After all, it was a hotly contested race that pitted two future teammates at the University of North Carolina against each other in their debuts.
But perhaps no one could have expected this.
On Saturday, the tides turned as Strand, a Vestavia Hills senior and Foot Locker Nationals finisher in 2019, unleashed an absolutely devastating final push in the final moments against Hope at The Southern Showcase, beating the Alabama rival in a personal record and US No. 2 time of 14:36.88 for 5K.
Hope followed just five seconds later in 14:41.63, also a personal record.
The performance was signficant for a few reasons for Strand. Not only did he improve upon his 2019 PR of 15:03.13, an Alabama soil record which also came at this same course a year ago, but he downed the all-time Alabama 5K record of 14:55.55, which was last accomplished by Tyler Stanfield in 2001. In fact, both Strand and Hope shattered that mark.
Weeks before the season, Strand, who entered the preseason MileSplit50 top 25 at No. 22, spoke with MileSplit about his hopes on the season, which included going after personal goals and striving for new records.
He at least intimated that he wanted to break 15 minutes on grass in cross country. But this performance far and away blew that idea out of the water. The time is also among the top 50 performances for 5K since 2000, according to the MileSplit database.
Fortunately for both Strand and Hope, they compete in two different classifications in Alabama. Strand will be able to vie for his third-straight Alabama Class 7A title in November, while Hope will go for his first in Class 6A.
1A BOYS 5000 METER RUN FINALS PLACE ATHLETE TEAM RESULT POINTS 1 Ethan Strand 12 Vestavia Hills HS 14:36.88 1 2 Crawford Hope 12 Homewood HS 14:41.63 2 3 Kevin Vanderkolk 12 Brentwood High School 15:06.04 3 4 Jackson Danner 12 Huntsville HS 15:12.36 4 5 Miles Brush 11 Chelsea High School 15:17.91 5
* Texas MileSplit was on site at the North Texas XC Circuit on Saturday
A Texan Returned To A History-Making Course:
On Saturday, Denton Guyer senior Brynn Brown returned to the course where she absolutely blitzed expectations in 2019, securing the second-fastest 5K of all-time in cross country at the MileSplit Texas Invitational in 16:12.00.
This time, Brown played her hand a little closer to the vest, winning in a US No. 3 time of 16:25.26 at the North Texas XC Circuit #2.
Knowing that a fruitful season was still ahead, Brown established herself quickly en route to conquering a fast course with just a few sneaky uphill grades, finishing 88 seconds ahead of second-place Colleen Stegmann of Frisco Reedy.
In doing so, she pulled Denton Guyer -- which has high hopes as a program this fall -- to a third-place finish, behind returning UIL Class 6A third-place finisher Prosper (78) and Prosper Rock Hill (47).
Interestingly enough, only 13 boys ran faster in the subsquent fast section of their heat.
VARSITY GIRLS 5000 METER RUN FINALS PLACE ATHLETE TEAM RESULT POINTS 1 Brynn Brown 12 Denton Guyer 16:25.26 1 2 Colleen Stegmann 12 Frisco Reedy 17:53.37 2 3 Aubrey O'Connell 11 Prosper 18:20.74 3 4 Alexis Svoboda 12 Prosper Rock Hill 18:25.90 4 5 Kirstin Towle 12 Prosper Rock Hill 18:28.53 5
Watch Out For This Ohio Boys Team:
Early indications were that Cincinnait St. Xavier (OH) had a load of talent back for 2020. The defending OHSAA Division I champions, which were ranked No. 9 in MileSplit's preseason top 25, returned four of its top seven runners from a season ago.
But sometimes it's not always talent that allows you to make that next step.
In the Bombers' first meet of the season, at the Moeller Primetime Invitational on Aug. 28 in Mason, Lakota West surprised the defending champs by locking up a debut win.
Perhaps that was enough to snap this Ohio team back to reality.
Because in the team's last two meets, including this week's big win at the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational In Louisville, Kentucky, St. Xavier has looked closer toward its dominant self.
Dispatching Floyd Central (92), Louisville St. Xavier (126) and Daviess County (177), the Bombers scored a winning mark of 42 points along with a 15:42 average.
And Nathan Mountain, the team's de facto No. 1, won his third straight meet, this time in a season and career best mark of 14:46.90, earning a 190 speed rating.
All five members of the Bombers' scoring five were over 160.
TEAM SCORES PLACE TEAM POINTS SCORERS TIMES 1 St. Xavier 42 1+3+10+13+15 (22+29) 1:24 1-5 Split | 15:42 Avg 2 Floyd Central High School 92 11+12+16+23+30 (34+42) 0:31 1-5 Split | 16:16 Avg 3 St. Xavier(Lou) 126 18+19+21+27+41 (45+57) 0:32 1-5 Split | 16:27 Avg 4 Daviess County 177 9+17+46+49+56 (72+80) 1:09 1-5 Split | 16:38 Avg 5 Trinity (Louisville) 222 2+33+39+54+94 (98+103) 2:11 1-5 Split | 16:43 Avg
* Maya Mor ran a 10:35 time trial for 3,200m in August
A Minnesota Girls Team Makes A Big Statement:
Perhaps forgotten in the immediate aftermath of the analysis of Edina's and Wayzata's first race last weekend was a team that is certainly in the mix for a state title, too.
The Minnetonka girls.
The Skippers certainly proved it this weekend at the Lake Conference Jamboree at Round Lake Park, dispatching Wayzata (52) and Edina (66) with a winning score of 30 points.
Key in that result was sophomore Maya Mor, who won her third straight race of the season and posted a career best 17:43.30, in the process defeating Wazyata's Abbey Nechanicky.
Minnetonka isn't a team to be slept on.
With just two seniors within the top 10 and none inside the top five, the team averaged 18:27 across the scorers, and that included two freshmen and one eighth-grader.
Wayzata, meanwhile, defeated Edina once again, netting an 18:47 average.
TEAM SCORES PLACE TEAM POINTS SCORERS TIMES 1 Minnetonka High School 30 1+4+5+9+11 (20+21) 1:17 1-5 Split | 18:27 Avg 2 Wayzata High School 52 2+7+12+15+16 (23+26) 1:28 1-5 Split | 18:47 Avg 3 Edina High School 66 6+10+13+18+19 (24+25) 0:44 1-5 Split | 19:06 Avg 4 Saint Michael-Albertville High School 105 3+17+22+30+33 (34+35) 2:55 1-5 Split | 19:48 Avg 5 Eden Prairie High School 106 8+14+27+28+29 (31+32) 2:08 1-5 Split | 20:02 Avg
American Fork's Boys Are For Real in 2020:
At this point, there is absolutely no doubt anymore.
The Cavemen have won four straight meets, and they've looked convincingly dominant in each of them.
The team's latest victory saw the boys narrowly escape a tough race over Orem, outscoring their competitor by four to win with 41 points and a 15:36 average.
The traditional Utah powerhouse, which was not ranked to begin 2020, has been steady across its opening races. But what's just been the difference?
While maturation and experience are invaluable -- American Fork has 10 solid varsity members all fighting for spots -- so too has been the addition of Brayden Packard, who transferred into the prgoram from West Valley (WA) after finishing 28th at state as a sophomore in Washington.
Packard has been the Cavemen's top scorer for the past three races and has won two of those matchups. And along with Nate Jaster -- who is a 1A option that could win on any given day, too -- that's made American Fork tough to beat.
And with a sound top five -- all were over 167 speed ratings, for instance -- that's also made this team one of the top squads in the state, too.
TEAM SCORES PLACE TEAM POINTS SCORERS TIMES 1 American Fork 41 1+2+5+16+17 (18+24) 0:56 1-5 Split | 15:36 Avg 2 Orem 45 6+7+9+11+12 (32+61) 0:9 1-5 Split | 15:45 Avg 3 Cedar 163 19+29+33+37+45 (50+65) 0:30 1-5 Split | 16:20 Avg 4 Mountain Ridge 189 28+31+39+44+47 (48+58) 0:23 1-5 Split | 16:25 Avg 5 Payson 210 10+15+46+69+70 (86+88) 1:12 1-5 Split | 16:28 Avg
Top Performances Of The Weekend:
- Jenna Hutchins continued her assault on cross country courses, laying down her second straight sub-17 effort on Saturday, winning the Fender's Farm Cross Country Carnival in 16:36.9. It was her second fastest 5K peformance in her career and followed a career best 16:25.08 last week. The effort picked up a 158 speed rating.
- Outside of Strand and Hope at the Southern Showcase, Brentwood's Kevin Vanderkolk put down a PR of 15:06.04. He's now the fifth-fastest runner in Brentwood history.
- Ava Parekh was one of three girls athletes to break 17 minutes this weekend, putting down a career best and US No. 4 time of 16:43.80 at the Whitney Young Invitational. It was the first performance under 17 minutes for the Chicago Latin star.
- Dalton Mortensen, of Bountiful, won a tough race over Packard at the UIAAA Invitational at the Spanish Fork Sports Complex, securing a time of 15:01.09 for 5K. That performance gave the runner, who was ranked No. 12 in the preseason top 25, a 187 speed rating.
- Chicago Taft's Lucas Guidone scored a big PR of 15:12.40 at the Whitney Young Invitational, netting an absolute monster PR -- a full 97 seconds faster than his best from a season ago at the distance.
- Abby Vanderkooi, MileSplit's preseason No. 2 girls athlete, won her second straight meet this weekend, earning a victory at the Orange and Gold Town Crier Invitational in 17:01.80.
- Onalaska's Kora Malecek authored a career best time of 17:28.50 at the Vikings Invitational in Holmen, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin native qualified for Team XC Nationals in 2019.
- Huntsville's boys once again won a big meet, earning a victory at the Southern Showcase with a dominating 40 points. The team averaged 15:29 across a 40 second spread. It marked the team's third straight win.
- Boerne Champion's (TX) Foster Wilfong won his second straight race on Saturday, this one coming at the Boerne Champion Invitational in 15:15.00.
- Satellite's (FL) Gabriel Montague, the No. 1 runner on a nationally ranked squad, won his fourth-straight race on Sept. 19 at the Viera Invitational, producing a career best 15:14.60. Meanwhile, Viera's Isabella Babilonia won her sixth race in seven tries, in 18:36.20.
- Hartland's (MI) Riley Hough won his third race in four tries this weekend, winning in 15:15.00 in a dual-meet against Plymouth. It's the second-fastest time of his career following a 15:09 in 2019.
- Kole Mathison continued his consistent streak at the front of races, winning the Riverview Health Invitational in 15:16.45, an invitational featuring a selection of the best teams in Indiana -- sans Columbus North. He paced Carmel to its third victory in four tries with 58 points and a 15:47 average. Meanwhile, freshman Nicki Southerland, of Delta (IN) racked up her fifth straight win in a PR of 17:35.04, netting her second performance under 18 minutes on the season.