* Niwot's Zane Bergen (left to right), Newbury Park's Colin Sahlman, Hartland's Riley Hough and American Fork's Nate Jaster are among RXC2's top athletes in 2021
Photo Credit: MileSplit/USA Today Sports
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We are just days away from the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships in Huntsville, Alabama, and we couldn't be more excited.
The deepest and most talented boys race of 2021 will unleash at John Hunt Park on Saturday, and by the looks of it, we should see some legitimate star-making performances take shape.
On an individual front, we couldn't possibly get to every single boy with potential. There are 64 boys with seed times under 15 minutes for 5K that are entered in the gold race.
But we wanted to at least give you a glimpse of all the talent scheduled to be on the line. We landed on 15 boys and girls. Today, we profile the boys athletes. Tomorrow, we'll follow with the girls.
A year ago, a total of 32 boys broke that elusive barrier. Could we have more on Saturday?
Below are profiles of top-rated boys athletes expected to compete at RXC2.
Injury Notes: Both Catawba Ridge's (SC) Sam Rich and Riverside's (WA) Jamar Distel have confirmed injuries heading into the race on Saturday. Both would have been considered on this list, and as potential top 25 finishers.
1. Riley Hough, Hartland (MI)
Class of 2022
He's the unbeaten man, flawless through 15 straight races. Now, were all of his races at peak effort? No. Many of them were likely positioned as training or workouts across smaller meets in Michigan. But consider this fact: Hough clocked six sub-15 minute efforts for 5K on the season.
That's the sign of a runner whose fitness is consistent, wherever he goes. Now, the challenge? To stay undefeated is to welcome the pressure that comes with being an athlete others are trying to beat. Hough is also ranked No. 1 on the MileSplit50, making his target all the much higher.
But if anyone were to walk away from RunningLane with an emphatic statement, we would not be surprised if it is Hough himself. One year shy of the rise of Hobbs Kessler, we're seeing double with Hough. Will he end the year with a championship or two? Currently, he owns a U.S. No. 5 time of 14:37.10. Hough signed with Michigan State in November.
2. Colin Sahlman/Aaron Sahlman, Newbury Park (CA)
Class of 2022/Class of 2023
The Sahlman brothers are one half of the most lethal combination in high school distance running today. While Colin has shined over the cross country season, so too has Aaron -- just a year his junior.
All things considered, Colin is a contender to win the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships, by virtue of his CIF Division I state championship on Nov. 27 in 14:26.50. Even after housing Division I competition alongside his teammates, Sahlman had another gear in the final 200 meters and walked away with the second-fastest performance at Woodward Park ever. Sahlman, meanwhile, went 14:46, and that wasn't a bad result, either. He finished fourth -- good for the ninth best performance all-time -- and once again showed just how talented he is alongside this team.
Don't sleep on Aaron. He claimed a runner-up performance at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in a U.S. No. 2 time of 13:42.30 for three miles. He put down a pretty broad statement in that race, too.
So what can we expect from the Sahlman's at RunningLane? At the very least, imagine these two at the front, alongside Lex and Leo Young, trying to dictate the pace. And with 800m left, anything can happen. Colin is headed to NAU next year.
3. Zane Bergen, Niwot (CO)
Class of 2022
Bergen's season has been nearly perfect, save for that third-place outing at the Eastbay Midwest Region on Nov. 27. From Sept. 18 until Nov. 10, he went undefeated over six straight races, including a CHSA Class 4A State Championship in 15:17.70. That was just seven seconds off of the Colorado state record; and states in Colorado are held at over 5,000 feet of altitude, mind you.
Two of his fastest meets came on Sept. 24 and Oct. 13, when he ran 14:50.10 and 14:42.20 in consecutive meets. A year ago, Bergen finished eighth at RunningLane in a career-best time of 14:39.69. Bergen, along with his Niwot team, has high hopes in Year 2. We'll see what he can bring to the table. Bergen is headed to Stanford next year.
Class of 2023
Newbury Park has the most lethal combo of brothers we've ever seen. And what's scary? The Young's are still growing as runners. Leo finished the CIF Division I State Championships in a time of 14:28.00, which was fourth best all-time. Lex came through in 14:30, which was fifth-best. Over a month earlier, Leo ran 14:33.20 at Clovis and Lex went 14:34.
Leo owns the nation's fastest 3-mile time in 13:38.10. Lex pocketed the third in 13:44.40.
If there's a theme to most of Newbury Park's times this year, it's that they're almost identical: That's by plan. The Panthers run like a flock of geese, often in formation, often spread four across. Only until the end of a race will you see the minor differences in time.
But make no mistake, the Young's will be a threat to win on Saturday. Either of them.
5. Nathan Jaster, American Fork (UT)
Class of 2022
Don't forget, Jaster is the top returner to RunningLane. A year ago, he snuck up on the entire field, finishing third overall in a career best 5K time of 14:35.31. Everything fell into place for Jaster last November -- and for that matter, American Fork -- and so his hopes will follow a similar trajectory this time around.
Ultimately, Jaster will be looking for that same kind of magic on Saturday. Looking at his 2021 season, it's been similar in a lot of ways to his junior campaign. It hasn't been perfect -- some slight inconveniences have gotten in the way.
Jaster claimed just a few wins, but his most important came on Oct. 27 at the Utah Class 6A Championships, where he secured his second straight win. His performance in Salt Lake City was superb, though: Jaster clocked a time of 14:55.50. That was fastest among all finishers and the only one under 15 minutes on the day.
6. Aidan Cox, Coe Brown Academy (NH)
Class of 2023
One of the top underclassmen returning in the 2021 season, it took some time for Cox to get going. But since October, when he began his season, Cox has geared up. He's won three out of four races and is coming off his biggest win yet, a victory at the Team Northeast Regional on Nov. 27 in 15:43.60. Two weeks earlier, Cox finished seventh in a competitive New England Cross Country Championships, which featured numerous nationally ranked runners.
Cox's fastest time on the season was 15:01.50 at the NHIAA Championships on Oct. 30.
7. William Zegarski, Little Miami (OH)
Class of 2022
Let's just see what the Ohio state champion can do at nationals. He's won 11 straight races and converted on an insane OHSAA Division I win on Nov. 6, clocking the fastest time ever recorded on the Fortress Obetz course in 14:39.90. That currently stands as a U.S. No. 7 time.
Athletes arriving in Huntsville are yearning for a chance to take a shot at the fast John Hunt Course, and Zegarski could be one of those candidates with a chance to not just place in the top 10 but on the right day, he could even win. Zegarski is a Butler signee.
8. Braden King, Jesuit (CA)
Class of 2022
Like Newbury Park and many other teams and athletes from California traveling east to Alabama, King made a conscious decision to race at RXC2. The Eastbay West Championships are being held on the same day -- and obviously, athletes cannot be at two places at once -- so King has made it his mission to finish the season out at the national team championship, which will double down as the deepest and (arguably the) most talented national race of the 2021 season.
King has had a solid season. He's coming off a 10th-place finish at the CIF Division I Championships on Nov. 27 and ran a 5K personal best of 15:10.70 in October. While King's overall sights may lie in outdoor track and field -- where put down marks of 4:16.92 and 8:56.89 last year -- he could make a big statement on Saturday with the best performance of his cross country career. King will enroll and run for Yale next fall.
9. Ty Garrett/Drew Costelow, Valor Christian (CO)
Class of 2023
Another two for the price of one combo. With Garrett and Costelow, you have two of Colorado's best overall runners. Garrett has finished no worse than second all season long, and lost a heart-breaker at the CHSA Class 5A Championships on Oct. 30, though he largely has had the best season of his career, with a personal 5K best of 15:01.40.
Costelow, meanwhile, has been right there, too, finishing fourth at state, first at regions and locking down a 5K best of 15:14.30 in September.
Each runner will have their own strategy on Saturday. But together, they'll make Valor Christian stronger, too.
10. Aidan Ross, Uxbridge (MA)
Class of 2023
It wasn't too long ago when Ross accomplished a feat not done before in Massachusetts, becoming the first runner to dip under 15 minutes on the Wrentham state course on Nov. 20 at the MIAA State Championships in 14:47.11.
He wasn't just dominant. He was absolutely rolling, finishing 50 seconds faster than the second-best competitor in his division and 20 seconds better than anyone else across all races. It only reinforced the kind of season he was having up until that moment.
Ross is undefeated through five outings and will look to compete with the nation's best on Saturday.
11. Gary Martin, Archbishop Wood (PA)
Class of 2022
Saturday will mark nearly a month since Martin's last race, a stellar outing at the PIAA Class AAA Championships, where he ran the third-fastest time in course history in 15:46.70.
On Oct. 1, the MileSplit50 No. 17 ranked runner scorched earth at the Paul Short Run, too, clocking a course record of 14:49.00.
Don't be misguided, though. A month-long training block working into the final race of Martin's season should work in his favor. He was a top 25 finisher in 2020, finishing with a time of 14:52.54 on this very course last year. Don't be surprised if Martin makes a move early and tries to make things uncomfortable for the leaders. Martin is headed to Virginia next year.
12. Wesley Shipsey/Max Girardet, Central Catholic (OR)
Class of 2023/Class of 2022
We're big on spreading the love to teammates. After all, RXC2 is the national team championship. And so we forward over to the pair of Portland Central Catholic teammates who have been leading things in 2021. Both have dipped under 15 minutes for 5K this fall, with Girardet going 14:50.70 at the Lewis & Clark Invitational on Oct. 16, while Shipsey went 14:53.07 at the Meriweather Cross Country Classic on Sept. 17.
There seems to be a yin and yang to this partnership. Some days, it's Shipsey's day to lead. Other times, it's Girardet. But nevertheless, the pair have been strong together. Shipsey was third at the OSAA Clas 6A Championships, while Girardet was sixth. And Central Catholic, ranked No. 17 in the MileSplit50, has certainly benefited from the impressive pairing, too.
13. Andrew Hauser, Rock Bridge (MO)
Class of 2024
The fastest sophomore in the U.S. is ... Hauser. His state-winning performance of 14:52.70 on Nov. 5 at the MSHSAA Class 5 Championships was his best of the year, and a real sign of things to come. That performance was eighth-best in high school history for sophomores in cross country.
He followed with a just-as-impressive moment, winning the Team Midwest Region on Nov. 14, and then he was just a hair shy of qualifying for the Eastbay Cross Country Championships, finishing in 12th at the Midwest Region on Nov. 27.
Saturday will represent Hauser's last race of the season. But considering what he's accomplished in 2021, he may be one of the nation's best to watch in 2022.
14. Keegan Smith, Knoxville Catholic (TN)
Class of 2025
Let's stick with the underclassmen theme. Smith ran the fastest 5K in freshman history on Sept. 18 at The Southern Showcase, clocking a ridiculous time of 14:53.79. He became one of two athletes all-time -- joining Graydon Morris -- to go under 15 minutes.
It was no fluke. He joined Morris again on Nov. 27 by qualifying for the Eastbay Cross Country Championships as a freshman -- so far, with one more regional left, no other freshman has achieved that feat. Smith ran 15:06.78 at Eastbay South to finish eighth. He also won a TSSAA Division 2 state title on Nov. 5 in 15:29.09.
15. Shane Brosnan, Union Catholic (NJ)
Class of 2022
The Harvard-bound runner has had his best season to date, and he's helped lift Union Catholic into one of the top programs in the country. UC is currently ranked No. 7 in the MileSplit50, while Brosnan finds himself at No. 25 in the country for individuals. While Brosnan hasn't gone under 15 minutes for 5K, his performances on difficult New Jersey courses have spoken for themselves.
Brosnan won the NJSIAA Non-Public A Group Championships on Nov. 13 in 15:45 and then finished third at the NJSIAA XC Meet of Champions, behind Marco Langon and Jackson Barna. Recently, he was fifth at the Eastbay Northeast Regional, so that means he's got one more race after RXC2, too. He will enroll and run for Harvard next year.
The 2021 Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships
How To Watch:
Info: MileSplit will stream a cart cam and multiple shots throughout the course. It will stream all races on Saturday.
7:30 a.m. CST -- Community Race
8:00 a.m. CST -- Blue Boys Race
8:30 a.m. CST -- Bronze Girls Race
9:00 a.m. CST -- Bronze Boys Race
9:30 a.m. CST -- Silver Girls Race
10:00 a.m. CST -- Silver Boys Race
10:45 a.m. CST -- Girls Gold Championship Race
11:30 a.m. CST -- Boys Gold Championship Race
Where: Huntsville, Alabama