* Katie Clute (left), Payton Godsey (center) and Zariel Macchia enter as three of the top seeds in the girls gold race at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships.
Photo Credit: DeAnna Turner/MileSplit California
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And looking at the girls gold field for the national championships, it's truly a wide-open race, both among the individuals and teams.
That will make for entertaining battles to the finish among nationally-ranked athletes and respected teams from across the country in what has become one of the fastest cross country races in America.
Below, we break down the key storylines, as well as athletes and teams to watch in the girls gold race at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships coming up on Saturday.
Top Teams To Watch
Individuals To Watch
Payton Godsey, Oaks Christian (CA); Katie Clute, Olmstead Falls (OH); Zariel Macchia, William Floyd (NY); Leah Futey, Sue Cleveland (NM); Emily Cohen, Cherry Creek (CO); Gretchen Farley, Park Tudor (IN); Reagan Riley, Mountain Brook (AL); Allie Zealand, Pacers Homeschool (VA); Sydney Morrell, Cheyenne Central (WY); Emma Zawatski, Freehold Township (NJ); Addison Price, Cherry Creek (CO).
The Elite Packers:
Don't Sleep On These Girls:
Where The Meet Will Be Won
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Both in the individual and team races, it's hard to pick a frontrunner. That means there's likely to be a strong pack that will hold throughout the majority of the race.
In a loaded field like that, whoever can start making their kick with 1k to go will likely take the title. Same will go for the team race.
If there isn't any separation among the leaders come two miles, the 4k mark will be key. That's when those with enough endurance and confidence will likely push for a big move, and competitors with just enough gas left in the tank could probably put a gap on the field. From there, it'll be a battle to the finish for the individual title.
The 4k mark is also important in the team race -- 1k is plenty of distance for a team's top five runners to make moves and move up the team title scoreboard. Like the individual race, if it's close in the point totals, crucial surges down the final fifth of the race could prove most significant, and could be where under-the-radar teams make up ground on some of the frontrunners. Teams with small 1-5 spreads could also excel in the last 1k and shoot up the leaderboards if their packs can make moves as collectives once they hit 4k.
The Chase For Sub-17:00
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In the girls race, breaking the 17-minute barrier for the 5k will likely separate the lead pack from the rest of the field as they fight for the individual title.
Three girls enter the race with seed times under 17 minutes -- Addison Price, Payton Godsey and Emily Cohen. Another 10 competitors list marks in the 17:01-17:09 time range, meaning plenty of girls will surely be realistically looking to break the barrier on the fast Huntsville course.
Perhaps the better question may be how low can the frontrunners go?
Surpassing the sensational meet record and national high school record of 15:58.42 posted by Jenna Hutchins at the inaugural event in 2020 would take a challenging performance of the ages. But don't be surprised if the leaders cross the line well under 17 minutes.
In 2021, 10 girls dropped below 16:50, including four athletes under 16:30. With state champions and nationally-ranked talents in the field in 2022, an honest race could see even more athletes finish in the mid-to-low 16's and solidify their spots among the top performers in RunningLane history.
Now, who ends up taking the top crown is anyone's guess.
It could be Godsey, who comes to Huntsville off of a CIF Division 4 state title win in an official new 5k PR of 17:00.06. Or, potentially an athlete fresh off a top-10 finish at one of the Champs Sports regionals could come away with a title. That list of top regional finishers includes Katie Clute, Allie Zealand, Zariel Macchia, Gretchen Farley, Emma Zawatski and Olivia Murray.
But in a field of athletes with quite comparable talent and cross country PRs separated by mere seconds, dark horses could fly under the radar and steal some of the top spots on Saturday. Look for a racer like Tennessee 3A champion Claire Stegall to use her 4:42 one-mile track speed to propel her into the lead pack on a fast John Hunt course, or potentially top-seeded freshman Cohen to show strength and confidence early on.
Frankly, the list of girls with the potential to grab a RunningLane national title goes on. But with a mix of state champions, athletes with national-level experience and others running at the top of their game, the gold race will certainly prove entertaining.
The Team Race: Colorado And Utah Could Dominate, But Don't Sleep On The Rest Of The Field
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Who will come away with the gold race title on Saturday? Looking at the top-ranked squads headed to Huntsville, a handful rank among the top 25 nationally on the MileSplit50 rankings, and others rank among the best in their respective home states.
Upon first glance, there's a clear dominance of Southwest teams in the gold field. Half of the top 10 teams in the field hail from either Colorado or Utah.
Leading the way is MileSplit50 honorable mention Mountain Vista, ranked as the No. 1 RunningLane team selection with experience competing at the top of Colorado and the nation this season. The champions from the first installment of RXC in 2020 will return to the course hoping to capture yet another event title.
The squad from Utah boasts a pretty impressive resume from this fall -- second at the Colorado 5A State Championships, fourth at the early season Liberty Bell Invitational and first at the Dave Sanders Invitational, to name a few highlights. That's also not to mention their most recent fourth-place finish at Team Southwest Regionals against top-15 schools like Niwot (CO), Lone Peak (UT) and Air Academy (CO).
The stats don't lie, either, in the case of Mountain Vista. According to our database rankings, the team has an 18:24.34 5k average this season, ranking just outside the top 30 squads in the nation listed by team average.
Mountain Vista may potentially enter as the title favorite, but other teams could certainly make a run for the championship win as well.
Look to Cherry Creek (CO) as another MileSplit50 honorable mention team that could win the gold race if they're at full strength. They have the ninth-fastest team 5k average in the nation off 17:54.54, and with their two frontrunners in Addison Price and Emily Cohen both under 17:30 this season, that could be key for Cherry Creek in their hunt for a team win.
If Cherry Creek is fully healthy, they have the depth and speed to challenge top-ranked Mountain Vista.
Analyzing the rest of the field, it's clear that Colorado and Utah have a plethora of powerhouse programs that rank among the top in the field. In fact, five teams selected in the top 10 of the RunningLane gold field hail from either Colorado or Utah - Mountain Vista, Cherry Creek, No. 3 Mountain View (UT), No. 4 Springville (UT) and No. 9 Fossil Ridge (CO).
Among those squads, Mountain View has had one of the most stellar all-around seasons from start to finish and enter the field at No. 3. The Utah 5A State Championships bronze medalists come in with significant momentum, having just finished 10th at Team Southwest Regionals, and they have key experience racing against national elites from their 7th-place run at the Woodbridge Classic back in September.
But like the individual race, plenty of dark horse candidates could put together a stellar showing on race day and steal the title. duPont Manual (KY) won the Kentucky Class 3A state championship as a team over a rather strong Assumption (KY) squad, so they know what it takes to pull off an upset. Both No. 6 North Naperville (IL) and No. 7 Columbus North (IN) also bring strong squads to RunningLane, and each finished among the top three teams at their state meets.
And you also can't ignore the teams that have star power at the No. 1 runner position. Oaks Christian (CA) certainly comes to mind, who has CIF Division 4 state champion Payton Godsey leading the way with a 5k best of 17:00.06.
Realistically, any one of a handful of teams could win the gold race at RunningLane. Certainly, there's a Southwest region dominance among the top entered teams, but the team race will truly boil down to which group can perform the best outside of their states and regions against a nationally-competitive field.
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