The Garmin RXC3 Boys Preview: State Champions Collide

* Ethan Rashid-Cocker (left to right), Christian Groendyk and Brian DiCola are all title-hopefuls at Garmin RXC3

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- We are t-minus less than 48 hours out from the third installment of the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships at John Hunt Park on Saturday.

And the stakes are rising.  

This year's version of the 'Fastest High School Race In America' will feature a handful of state champions from all over the U.S., all of which are eyeing up that elusive national title. 

But running fast won't be the only goal here. 

With so much talent on the line, who exactly will win? Who will have a chance to win? Which athletes will make statements of their own? 

Which programs will put their final stamps on the season? 

We have all those storylines and more below.  For more coverage of the Garmin RunningLane XC Championships, stay locked on MileSplit. 

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Top Teams To Watch: 

The Title-Contenders: 

New Orleans Jesuit (LA); West Salem (OR); Bentonville (AR); Center Grove (IN); Rock Bridge (MO); Riverton (UT)

The Next-In-Line: 

Liberty North (MO); Cheyenne Mountain (CO); Orem (UT); Vestavia Hills (UT); Mountain Vista (CO)

The New Orleans Jesuit (LA) boys, ranked No. 2 nationally in the latest MileSplit50 poll, are nearing the end of a historic season. They're just weeks removed from a perfect score at the Louisiana Class 5A state championships, where the Blue Jays put their first five across the line and their top seven in the first nine places -- a feat never achieved before in state history. On Saturday, they'll be concluding a remarkable season with RunningLane. 

And here, the purpose is simple: Complete their undefeated season, and go after a performance unmatched over the 2022 season. Only one team in the U.S. (Newbury Park) has averaged below 15 minutes for a single-competition (14:54 at the CIF State Championships). 

The top all-time team averages from RunningLane all came from last year's race: Newbury Park (14:14), Cheyenne Mountain (14:49) and Portland Jesuit (14:58). In September, Jesuit dominated at The Southern Showcase, scoring 70 points. Their team average was 15:23.

But are the Blue Jays unbeatable? We wouldn't go that far. No. 25 Rock Bridge is among the top contenders in the gold division, along with No. 32 West Salem, No. 49 Bentonville and No. 50 Center Grove. Riverton is ranked No. 5 in the Southwest Region. 

West Salem was third at its Oregon Class 6A championships, second at Nike Hole in the Wall and second at Nike Portland XC.

Individuals To Watch:

The Frontrunners: 

Christian Groendyk, Fort Collins (CO); Ty Steorts, Hurricane (WV); Sage Wilde, Liberty North (MO); Brian DiCola, Hatboro-Horsham (PA); Ethan Rashid-Cocker, Toronto Track Club (OR); David Mora, Lubbock Monterey (TX); Brady Bliven, West Salem (OR); Wyatt Haughton, Shawnee Mission East; Andrew Hauser, Rock Bridge (MO); Drew Griffith, Butler (PA).

The Elite Packers: 

Joe Sapone, Atlanta Holy Innocents' Episcopal (GA); Jake Liebert, Wando (SC); Nathan Atchue, Franklin County (VA); Jack Desroches, New Orleans Jesuit (LA); Ty Garrett, Center Grove (IN); Jack Meier, West Salem (OR); Hudson Betts, Fayetteville (AR); Matthew Edwards, The Classical Academy (CO)

Don't Sleep On These Guys:

Oliver Maldonado, Atascocita (TX); James American Horse, Bentonville (AR); Mac Conwell, St. Paul's Episcopal (AL); Brody Chapman, Brentwood (TN); Brennan Draper, Chapparal (CO); Micah Blomker, Shawnee Mission North; Jake Seegmiller, Riverton (UT)

Racing below elevation should help elevate Christian Groendyk's performance.  The Colorado Class 5A state champion from Fort Collins High School ran 14:48 in September, which finished the year as the top time in the state. Will he knock down that time here? Is he the race favorite?  

That's up for debate. Hatboro-Horsham's Brian DiCola won his Pennsylvania Class 3A final and was fifth at Champs Sports Northeast. Ty Steorts enters as a West Virginia state champion, while Wyatt Haughton (Kansas), David Mora (Texas), Jake Liebert (South Carolina), Nathan Atchue (Virginia), Hudson Betts (Arkansas) and Jack Desroches (Louisiana) all won state titles, too. 

And then there's Ethan Rashid-Cocker, one of Canada's top young runners. He was second at his Ontario Provincials and third at nationals. 

Note: We're leaving Andrew Hauser and Drew Griffith, the Champs Northeast champion, out of this commentary, as both likely will not race at RunningLane.

Where The Meet Will Be Won: 

The 2-Mile: 

It's becoming less and less of a secret: The toughest section of John Hunt Park comes right after the one mile split, when athletes encounter a series of rolling hills and their biggest challenge, a short-but-high-grade hill. For those who peel out from the start and go for broke in that first mile, they'll have to rely on their fitness to get them through the middle of the course, which tends to bring most athletes back to reality. 

For those who are able to measure the course right, that's right where they're likely to start picking off their competition. 

Ongoing: The Chase For Sub-15

Just three years into John Hunt Park's existence on the high school cross country scene, a total of 120 athletes have broken 15 minutes at least once -- some even twice. 

No course in the country offers similar results. 

So when the third annual Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships heads toward the championship races, the question will remain: How many athletes will break that elusive mark?

A total of 79 athletes crossed that barrier in 2021, while 32 accomplished the mark in 2020. On top of that, athletes also have run on the course in September at The Southern Showcase. 

Saturday's championships will lend itself a repeat performance, from some of the top athletes in the country. Just how many will go under 15?