* Bryan and Olivia debate the RunningLane XC Championships from the Nov. 4 episode of On The Line
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The RunningLane XC National Cross Country Championships are almost here. And in the weeks heading into the race, the storylines have only gotten more compelling.
With five nationally-ranked boys teams entered in the championship field, along with an incredible amount of talent individually, there is a legitimate argument to be made that this will be the best race of the fall nationally.
And considering the entrants will toe the line at John Hunt Park in Huntsville, a course that was specifically made for runners to go fast, we could see some epic performances go down all together.
Below, we preview the major teams and individuals to watch on Saturday.
* Zane Bergen could lead his Niwot boys program to a victory at the RunningLane XC National Championships
Photo Credit: Bobby Reyes/Colorado MileSplit
Big Teams To Watch:
3. Niwot (CO): The Cougars had three runners over 180 at the Colorado State Championships and had a speed rating average of 180.4. Only Newbury Park has scored higher on the season. Three weeks later, the boys put down a 174.2 at the Kokopelli Invitational. Now, while that's a pretty big disparity between the two races, each end of the curve is pretty darn good. If Niwot races to the level of which it performed at state, few other teams will be abe to compete with that. But if it's toward the other end of the curve, then this race is wide open. The real key will be up top, where if junior Zane Bergen and seniors Grayden Rauba and Curtis Volf race well, the Cougars will be tough to beat.
5. American Fork (UT): The state championships withstanding, the Cavemen didn't lose a single other race all season. Now, the state championships were important, but it's telling that American Fork came back a few weeks later at the Border Wars Utah Qualifier and absolutely lit the place on fire. All five scorers were over 170, with leaders Brayden Packard and Nate Jaster -- the Class 6A champion -- both over 180, for a combined team speed rating average of 177. That was an incredible performance. Maybe it's the fact that American Fork didn't want to define their season on the one race that typically defines a season. But a win here would help give new gravitas to the season. The key to American Fork's success has been its overall consistency.
6. Skyridge (UT): The last two races have seen the best, and the uneven-ness, of Skyridge. In winning the UHSAA Class 6A championship over American Fork on Oct. 22 over American Fork, the Flash were as good as they have ever been this fall, scoring Creed and Davin Thompson over 185 and Seth Wallgren in 178. A couple weeks later, at the Border Wars Utah Qualifier, the team as a whole was a little more uneven. There's no doubt this team is one of the best in the country, but the question here is: Will a top 5 team show up, or will a top 10? What this Utah program shows at RunningLane will ultimately be the final statement in a very successful season. But it's up to the team to bring its A game.
7. Huntsville (AL): The funny thing is that, while the Panthers didn't have their best race of the season on Saturday, they kind of did, too. In winning their third straight AHSAA Class 7A state championship in as many years, every single runner in the team's top five scored over a 170 speed rating. But senior Jackson Danner didn't score over 180 and junior Will Pinson, who has 180 talent, struggled. And Huntsville still managed a team averaged of 174.6. Few teams in the country have that kind of depth, and one of them is in this race (Niwot). The other is Newbury Park. The key for the Panthers will be that Danner and Pinson have exceptional races, while its three other scorers race at even or above-average levels.
13. Satellite (FL): Florida's two best teams in 2020 have been Belen Jesuit and Satellite. It's honestly hard to pick which one has been better. But in this case, we're going to examine the talent of Satellite. Up front, the Scorpions have two guys in seniors Gabriel Montague and Josh Stern who have the potential to pace within the top 25 -- Stern, in fact, upset Montague when he won the FHSAA Class 2A championship this past weekend. Stern and Montague should likely be able to race in the 180s. At Regions, Satellite put together a 16:15 average, but on a course such as John Hunt Park, speed is going to be a factor. So if the progran can scrap together some season-best times, they will be in the hunt here.
Scottsboro (AL): Don't forget about Scottsboro. While Huntsville has had the upper hand this season, the Alabama counterpart won the AHSAA Class 6A race with 31 points and a 16:13 average. Senior Cooper Atkins has the potential to score in the top 20 of this race.
Mountain Vista (CO): Depth in a field like this will ultimately make an impact. And for the Golden Eagles, that could be the core issue that determines their point total.
Marietta (GA): Winning a Georgia Class 7A title is one thing. But competing on a national stage is another. While the team's No. 1 has a legitimate shot to win, Marietta will have to have another seasonal-best performance to score inside the top five here.
Harrison (GA): There's redemption here for Harrison, which lost its Georgia Class 7A title to Marietta. First on the item list will be grabbing an in-state win over Marietta, but second will likely see this team trying to sneak inside the top five teams.
State Championship Pedigrees:
- Parker Wolfe, Cherry Creek (CO) -- CHSA Class 5A champion
- Izaiah Steury, Angola (IN) -- IHSAA champion
- Kamari Miller, Marietta (GA) -- GHSA Class 7A champion
- Nate Jaster, American Fork (UT) -- UHSAA Class 6A champion
- Dalton Mortensen, Bountiful (UT) -- UHSAA Class 5A champion
- Sam Rich, Catawba Ridge (SC) -- SCHSL Class 4A champion
- Justin Wachtel, Mary Persons (GA) -- GHSA Class 3A champion
- Zane Bergen, Niwot (CO) -- CHSA Class 4A champion
- Xander Black, Brophy College (AZ) -- AIA Division I champion
- Christian Balcer, East Central (MS) -- MHSAA Class 5A champion
- Chase Rose, Oxford (MS) -- MHSAA Class 6A champion
- Walker Cole, Oak Mountain (AL) -- AHSAA Class 7A champion
- Josh Stern, Satellie (FL) -- FHSAA Class 2A champion
- Miles Brush, Chelsea (AL) -- AHSAA Class 6A champion
- Woodrow Dean, Tallassee (AL) -- AHSAA Class 5A champion
- Jake Moore, White Plains (AL) -- AHSAA Class 4A champion
- Ethan Edgeworth, Cold Springs (AL) -- AHSAA Class 1A-2A champion
- Jack McLoughlin, La Salle Academy (RI): RIIL champion -- may not be able to travel out-of-state
- Gary Martin, Archbishop Wood (PA): PIAA Class AA champion
- Riley Simpson, West Plains (MO) -- MSHSAA Class 4 champion
- Jackson Watts, Madison-North Hopkins (KY) -- KHSAA Clas 3A champion
On The Line: Who Would Win A Hypothetical Boys Race:
- Parker Wolfe, Cherry Creek (CO): It would be easy to say Wolfe has the target on his back. He's ranked No. 1 in the country by MileSplit and he's had arguably the best performance of the year, with a 196 speed rating from the Colorado State Championships. He's set two amazing course records this year, his first coming at the Heritage Distance Classic and his next at the Class 5A championships in Colorado. But a third would go a long way in solidifying a legendary season from Wolfe. Can he win his most important race yet?
- Kamari Miller, Marietta (GA): Miller has steadily risen in the rankings all season long. And he hasn't lost a single race in eight tries. And the thing is, no one has really matched his wins, either. He's beaten some truly spectacular athletes in 2020, including the likes of Sam Rich, Justin Wachtel, Woodrow Dean, Sully Shelton, Andrew Jones, Cooper Bocko and Cooper Atkins. But this would be his tour de force. A win here might end the season where no one thought it could: At No. 1. Like Wolfe, Miller might also be feeling the pressure -- this is no doubt the biggest race of his cross country career. But if we've learned anything from Miller all season, it's that he steps up when the moment calls of it. This will be the kind of winning race that will set his career forward.
- Izaiah Steury, Angola (IN): Do. Not. Sleep. On. Steury. Like Miller, Steury has led an underrated season, in some respects. Because his wins have all come in Indiana, he likely hasn't been given the kind of respect that he deserves. But he's won all 10 of his races in 2020. And he earned his first Indiana State Cross Country Championship on Oct. 31 in a wild race against Lucas Guerra and Kole Mathison. But going outside Indiana will be a true test for Steury. And if he can come away with a win here, then I'm willing to bet Steury will gain a lot of momentum nationally in the next year.
- Robert DiDonato, Germantown Academy (PA): DiDonato is in a very hard position. The Pennsylvania athlete is certainly fit after a 14:25.40 performance for 5K on the track in October. But this would just be his second cross country race after winning a dual on Nov. 14 in Fort Washington in 15:54. Most of his competitors have been seasoned on courses for the entire fall. But DiDonato's talent is definitely there, and I wouldn't count him out, either.
Foot Locker National Finalists From 2019:
- Parker Wolfe, Cherry Creek (CO)
- Robert DiDonato, Germantown Academy (PA)
- Justin Wachtel, Mary Persons (GA)
- Creed Thompson, Skyridge (UT)
- Davin Thompson, SKyridge (UT)
- Ethan Strand, Vestavia Hills (AL)
* Vestavia Hills' Ethan Strand
Sleeper Candidates To Win:
- Ethan Strand, Vestavia Hills (AL): Strand struggled at his Alabama state championships, but he does have the course record at John Hunt Park in 14:36.88 and will definitely be motivated to run stronger here.
- Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos, Green Mountain (CO): He's scored two sub-15 performances on the season and was DQ'ed from the Colorado Class 4A championships -- a race he was leading -- due to interference. So he definitely has the talent level to compete with the best of them.
- Dalton Mortensen, Bountiful (UT): He's won nine races over 2020 and was runner-up in another. A proven winner who has the talent to compete.
- Creed Thompson, Skyridge (UT): Thompson has turned it up lately and has the talent to win a race of this stature.
- Nate Jaster, American Fork (UT): A wild card in some respects -- he's won just two races all season long. But he earned a big win at the Utah Class 6A championsships, and that alone will earn him some respect here.
* Brayden Packard after his Border Wars win
Runners To Watch:
- Crawford Hope, Homewood (AL): He owns the second-fastest performance at John Hunt Park in 14:41.63.
- Sam Rich, Catawba Ridge (SC): He ran a career best of 14:55.41 on Oct. 3.
- Sully Shelton, Harrison (GA): He ran a season-best of 15:13.80 on Oct. 17 and ran 14:51.95 for 3-miles in August.
- Andrew Jones, North Hall (GA): He ran a career best 14:58.57 in October.
- Justin Wachtel, Mary Persons (GA): He ran a season-best of 15:00.92 in October and won the GHSA Class 3A championships over Jones.
- Kevin Vanderkolk, Brentwood (TN): He ran a career-best 15:06.04 in September on this course.
- Erik Le Roux, Cheyenne Mountain (CO): He's coming off a 15:02.00 performance at the Colorado Classic on Nov. 1.
- Harrison Witt, Mountain Vista (CO): He ran a season-best of 15:23.00 at elevation in September.
- Xander Black, Brophy College (AZ): He's won his last three races, including a AIA Division I state championship.
- Brayden Packard, American Fork (UT): He won the Border Wars Utah Qualifier in 15:05.71 on Nov. 7.
- Gabe Montague, Satellite (FL): Quite simply, he's undefeated. He ran a career-best of 15:14.60 in September.
'Unofficial' All-American (Top 15) Predictions:
1. Parker Wolfe, Cherry Creek (CO); 2. Kamari Miller, Marietta (GA); 3. Izaiah Steury, Angola (IN); 4. ; 5. Sam Rich, Catawba Ridge (SC); 6. Justin Wachtel, Mary Persons (GA); 7. Ethan Strand, Vestavia Hills (AL); 8. Nate Jaster, American Fork (UT); 9. Robert DiDonato, Germantown Academy (PA); 10. Erik Le Roux, Cheyenne Mountain (CO); 11. Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos, Green Mountain (CO); 12. Andrew Jones, North Hall (GA); 13. Walker Cole, Oak Mountain (AL); 14. Kevin Vanderkolk, Brentwood (TN); 15. Sully Shelton, Harrison (GA).