* Beavercreek's Taylor Ewert is a contender to win the 2019 Foot Locker Nationals girls race
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The girls championship field at the 2019 edition of Foot Locker Nationals could be, at the very least, unpredictable.
Generally speaking, defending champions typically get the benefit of the doubt when returning to the place where they won a year prior, especially when it happened with such fanfare.
But 2019 is one of those years ...it could get wild.
A year ago, Marianapolis Prepatory junior Sydney Masciarelli ran the eighth-fastest time on Balboa Park soil, finishing in 17:00.30 after a dead-sprint next to Katelynne Hart in the final 100 meters.
But Masciarelli hasn't been untouchable in 2019.
She finished fourth at the Mayor's Cup in Boston in October, then was beaten by Northern's Marlee Starliper in November at Foot Locker Northeast. Was she saving some for nationals? As we witnessed in 2018, a focused Masciarelli is a dangerous runner, and her get-up in the final 1K shouldn't be overlooked. We must not forget, it was on Balboa Park's hills where she made two significant moves -- and if she's in the race at that point again, do not count her out.
But the Northeast-based runner also should be mindful of her competitors. The field is as strong as its ever been.
The likes of Starliper and Hart are back again. Starliper, who has finished 13th in back-to-back years at Foot Locker, is coming off a fifth-place finish at NXN. Her eyes have been set on a national title in this very race all year long.
Speed ratings put her as the seeded favorite in this field. She's got two efforts over 160, including runs at Foot Locker Northeast and states. But Ewert, like Starliper, also owns a 163. And generally, any athlete who has produced a 160 or higher will be a contender in this race -- both Zofia Dudek and Abby Vanderkooi have hit marks that high, too.
Then there's Hart, who's coming off a disappointing turn at NXN. She fell off the pace after a mile at Glendoveer and faded to 50th overall. But those who were at this race last year saw how Hart confidently made a move early and never let off the brakes. Can she strike that same gold in 2019? In doing so, she was just inches away from a title.
Let's talk about Taylor Ewert. The Beavercreek senior looks to be ready to go after a title. She was fourth in this race in 2018, and had her best competitive-outing in a championship setting last week, finishing second to Katelyn Tuohy at the line at NXN.
* Taylor Ewert talks about her runner-up finish at NXN
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Ewert's the kind of runner who steps up in big situations, and while she didn't set a career PR for 5K this fall, she proved on Saturday that it didn't matter -- her guts will keep her in this, or any race.
But Ewert's trusted move over three championship runs over two seasons has been to make key surges off the leaders and wait for her kick to pull her back in. Will that be enough here? The Ohio-runner will have to question whether that will be the move to win a title -- if it's close enough, she'll have a chance, but if the pack breaks away, there might be some ground to cover.
Dudek is another runner with the potential to win. The Ann Arbor Pioneer athlete has been nearly unbeatable in 2019, save for her one loss to Vanderkooi at Foot Locker Midwest -- a venue featuring mud, cold and general craziness.
Balboa Park will offer quite the opposite. Dudek has been good in fair conditions. She's also s ready-made to compete, as she's coming off a fifth-place finish at the Euro U20 Cross Country Championships.
Then there's Vanderkooi, perhaps a sleeper in this field, who, much like Ewert, tends to make her move late against better competition. But as the Midwest proved, she was willing to lead when the conditions got tough. The Michigan sophomore finished third in 2018.
* Science Hill's Jenna Hutchins won Foot Locker South
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From the South there's Jenna Hutchins, who was ninth last year. A smart race could put her in the hunt. And she's motivated, having lost her state title weeks prior.
Cailfornia's Mia Barnett, winner of Foot Locker West and the runner-up at her CIF Division 5 Cross Country Championship, will be in her home state.
Virginia's Kelsey Harrington was an All-American at NXN last week. She's one of five runners doubling in back-to-back weeks: That list also includes Ewert, Starliper, Hart and Cherry Creek's Riley Stewart.
Judging by history, no region tends to overwhelm another. California athletes tend to produce strong results at Balboa, given the similar terrain and weather. But 2019's edition probably has stronger Midwest and Northeast regions, which could signify more top-end talent toward the front of this race.
1. Sydney Masciarelli, Marianapolis Prep (MA); 2. Katelynne Hart, Glenbard West (IL); 3. Abby Vanderkooi, Muskegon Western Michigan (MI); 4. Taylor Ewert, Beavercreek (OH); 7. Kate Wiser, Pomperaug (CT); 9. Jenna Hutchins, Science Hill (TN); 13. Marlee Starliper, Northern (PA) 14. Sofie Matson, Falmouth (ME); 17. Alyssa Hendrix, Riverview (FL); 21. Riley Stewart, Cherry Creek (CO); 26. Valerie Lastra, Mater Academy (FL); 27. Taryn Parks, Greencastle-Antrim (PA); 31. Grace Ping, Winona Cotter (MN); 32. Nicole Vanasse, The Pingry School (NJ); 34. Anna Martin, Lehi (UT).
Titles By Region Since 2000:
2018: Sydney Masciarelli, Marianapolis Prep (MA), 17:00.3 -- Northeast
2017: Claudia Lane, Malibu (CA), 17:03.40 -- West
2016: Claudia Lane, Malibu (CA), 17:04.81 -- West
2015: Weini Kelati, Heritage (VA) -- 17:09.70 -- South
2014: Anna Rohrer, Mishawaka (IN), 17:13.00 -- Midwest
2013: Tessa Barrett, Abington Heights (PA), 17:15.40 -- Northeast
2012: Anna Rohrer, Mishawaka (IN), 17:24.80 -- Midwest
2011: Molly Seidel, University Lake (WI), 17:21.40 -- Midwest
2010: Aisling Cuffe, Cornwall (NY), 16:53.00 -- Northeast
2009: Megan Goethals, Rochester (MI), 17:06.9 -- Midwest
2008: Jordan Hasay, Mission College (CA), 17:22.00 -- West
2007: Ashley Brasovan, South Wellington (FL), 17:20.00 -- South
2006: Kathy Kroeger, Independence (TN), 17:29.00 -- South
2005: Jordan Hasay, Mission College (CA), 17:05.00 -- West
2004: Aislinn Ryan, Warwick Valley (NY), 17:31.00 -- Northeast
2003: Katelyn Kaltenbach, Smoky Hill (CO), 17:24.00 -- Midwest
2002: Zoe Nelson, Flathead (MT) -- West
2001: Amber Trotter, Ukiah (CA), 16:24.10 -- West
2000: Sara Hall, Montgomery (CA), 16:55.00 -- West
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All-Time Top 25 Rankings At Balboa Park