Nation's Elite Set To Square Off At HOKA Festival Of Miles

* Rocky Hansen and Connor Burns (left) will be two of the headliners in the high school mile championship at HOKA Festival of Miles; Charlotte Bell is the top seed in the girls mile championship race.

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We're going to be in for a treat in St. Louis tomorrow evening.

The best-of-the-best in high school distance running will all finally go head-to-head in premiere mile championship races at the HOKA Festival of Miles, and the athletes will not only shoot for wins, but potentially for some all-time efforts.

We preview the fields in the miles and 800m races, as well as detail what to look out for at the loaded event.

Continue below for a preview of the HOKA Festival Of Miles set for Thursday night.

The Fields

Boys Mile Championship: Connor Burns, Southern Boone County (MO); Simeon Birnbaum, Rapid City Stevens (SD); Rocky Hansen, Christ School (NC); Aaron Sahlman, Newbury Park (CA) *; Devan Kipyego, St. Raphael Academy (RI); Tayson Echohawk, Orem (UT); Jackson Heidesch, Dowling Catholic (IA); Clay Shively, Wichita Trinity Academy )KS); Tinoda Matsatsa, St. Andrew's Episcopal School (MD); Wyatt Haughton, Shawnee Mission East (KS); Ford Washburn, Iowa City (IA); Vincent Recupero, Bishop Blanchet (WA); Brayden Seymour, Newbury Park (CA); Brian DiCola, Hatboro Horsham (PA); Dane Eike, Valor Christian (CO).

Girls Mile Championship: Charlotte Bell, Cuthbertson (NC), Nicole Humphries, Flower Mound (TX); Ella Johns, Fort Collins (CO); Samantha Humphries, Flower Mound (TX); Leah Stephens, Our Lady Of Good Counsel (MD); Stella Kermes, Cuthbertson (NC); Allison Ince, Normal Community (IL); Adrienne Buettner-Cable, Roosevelt (IA); Paityn Noe, Ballard (IA); Emma Wade, Vista Ridge (TX); Tessa Buswell, Poway (CA); Olivia Cieslak, Haverford (PA); Madeleine Gear, Cambridge Christian (FL); Abby Faith Cheeseman, The Webb School (TN); Addison Dorenkamp, Valley (IA).

Boys 800m Championship: Daniel Watcke, Hinsdale Central (IL); Patrick Hilby, Aurora Central Catholic (IL); Alex Waldie, Saint Thomas Aquinas (KS); Ammon Smith, Iowa City (IA); Gabe Nash, Sioux City North (IA); Evan Ringwald, Houston Episcopal (TX); Tommy Tyynismaa, South Tama County (IA); Caleb Levy, Warren Township (IL); Ian Schram, Festus (MO).

Girls 800m Championship: Elyse Wilmes, Father Tolton (MO); Becca Heitzig, Lincoln Community (IL); Clare Kelly, Van Meter (IA); Faith Murphy, Faith Academy of Marble Falls (TX); Elena Rybak, Father McGivney Catholic (IL); Ahry Comer, Pope County-Golconda (IL); Grace Boleyn, Pleasant Valley (IA); Bree Newport, Olathe West (KS).

Could We See Sub-4 -- And How Many?

The boys championship mile on Thursday evening will feature an unprecedented matchup.

Not one, but three sub-four-minute milers will lead the high school-only mile field, and it's fair to assume that the race will go out hot.

Paced by former indoor 600m record holder Erik Sowinski, expect to see Connor Burns, Rocky Hansen and Simeon Birnbaum hit the pace from the gun. Both Burns and Hansen have already gone under four minutes this season, and Birnbaum clocked 3:59.51 at last year's Brooks PR Invitational. 

Hansen is the newest member of the sub-four-minute mile group behind his 3:59.56 effort at the Virginia High Performance meet in April, and he will have that confidence to his advantage going into HOKA.

But don't count out the rest of the field, who will be looking to join the exclusive club. Athletes like Jackson Heidesch and Devan Kipyego have gotten close before with personal bests under 4:03, so an uber-competitive matchup with essentially all of the nation's top milers could be the key to pushing these guys into the sub-four arena, and potentially into contention for a win, too. 

The last time many of these guys toed the line together for a mile race was New Balance Nationals Indoor in March, and it was Heidesch and Kipyego who truly impressed by going 1-2 in 4:02.25 and 4:02.30.

If you're looking for an underrated candidate that could potentially pull off somewhat of an upset, look to someone like Tinoda Matsatsa. The NBNI 800m indoor champion and all-time middle distance athlete could tap into that half-mile speed of his to put pressure on the field late, especially if the race comes down to a kick.

Matsatsa ran a 4:05.68 solo effort earlier this season at the Virginia High Performance meet, the same competition where Hansen broke four minutes for the first time while running in the college field.

Now remember, Burns broke four minutes at the meet last year with a 3:58.83 performance, but it came in the pro men's race. 

Can multiple athletes break the barrier among fellow teenage competitors? That'll certainly be in the cards.

Athletes like Burns and Birnbaum have said publicly that they want to shoot for something even bigger -- think national record big. Nonetheless, expect quick times and competitive battles for the duration of the race that could shape up to be one of the deepest high school-only mile showdowns in recent memory.

* Tatum David competes at the Illinois State Championships.

Photo Credit: Laura Duffy/MileSplit Illinois

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Tatum David Vs. The Pros

While the high school competitions feature a slew of star power, be sure to tune into the professional fields as well.

That's because Tatum David, one of the country's best milers this spring out of Olney Richland County (IL), will test her speed against the women in a loaded pro mile competition prior to the high school boys race.

David enters the HOKA Festival of Miles coming off a historic performance at the Illinois State Championships, winning the distance double with marks of 4:49.73 for 1,600m and 9:53.96 in the 3,200m, the latter of which made for a new state meet record.

But her season best of 4:40.38 for 1,600m set earlier in the season at the Little Illini Conference meet ranks her as the fourth-best girl in the nation at the distance.

Her overall high school mile best of 4:38.80 came back in March at New Balance Nationals Indoor, so she certainly has what it takes to compete up with the elite women. With competitors like NAZ Elite's Krissy Gear and 4:28 miler Hanna Hermansson to push the pace, David will be in an ideal scenario to race for something big.

Girls Mile, 800m And More

With the entire field seeded under 4:50, the girls high school mile could shape up to be quite a competition.

Top seed Charlotte Bell of Cuthbertson (NC) has a chance to go for a big mark after posting a 4:43.27 1,600m PR to win a North Carolina 4A state title a couple of weeks back. Put the North Carolina state mile record of 4:38.59 set by Ryen Frazier in 2015 on high alert, as Bell could certainly have what it takes to hunt that mark down.

But Bell won't be alone. Texas' top twins in Nicole and Samantha Humphries will be in the mix to push for a win after going 2-3 at the UIL Texas 6A State Championships in early May, and they hold 1,600m personal bests of 4:44.02 and 4:44.30.

Also keep an eye on Leah Stephens, Maryland's top distance talent this year, as well as Bell's Cuthbertson teammate Stella Kermes and 800m specialist Allison Ince to challenge.

Outside of the mile races, the high school 800m start lists have shaped up to be exceptionally competitive. RunningLane champion Elyse Wilmes will be the girl to beat with a 2:06.97 personal best set just last weekend in Huntsville, and sub-1:50 racer Daniel Watcke will look to add a national-caliber win under his belt for the 2023 season in the boys 800m.

* Noah Strohman clocks 4:09.23 for the mile at the RunningLane Track Championships.

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Other Athletes To Watch

Sophia Rodriguez, Dallastown (PA): The 8th-grader will head to the start in the girls developmental mile shooting for records. Rodriguez owns the World U14 indoor 2-mile record of 10:20.68 set in March and holds a mile personal best of 4:53.76, also clocked indoors.

Noah Strohman, Holliday (TX): Strohman nearly broke the freshman class national mile record at the RunningLane Track Championships last weekend with a 4:09.23 performance. Perhaps he can take down Josiah Tostenson's 4:09.11 9th-grade record set last year with a big effort in the develpmental mile at HOKA.

Related Links:

HOKA Festival Of Miles meet page

RunningLane Track Championships coverage