Riggs, Leo Young Lead The Way At USATF U20 XC Champs

* Irene Riggs (left) won the USATF U20 Cross Country Championship in the girls competition; Leo Young (right) won the boys 8k race at USATF U20s.

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Talk about high school domination.

At Pole Green Park just outside Richmond, Virginia on Saturday, some of the nation's high school cross country greats put on a show at the USATF U20 Cross Country Championships, snagging both of the junior girls and boys individual titles and earning six of 12 automatic berths to the World U20 Championships next month.

Team Nationals champion and No. 2 all-time 5K racer Irene Riggs of Morgantown (WV) pulled away over the final 1K to win the U20 girls 6k race in an astounding 19:44.3, and Newbury Park (CA) star Leo Young won the junior boys 8K in 23:46.8.

The girls kicked off the junior competition on Saturday, and it was a close back-and-forth battle for a majority of the race as Riggs, William Floyd (NY) sophomore Zariel Macchia and Emerging Elites (MA) junior Ellie Shea traded slight leads multiple times. 

But it was Riggs who began to separate from the field ever so slightly at the 5K mark, closing with a 3:03.4 final kilometer to earn the win by three seconds over runner-up Shea in 19:47.5.

Macchia finished third in 20:04.7, followed by Minnesota state champion Abbey Nechanicky, Champs Sports XC winner Karrie Baloga and UNC-Chapel Hill freshman Eva Klingbeil to round out the remaining six spots for the world championship team.

Five of the six girls who earned their spots on Team USA for the World U20 Championships are high schoolers in a field consisting of collegiate racers.

While Riggs led with the front pack throughout before pulling away over the final couple kilometers, the boys race followed a different narrative.

Leo would end up winning the race following a monster 2:45 split over the last 1K, but he never once held the lead over the course of the race. It wasn't until the finish that Leo pulled into first place in a winning 23:46.8.

That earned him nearly a seven-second win over Micah Wilson over UW-Madison in second place in 23:53.4.

The next-best finish among the high schoolers in the field came from Champs Sports XC champion Kole Mathison, who would narrowly finish behind the automatic world championship finishers in seventh in 24:11.7. Following Mathison among the prep competition was Lex Young, who crossed the 8k finish line in 24:25.5.

Along with Leo and Wilson, Villanova's Marco Langon, Washington's Evan Jenkins, Max Sannes of Air Force and Luke Venhuizen of Michigan also earned their trips to Australia for worlds by placing in the top six on Saturday.

USATF will take six athletes each for the U20 boys and girls cross country competitions at the World U20 Championships next month, and an additional two athletes will be selected as alternates for each field. Another two competitors each will be selected for the U20 mixed relay competition, and that selection process does hinge on competing at the USATF U20 Cross Country Championships.

Photo Credit: Tavan Smith/MileStat

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