 17:58.8
17. Tatum David, Richland County, IL, 18:01.5
18. Julia David-Smith, Issaquah, WA, 18:02.4
19. Sarah Connelly, Mt. Sinai, NY, 18:02.6
20. Kesley Harrington, Virginia, VA, 18:04.4
Perhaps even more surprising was the team race.
Saratoga Springs, with no single upperclassmen on its roster and two eighth-graders, won its second national title since its first in 2004 and led the entire way, claiming the title with 78 points.
The New York team wasn't even the favorite out of its own state.
"Pretty excited," Ella Kurto said of her team's title.
Kinetic came into Nike Cross Nationals as the second qualifying team out of New York following two losses to Fayetteville-Manlius at the New York Class A Championships and NXR New York.
"I think we really just wanted to get out fast and hold our position and do the best we could do," Kurto said.
On this day, however, Saratoga put it all together, watching as sophomore Ella Kurto became an All-American in 14th-place and its 2-3-4 finishing two seconds apart in 35th, 38th and 39th. Its fifth, Emily Bush, was 82nd overall.
"It's really exciting," eighth-grader Emily Bush said. "We're all really proud of each other. We all tried to work together. It's an exciting moment for us, because we worked so hard to get here."
Those finishes, within the team parameters, gave Saratoga Springs four finishers inside the top 15 and its fifth among the top 40.
Defending champion Summit, which tried to make its way up the field, never recovered after a slow start, and finished second with 160 points. It was third after a mile, third after the second mile, third midway through the last mile, and finally overcame third-place Niwot at the finish.
Niwot, which was an at-large team after a third-place finish at NXR Southwest, was also a major surprise.
A dominating showing saw the team scored three runners in the top 26. Lone Peak was fourth with 188 points, while Buchanan was fifth (201) and North Spokane was sixth (204).
"I think it was a really good first experience," Eliza Arrington said of Lone Peak's finish. "We were just figuring things out, figuring out the course. It was a first for us. And I would love to come back next year and do it again."
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NXN TEAM FINISH:
1. Saratoga Springs, NY, 78
2. Summit, OR, 160
3. Niwot, CO, 171
4. Lone Peak, UT, 188
5. Buchanan, CA, 201
6. North Central, WA, 204
7. Fayetteville-Manlius, NY, 206
8. Valor Christian, CO, 242
9 . Great Oak, CA, 266
10. Loudoun Valley, VA, 310
11. Jesuit, OR, 320
12. Naperville North, IL, 323
13. Beavercreek, OH, 327
14. Edina, MN, 333
15. Pine Crest, FL, 353
16. Muskego, WI, 354
17. Newbury Park, CA, 354
18. Lincoln, OR, 359
19. North Hunterdon, NJ, 384
20. Ridgewood, NJ, 390
21. Southlake Carroll, TX, 426
22. Prosper, TX, 483