* Vestavia Hills' Crawford West will be back at The Southern Showcase in 2021
Photo Credit: Alabama Runners
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Get ready for 2021 installment of The Southern Showcase.
Athletes from a handful states across the Southeastern and Southern regions will return to John Hunt Park in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday and Saturday to toe the line and contend for fast times and championship performances.
A year ago, some of the nation's top performances came on this very course during the RunningLane National Cross Country Championships.
This weekend will mark the return of some of those same athletes, with even higher hopes.
This week, MileSplit will be previewing the action as we ready for the top class invitational. We'll have a team on-site covering the meet and streaming all the action.
Don't miss a second.
* Justin Wilson leads the Satellite boys in 2021
Which Out-Of-State Team Will Make The Most Noise?
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The obvious choice is the Satellite (FL) boys.
Currently ranked No. 3 in Florida and with some solid performances to boot at the Cecil Field Summer Classic (second) and the Wickham Jamboree (first), Satellite has finished no less than second in any of its meets this fall. The program's only losses have come to Florida's No. 1 and No. 2 teams.
With a front-runner like Justin Wilson and a team average of 16:17, the Scorpions are solid all round. They enter with a speed rating average of 161.6.
And to top it off, the Satellite boys finished fifth on this very course last November at RunningLane.
But the Brentwood (TN) girls are another quality option, too.
The Tennessee program, currently ranked No. 1 in Tennessee based on average, has dominated in two showings this season at the Chickasaw Invitational and the MSCCA Voyles Classic and features an incredible lineup with a sub-60 spread.
Freshman Lydia Cromwell and junior Brooke Tyll have formed quite the twosome up front.
One last team of note?
The Centerville (TN) girls, while only bringing its top four girls, could be an interesting sub-plot to pay attention to. Just how good will the traditional Ohio power be through four?
* Crawford West in the AHSAA Class 7A 1,600m this spring
The Senior vs. Freshman Matchup You Need To Watch: Crawford West vs. Abby Faith Cheeseman
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Hands down, this is the single-best matchup of the weekend.
West is an all-time great at Vestavia Hills (AL) who has accrued seven state titles across cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field. She recently committed to the University of Alabama and owns Alabama's top 5K time of 17:36.52.
Cheeseman is the returning Division II state champion in Tennessee, the sister of a four-time state champion and two-time national qualifier Carter Cheeseman. She's the owner of Tennessee's top time of 17:16.79, which also currently ranks U.S. No. 4.
West is a proven gamer with 1,600m and 3,200m speed of 4:53 and 10:18.76, respectively. Cheeseman just broke five for the first time this spring, going 4:59.03 for the full mile at the HOKA Festival of Miles. She ran 10:38.30 in May at the Eastern Relays, too.
Something has to give.
And potentially, it could take 16 minutes and some high-change to do it.
Just How Fast Will Sam Rich Run?
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This could be the start of a big season for Rich, who returns for his final cross country season following a South Carolina Class AAAA title last fall and a top 25 finish at RunningLane National Cross Country Championships.
This past spring, Rich only added to that success, compiling two more outdoor state titles in the 1,600m and 3,200m while also scoring personal best times of 4:10.28 for the mile and 8:57.10 for 3,200m at the RunningLane Track Championships.
Importantly, Saturday will also mark Rich's return to the fast and rolling John Hunt Park, where he last unloaded for a career-best 5K time of 14:52.51.
Just what can we expect from the Catawba Ridge (SC) senior and Notre Dame recruit?
It's still early in the season, but chances are Rich could position himself for a very big performance. But running a historic-level performance won't be easy. Just to enter into the top 10 high school performances on the course all-time, Rich would need to run 14:41.68 or faster. That kind of race would also net him a new U.S. No. 1 performance.
On top of that, a win wouldn't be guaranteed, either.
Chelsea (AL) senior Miles Brush returns to the course as well. He was 20th at that same postseason meet in 2020 and won an AHSAA Class 6A state title, too. Other contenders include Bartlett (TN) senior Landen McNair, Satellite (FL) senior Justin Wilson, Huntsville (AL) senior Will Pinson and Auburn (junior) Maxwell Hardin.
How Will The Elite Boys Team Standings Shake Out?
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This is a puzzle that could have multiple answers.
Hoover is coming off an impressive win at the Chickasaw Invitational last week. Brentwood was second in that same race.
Each team has speed rating averages that would suggest they're the likely candidates: Hoover has averaged 160.6, while Brentwood comes in at 157.2.
But let's consider Huntsville. The Panthers finished the 2020 season ranked No. 19 on the MileSplit50. And the program hasn't featured its No. 1 runner, Will Pinson, just yet. The team's No. 3 Matthew Cobb has raced just once.
Then there's a team like Satellite (FL), which finished last season at No. 10 in the national rankings and features a top 5 athlete like Justin Wilson. There's Scottsboro (AL), which is one of the better small school teams in the Southeast region overall.
Harrison (GA) has the fifth-best average in Georgia so far, while Beech Senior (TN) is third-best in Tennessee and James Clemens (AL) is ranked eighth in Alabama.
The point being? Anything can happen on race day.
* Cady McPhail expects to be one of the top girls in the elite section
Which Under-The-Radar Athlete Will Make The Biggest Statement?
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This depends on your definition of 'under-the-radar.'
But for our purposes, we're going to go with the athletes who aren't ranked with the top five performances entering the elite races.
Let's start with Chelsea (AL) senior Cady McPhail first.
While cross country isn't McPhail's strongest sport -- she's a cracked 2:10 for 800m and 4:58.37 for 1,600m in track -- few would doubt she has the attributes to really excel at distance.
A year ago she finished 10th at the AHSAA Class 6A state championship and finished the season with a PR of 17:59.72 at John Hunt Park during the RunningLane National Cross Country Championships.
Then there's Brooke Tyll, a Brentwood (TN) senior who enters the elite race on Saturday after a seventh-place finish at the Chickasaw Invitational this past week. She ran a time of 18:35.
A season prior, she broke 18 minutes at the Jesse Owens Classic in 17:59.
Saturday could mark a big moment for Huntsville's Will Pinson, too. He's showcased enough quality for any big-time runner.
But he hasn't quite made that leap during a big competition yet.
While he ran 15:20.14 on the state course a year ago at the Jesse Owens Classic -- which was part of three performances under 15:30 for the season -- he was ninth at state and fourth on his team.
He finished 107th a few weeks later at RunningLane ...on the same course he'll compete on this weekend. So this could be one of those, 'This is your time' moments.
Cold Springs (AL) sophomore Ethan Edgeworth is also coming up from the wings. He finished fourth at the Chickasaw Invitational with a personal record time of 15:33.58.