* Ellie Shea (left), Sadie Engelhardt (center) and Ciara O'Shea (right) won their regionals and qualified for the Champs Sports Cross Country Championships
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Over the last few weeks, 10 athletes from each of the Champs Sports regions punched their tickets to compete at nationals at the historic Balboa Park.
It will all come down to this weekend.
Forty girls will head to the line with the hopes of being crowned this year's Champs Sports national champion. On Saturday, the field will include Karrie Baloga, Sophia Kennedy, Zariel Macchia, Sadie Engelhardt, Gretchen Farley, Ciara O'Shea, Abby Faith Cheeseman, Thais Rolly and Allie Zealand, all of which return from last year's championship.
Below we analyzed the top contenders to watch out for heading into the last cross country race of the season.
Individuals To Watch:
Ellie Shea, Emerging Elites (MA); Karrie Baloga, Cornwall (NY); Zariel Macchia, William Floyd (NY); Ciara O'Shea, Madison Central (KY); Isabel Conde De Frankenberg, Cedar Park (TX); Allie Zealand, Pacers Homeschool (VA); Sophia Kennedy, Park Tudor (IN); Sadie Engelhardt, Ventura (CA)
Tope Elite Packers:
Leah Stephens, Our Lady Of Good Counsel (MD), Nicole Humphries, Flower Mound (TX); Gillian Bushee, Herndon (VA), Paityn Noe, Ballard (IA); Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa (MI); Nicki Southerland, Delta (IN)
Don't Sleep On This Ladies:
Angelina Napoleon, Allegany-Limestone (NY); Ruth White, Orono (ME); Thais Rolly, McLean (VA); Abby Faith Cheeseman, The Webb School (TN); Katie Clute, Olmstead Falls (OH); Chiara Dailey, La Jolla (CA); Allie Bruce, Boise Senior (ID); Holly Barker, Laguna Hills (CA)
Northeast: Ellie Shea, Emerging Elite (MA)
South: Ciara O'Shea, Madison Central (KY)
Midwest: Tatum David, Olney (IL)
West: Sadie Engelhardt, Ventura (CA)
A Last Shot For A National Title:
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Last year, Flower Mound's Natalie Cook earned the national double by winning the RunningLane Cross Country Championships -- in a blazing time of 16:03 -- and then following with the Eastbay Cross Country Championship title in 17:15.
This year, we will see a handful of athletes doubling back from last weekend, too. The biggest question going into the weekend is how those athletes will adapt to tough back-to-back national races.
Looking into the entries, there are 11 girls on the MileSplit50 rankings.
The top returner from last year's Eastbay Cross Country Championships and the No. 1 girl on the latest MileSplit50 rankings, Karrie Baloga, will more than likely be one of early favorites. She's produced a handful of the nation's fastest speed ratings this season, including three over 160.
The only race the New York Class B state champion didn't win was at the Champs Northeast Regional meet. There, Ellie Shea of Emerging Elites (MA) took the victory.
Even though that race had been Shea's only cross country race of the season, it's all she needed: The junior ran a personal best of 17:10 to solidify her ticket.
The last time a girl from the Northeast region won this title was back in 2018 when Sydney Masciarelli claimed the title as a sophomore -- rather surprisingly, we might add -- and crossed the finish line in 17:00.
Macchia showcased her strength last weekend in Hunstville. The sophomore finished second in the gold race with a new personal best of 17:34 for 5K.
Stephens, on the other hand, had an off weekend and will come into Champs Sports with fresh legs.
* Zariel Macchia crossing the finish line at the NY State Championships
Photo Credit: Kyle Braziel / MileSplit NY
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However, don't count out the Midwest Region. This year's contenders in the region include No. 4 ranked Helen Sachs, No. 9 Paityn Noe and No. 12 Nicki Southerland -- Tatum David, who won the region, is out with an injury.
Everyone except Southerland competed in Oregon and finished in the top 60 last weekend. Sophia Kennedy of Park Tudor (IN) finished as an All-American last week with a seventh-place finish.
Representing the West Region will be Ventura's (CA) Sadie Engelhardt. So far this season Engelhardt hasn't lost. She earned her first cross country state title in November and became the region champion on Dec. 3.
At the state meet, she clocked a personal best of 16:57 for 5K.
Looking deeper into the South Region, athletes from Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky are represented. The Kentucky state champion -- and last year's 26th finisher -- Ciara O'Shea will look to capitalize on her final high school cross country season.
The UNC signee finished just ahead of Cedar Park's (TX) Isabel Conde De Frankenberg at the region. Conde de Frankenberg was sixth at Team Nationals.
Going into Saturday, it's hard to pick a favorite, especially considering the layout of Balboa Park and the depth of field.
The forecast looks to be ideal conditions with clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s.
How fast can the winner and All-Americans go this year? A total of 10 females have gone under 17 minutes on this course all-time.
This season alone, 16 girls have done it and five will toe the line this weekend.
On The Line Segment: Analyzing Girls Contenders At Champs Sports