* Hersey's (IL) Josh Methner is the favorite to win Foot Locker Nationals on Saturday
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SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA -- There's little debate entering the 2019 edition of Foot Locker Nationals.
This is Josh Methner's race to win.
Since 2000, the Midwest region has claimed 11 titles at this famed event, including four wins in the past six races. Two Midwest athletes in recent years -- Cole Hocker and Dylan Jacobs -- have come off appearances at Nike Cross Nationals to claim national titles of their own.
Methner, comparatively, might be in line for a special race. The Notre Dame signee had a historic year, breaking the all-time 3-mile record at Detweiller Park at the IHSA Class 3A Cross Country Championships with a time of 13:49.90. It was a mark that had stood since the 70s and had endured multiple attempts to break it -- from future Foot Locker National champions like Lucas Verzbicas and Jacobs.
Behind that performance, Methner also posted wins at NXR Midwest and Foot Locker Midwest and is coming off a runner-up performance at NXN, where he posted a time of 15:06.10 at Glendoveer, 11th all-time on the course.
Methner has the highest speed rating of any athlete entering Foot Locker, too, with a rating of 200 from NXN and a 197 from the state championships. He's averaged 198 across his final four races. No other athlete in this field has broken a speed rating of 200.
The question for Methner here, potentially, will be where he might finish historically. The last runner to break 15 minutes on Balboa Park soil was in 2012, when St. Benedict's Prep's Edward Cheserek posted a win in 14:59.00. Methner's performances suggests he's capable of doing the same.
* Josh Methner breaks down his performance at NXN
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But there will be challengers. The first among them is Aledo's Graydon Morris, a Texan who became just the second boys athlete in Foot Locker's history to qualify for four straight national championships. Only Jorge Torres, of Wheeling High School (IL), accomplished that previously -- and he ended up winning in 1998.
Morris is clearly capable. The University of Texas recruit has finished third and second in recent years. But he also tends to play his cards close to the vest.
He was third at Foot Locker South, in a time of 15:01.00. Before that, he ran 14:33.43 at the UIL Class 5A Championships, earning a speed rating of 193. He enters the race just fifth based on speed ratings and has raced just five times over 2019.
Then there's Mount Lebanon's Patrick Anderson, the Foot Locker Northeast champion. He's surged in the final weeks of the season, buoyed by incredible performances in championship events.
While Anderson finished 29th in this race a year ago, much has changed. His fitness, his form, and his overall confidence is at an all-time high. He hasn't lost a race in 2019, and that 15:26.60 performance at the PIAA Class 3A Championships is better than that 195 speed rating might suggest.
Then there's Conard's Gavin Sherry, perhaps the country's brightest underclassmen cross country talent, and Allentown's Liam Murphy, who will follow an All-American finish at NXN. Since 2000, the Northeast Region has seen the most success in terms of overall wins, totaling three overall, compared to two for the South and two for the West.
Sherry was only behind Anderson at Northeast, and he generally has been the name to watch in the sophomore class -- ironically, another talented sophomore from Connecticut, Aidan Puffer, will also be in this race. Up until Foot Locker Northeast, Sherry was undefeated and he pocketed three speed ratings of 193, 194 and 195 across five races. But it will also be his first appearance at Foot Locker.
Murphy, like Anderson, struggled in last year's race, where he finished 33rd. But he, too, has the kind of confidence that will keep him near the leaders. His best performance of the season came this past weekend at NXN, where he was eighth overall at NXN.
It would be deceiving to just mention Methner as the sole Midwest representative to potentially place high. Besides Morris, Michigan's Carter Solomon, of Plymouth High School, is one of the top returners. He was fourth in this race last year and his season also suggests a strong race.
The Notre Dame signee pocketed a time of 14:42.70 at regionals and went 15:01.20 at Michigan's LP Division I State Championships, the fastest among all the classes. In a strong Foot Locker Midwest Region he finished fourth.
East Grand Rapids' Evan Bishop, who was ninth last year, returns as well, and he is one of seven athletes from Michigan with hopes to claim All-American finishes.
Skyline's (UT) Thomas Boyden, choosing to focus exclusively on Foot Locker, was third at Foot Locker West -- in a ridiculous finish that saw all 10 qualifiers separated by just two seconds -- and remains one of the region's best returners.
3. Graydon Morris, Aledo (TX); 4. Carter Solomon, Plymouth (MI); 6. Josh Methner, Hersey (IL); 9. Evan Bishop, East Grand Rapids (MI); 11. Daniel O'Brien, Virginia Episcopal (VA); 13. Thomas Boyden, Skyline (UT); 17. Zachary Stewart, Brighton (MI); 23. Matthew Farrell, Loomis Chaffee (CT); 27. Brendan Favazza, Clarkston (MI); 29. Patrick Anderson, Mount Lebanon (PA); 31. Sam Lawler, Pittsford-Mendon (NY); 33. Liam Murphy, Allentown (NJ); 39. Silas Winders, Henry County (TN).
Titles By Region Since 2000:
2018: Cole Hocker, Indianapolis Cathedral (IN), 15:13.70 -- Midwest
2017: Dylan Jacobs, Sandburg (IL), 15:19.70 -- Midwest
2016: Reed Brown, Southlake Carroll (TX), 15:01.80 -- South
2015: Drew Hunter, Loudoun Valley (VA) -- South
2014: Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc (MI), 15:03.00 -- Midwest
2013: Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc (MI), 15:06.50 -- Midwest
2012: Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's Prep (NJ), 14:59.00 -- Northeast
2011: Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's Prep (NJ), 14:51.5 -- Northeast
2010: Lucas Verzbicas, Sandburg (IL), 14:59.00 -- Midwest
2009: Lucas Verzbicas, Sandburg (IL), 15:07.8 -- Midwest
2008: Soloman Haile, Sherwood (MD), 15:15.00 -- Northeast
2007: Michael Fout, LaPorte (IN), 14:50.00 -- Midwest
2006: Chad Hall, Big Bear (CA), 15:20.00 -- West
2005: AJ Acosta, El Camino (CA), 15:02.00 -- West
2004: Kenneth Cormier, Douglas (AZ), 15:22.00
2003: Matthew Withrow, VJ Andrew (IL), 14:55.00 -- Midwest
2002: Chris Solinsky, Stevens Point (WI), 14:40.50 -- Midwest
2001: Timothy Moore, Novi (MI), 14:50.40 -- Midwest
2000: Dathan Ritzenhein, Rockford (MI), 14:35.00 -- Midwest
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All-Time Top 25 Rankings At Balboa Park