Future Stars: Middle School Phenoms Emerge

* Ava Lindsey (Greenville Hurricanes, SC) currently holds the top 5k time among eighth grade girls this season of 18:12.50.

Photo Credit: John Olson/MileSplit South Carolina

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Now almost a month into the 2022 cross country season, many younger distance runners have begun making names for themselves.

That includes middle schoolers, many of whom have taken to the course this fall as top athletes in their respective states and among other athletes in their grade nation-wide.

For many of these eighth and seventh grade talents -- whether they're making their 5k debuts or trying cross country for the first time in 2022 -- they could very well be on the way to becoming future stars in the sport.

Continue below to see which boys and girls middle school cross country athletes have made their marks early on in the cross country season.

Ava Lindsey, Greenville Hurricanes (SC)

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As just an eighth grader, Lindsey has already become a familiar face in the South Carolina distance community.

In 2021, she finished the cross country season as the 22nd fastest 5k racer in the state with a season's best of 18:52.59. Now a year later, she currently sits at SC No. 1 thanks to a big personal record of 18:12.50 to win at the Eye Opener on Sept. 3.

Playing to her advantage is her long-running experience competing at the 5k distance. For many young cross country racers, eight or ninth grade marks the beginning of racing the longer 5k distance on a regular basis. Lindsey, on the other hand, ran in nine 5k races in 2021 as a seventh grade competitor, winning five of those races against varsity high school challengers.

She's certainly experienced beyond her years, and as a middle schooler competing up, Lindsey has the potential to become one of the most talented and most seasoned cross country runners in South Carolina.

Logan Drevlow, Hopkins (MN)

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Drevlow may not be in high school yet, but that doesn't mean he lacks high school racing experience.

In fact, he's already raced on Minnesota's top cross country stages, competing up with the Hopkins High School team.

16:44.72 for 18th at MSHSL 6AAA Sectionals last October representing Hopkins showed Drevlow could more than hold his own against older athletes.

Flash forward to 2022, and as an eighth grader, he seems to be capitalizing on much of that confidence.

This past weekend at the Hopkins Bauman/Rovn Invitational, Drevlow ran a 16:23.90 5k personal best to place 13th in the varsity field. That puts him at the top of the national rankings for eight grade boys so far this cross country season and ranks him as the 12th fastest Minnesota eight-grader in history.

Expect more progression from Drevlow throughout the season as he becomes more seasoned racing up at the high school level for the second consecutive season.

The state all-time leading eighth-grade mark of 16:05.80 also doesn't seem far out of reach for the quickly-improving Drevlow.

Kaitlyn Estep, Without Limits/Cary Christian (NC)

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The seventh grader representing the Without Limits club program and Cary Christian had never raced a 5k before she stepped onto the course at the Wilmington Beach Blast on Sept. 10.

Estep certainly made her first 5k race one to remember.

17:46.17 equaled not just a meet win and an astonishing first-time feat for Estep, but it puts her at NC No. 1 for 5k on the season and registers as the NC No. 1 all-time mark for middle schoolers, according to our database.

Rank her against the top high school competitors nationally so far this season, and her 5k best of 17:46.17 puts her at US No. 60. 

Reminder -- she's just a seventh grader. 

The sky seems to be the limit for Estep as the season progresses and she continues to gain 5k racing experience and potentially lower her state-leading mark in the process.

Marcelo Mantecon, Belen Jesuit (FL)

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As a defending middle school cross country champion in Florida, Mantecon already holds much acclaim in the state as an elite-level youth distance talent.

But 2022 marks a year of firsts for the young athlete as he competes up at the high school level and hopes to emerge as a key runner for a national-caliber program.

He opened up his eight-grade season with a 5k debut of 16:41.10 to win the junior varsity race at the Park Vista Cobra XC Invitational on Aug. 27.

Just a week later, Mantecon moved up to the varsity field and shaved nearly 10 seconds off that impressive first race, clocking a new personal best of 16:33.60 to take 23rd at the Florida Horse Park Invitational on Sept. 3.

Currently, 16:33.20 for Mantecon ranks him as the second-fastest eighth-grader in the country at 5k.

It's worth noting, too, that Mantecon could prove a crucial member of a Belen Jesuit squad that entered the preseason at No.13 on the MileSplit50 boys team rankings. He currently sits as the team's seventh runner, but look for him to fight for a solid varsity spot and prove pivotal in the team's hunt for national success.

Mia Dunavant, Chelsea (AL)

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On paper, Dunavant isn't your typical cross country distance athlete.

In fact, the eighth-grader hasn't ever raced longer than 800m on the track, and most of her focus appears to be in the sprints, hurdles and jumps. Just a few months ago during the outdoor season, she placed 13th at the Alabama 6A state meet among high schoolers as a seventh grade competitor.

2022 marks her first time ever trying cross country. 

But that hasn't stopped Dunavant from making a surprising statement out on the course.

In her first cross country race, Dunavant clocked 19:02.41 for eighth at the Chickasaw Trails Invitational, good for US No. 3 class of 2027 athletes.

Could we see Dunavant become a cross country talent in Alabama that perhaps no one anticipated? It's not uncommon to see short-distance athletes try their hands at the longer distances and find a knack for it, so look for Dunavant to improve as a distance runner as her season continues.