The Eastbay Watchlist: Profiling 15 Boys Race Contenders

* Jefferson McMullin (left to right), Zane Bergen, Marco Langon and Shane Brosnan are all strong contenders at Eastbay on Saturday

Photo Credit: MileSplit

After a one-year hiatus, the race formerly known as Foot Locker Nationals is back, and we couldn't be more excited. 

A selection of the nation's best 40 boys runners will be on the starting line on Saturday at Balboa Park in San Diego, California, eyeing up that elusive national title at the Eastbay Cross Country Championships. 

But to win will take another gear all together. 

Who has what it takes to contend? Which athletes will compete for All-American bids? How will each runner play their cards on Saturday? 

We profile 15 of the top candidates heading into Saturday's action. For more coverage of Eastbay, visit our meet page and check out our previous content below. 

Riley Hough, Hartland (MI)

Class of 2022


This past weekend was bittersweet for Hough. While he secured a new overall career best 5K performance, accomplishing a personal goal he set for himself when he dropped a time of 14:10.56 at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships on Dec. 4, he also didn't win. 

The race snapped a 15-straight win streak for the Hartland High School senior, who has become one of the nation's top runners this fall. 

Fast time. First loss.

All that being said, Hough has one more opportunity to grab a national title on Saturday, as he is one of the few favorites. No one has been as consistently fast and competitive as Hough -- across a variety of conditions and courses, mind you -- over the 2021 season. He's headed to Michigan State next fall. 

Gavin Sherry, Conard (CT)

Class of 2022


Sherry has made all the right moves this fall. He's unbeaten through seven straight races and is coming off wins at the CIAC State Open Championships -- where he was second-best all-time at Wickham Park in 15:16 -- at the New England Championships and at the Eastbay Northeast Regional, where he ran the fastest time in Van Cortlandt Park history in 15:05.80. 

The thing is, Sherry hasn't been on fast courses. One look at his resume, and you might be a little quizzical as to how he can compete with athletes who are coming off times of 14:09 and 14:10. 

But Sherry is arguably the strongest runner in this field, and he's achieved some impressive milestones over his last three wins. Two years ago, he was 14th overall. He very well might be the guy to beat on Saturday. He's headed to Stanford next fall. 

Marco Langon, Bridgewater-Raritan (NJ)

Class of 2022


Langon put Sherry on edge at the Eastbay Northeast Regional, grabbing the lead in the second half of the race and then going tit-for-tat in the final moments. The New Jersey native eventually finished second, but it wasn't by much. 

And in that respect, it wasn't as much a loss as it was a statement by Langon: I can compete with anybody. He's won eight races across the 2021 season, including his letter race at Manhattan, his section at the NJSIAA Group Championships and at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. Langon is a force, and he certainly is a runner to watch on Saturday. Maybe a flip of the coin has Langon over Sherry this time around.

He's headed to Villanova University next year. 

Gitch Hayes, LaSalle Institute (NY)

Class of 2022


The only losses of Haye's season have come to Sherry and Langon at Eastbay Northeast, to Sherry at Ocean State and to Jackson Barna at Manhattan. Two of the three are in the field on Saturday, and Barna just ran 14:22 for 5K at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships. 

Hayes is a bit of a sleeper. But he's the kind of runner who may take that point and run with it. He's had no shortage of races: He's won eight of 11. 

That experience and consistency is a variable most athletes would like to have on the biggest day of their seasons. Hayes signed with North Carolina over the NLI period. 

Izaiah Steury, Angola (IN)

Class of 2022


Steury is heading into the final race of his high school career.

Since he's 19 and a half -- Ethiopian by birth, he was adopted by a family in Indiana and then placed in school nearly seven years ago -- he's over the age cut-off for being eligible for the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.

But that just means he has nothing to lose on Saturday. And Steury's last two seasons have been nothing short of remarkable, with an Indiana state cross country title from 2020 and 16 overall wins to his name. On Nov. 27, he finished second at the Eastbay Midwest Region, only behind Hough.

With one last race, Steury could make his biggest statement yet. He's headed to Notre Dame in 2022.

Tyrone Gorze, Crater (OR)

Class of 2023


One of the country's best runners, Gorze has won eight straight races over the fall. In October, that included a personal best 5K time of 14:29.30 at the Crater Track Twilight 5K -- which stood as the U.S. No. 1 time up until the weekend -- and wins at the Oregon Class 5A Championships and the Eastbay West Regional. 

Gorze seems like the kind of runner who measures his competition first, then determines the inevitable move which ultimately takes the field down next. While Saturday will prove his most difficult challenge yet, Gorze is sort of a mystery, the type of runner who might come up big in a critical moment.

He's also just a junior, illustrating that the best is yet to come from the Oregon harrier. 

Zane Bergen, Niwot (CO)

Class of 2022


No one got closer to taking down the star trio of Newbury Park last Saturday than Bergen, who finished fourth at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships. When the race needed an infusion of pace, Bergen and Co. were the ones to provide it, fueling a race that turned into the fastest in high school history. 

Bergen eventually finished with a time of 14:09.91, which went under the former national high school 5K best of 14:10. But even Bergen wasn't quite happy with it -- he later said that as a competitor, he always wants to win. 

On Saturday, Bergen could very well get his title. And Yet, he will turnaround in a week's time and face yet another dazzling field, one that includes Sherry and Langon and Hough. Bergen signed with Stanford in November. 

Shane Brosnan, Union Catholic (NJ)

Class of 2022


Brosnan has had himself a season, leading the Union Catholic boys program to unparalleled heights in 2021, including a NJSIAA Group Championship win -- the first in program history -- and an NJSIAA Meet of Champions win, which was another first in program history. 

Individually, Brosnan has set himself apart, too, claiming a win at the Union County Conference Championships and the Non-Public A section at Groups. With a new shiny PR of 14:25.64 from the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships on Dec. 4, Brosnan is flying high.

The only thing left? Brosnan has a real shot at claiming an All-American honor at Eastbay. Brosnan is set to attend Harvard next fall. 

Hunter Jones, Benzie Central (MI)

Class of 2023


Five Michigan runners qualified for the Eastbay Cross Country Championships. And besides Hough, Jones might be the second-best athlete from the state. He's top 10 entering the race in speed ratings, with a top score of 193 from the Midwest Region. Much like Hough, he's raced this fall as if it were his job, competing at 15 meets and winning all but four of them. 

He was fifth at the Eastbay Midwest Region and was second at the Team Midwest Region and first at his Michigan Division 3 State Championships. He's also set a career best of 14:44.34 for 5K this season, part of five under 15 for the runner in 2021.

Gabe Hinrichs, Elkhorn South (NE)

Class of 2022


Hinrichs built on a strong outdoor season -- two state titles in the 1,600m and the 3,200m -- with an even better cross country campaign, with five straight wins and a qualification to the Eastbay Cross Country Championships, his first entry into a national meet. 

Hinrichs' biggest wins came at the NSAA Class A meet in 15:18.20 and Team Heartland, where he ran a personal best of 15:00. What's more, when he equaled that 15-flat time at the Eastbay Midwest Region, finishing sixth, it proved that Hinrichs is all about consistency.

With a strong base and an ability to compete, the Nebraska athlete just may be a threat to earn an All-American finish at Eastbay. He signed with Notre Dame over the National Letter of Intent period. 

Ethan Ashley, Denmark (GA)

Class of 2022


Don't look now, but Ashley has won eight straight races. While the Georgia athlete hasn't gotten enough respect this season, he's certainly earned it. And for that work he's been rewarded with a ticket to Eastbay Nationals after his win at the South Regional on Nov. 27 in 15:00.31. 

That time gave Ashley a new career best, and it followed a signature victory at the GHSA Class 7A Championships, where he claimed his first state title. 

Kenan Pala, San Diego Francis Parker (CA)

Class of 2022


The hometown kid from San Diego has been dreaming about this for a long time, and on Dec. 4, he earned his chance to represent his city, finishing second at the West Regional. To be quite honest, Pala might be stronger than you think. 

Can he compete for a championship? The odds aren't great, but when you consider that Balboa Park is a quasi-home course for Pala, that he dominated at the West Regional and finished second, and that he set a new Division 5 record at the CIF State Cross Country Championships on Nov. 27, things start to turn a little.

Pala has a chance to make some big things happen on Saturday. He's headed to Yale next fall.  

Jefferson McMullin, Lehi (UT)

Class of 2022


McMullin has been all about that finish in the final weeks of the cross country season. It started on Oct. 1, when the Lehi senior secured a win at the Region 8 Championships, and then it followed at Divisionals, where he won again. Then he won again at the Utah Class 5A State Championships, and then that continued at the Team Southwest Region, when he grabbed the victory late from Tayson Echohawk in a career best time fo 14:47.40. 

McMullin couldn't stop winning. 

At the Eastbay West Region, McMullin's winning ways finally stopped, but he did qualify for nationals and ultimately verified all those other races.

McMullin will ideally be looking to finish as an All-American in the field. Few would doubt him at this point. 

Aidan Puffer, Manchester (CT)

Class of 2022


Puffer only opened up his season on Oct. 19. And oddly enough, he would go on to win just one race over the season, a 15:51 triumph at the CIAC Divisional Championships on Nov. 1. 

But that's besides the point. Few states -- and few sections -- were as competitive as Puffer's in Connecticut, where he routinely faced ranked runners like Gavin Sherry, Callum Sherry and the likes of Luke Anthony (ECCC qualifier), Michael Bohlke (ECCC qualifier) and Aidan Cox. 

Puffer finished second overall at the New England Championships on Nov. 13 -- his best performance overall -- and then went on to secure his second Eastbay qualification with his sixth-place finish at the Northeast Regional on Nov. 27.

While it would be unlikely for Puffer to win, stranger things have happened, and who knows, maybe he's saving the best for last. He signed with Northern Arizona in November. 

Keegan Smith, Knoxville Catholic TN)

Class of 2025


We have to highlight this Tennessee freshman, who ran the fastest 5K performance in freshman class history in September at The Southern Showcase in 14:53.79 -- on the same John Hunt Park course that provided a historic showcase of times at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships. 

Smith opted against RXC2 in favor of Eastbay, of which he became a qualifier in the South Region with his seventh-place finish at McApline Park in 15:06.78. Only seven boys have qualified for Foot Locker/Eastbay in history, so Smith joins some elite company. 

Former high school athletes like Futsum Zienasellassie, Graydon Morris and Bryan Dameworth all went on to future success over their high school careers. 

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