NXN Girls Preview: Who Are You Taking? Leachman Or Forsyth?

* Sadie Engelhardt is one of the top contenders at NXN on Saturday

Photo Credit: DeAnna Turner/MileSplit

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PORTLAND, Ore. -- On Saturday, the 18th running of Nike Cross Nationals will commence.

Similar to the boys race, the girls race will be stacked with top ranked teams and individuals. The girls will toe the line at Glendoveer Golf Course and will have a chance to be crowned as national champion.

The championship race will go off at 11:35 a.m. PST.  

So, who are the top five girls and teams to watch out for?

Check out the athletes and teams we think could be national title contenders below. 

Related Links:

NXN Boys Preview: Top Contenders With Undefeated Seasons

* Elizabeth Leachman reflects on her NXR South Regional title ahead of NXN

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The beauty about the girls race is that five of the six top runners in the nation this season will compete against one another for the title.

The most dominant and consistent runner this season has been Ann Arbor Pioneer's (MI) Rachel Forsyth, ranked No. 1 by MileSplit.

This year she's blossomed into one of the fastest runners as she has already clocked 11-consecutive sub-17-minute 5K performances. The Michigan State signee sits in a great spot going into these championships, as she holds the nation's fastest 5K this year with a 16:07.50, which she ran to win the MHSAA Regional meet. 

The two-time Michigan state champion grabbed the NXR Midwest Regional title to solidify her spot and will feature in her first-ever NXN appearance. 

The second-fastest girl in the nation -- by just one-tenth of a second -- is an underclassman star. Elizabeth Leachman of Boerne Champion (TX) also enters these championships with a dominant resume.

Similar to Forsyth, the No. 2 ranked sophomore has eight sub-17-minute 5K performances underneath her belt, including a 16:34 to open up her season. Recently, the UIL 5A state champion set a new personal best to claim the NXR South Region title as she crossed the finish line nearly a minute ahead of the rest of the pack in 16:07.60.

And if there's a girl who's going to have the home crowd advantage, it's going to be Crescent Valley's (OR) Emily Wisniewski. The junior, ranked No. 5 in our MileSplit50, lives just 80 miles south of Portland and has dominated the state by winning the OSAA 5A State Championship crown and the NXR Northwest Regional title. 

But there's also an athlete who's not only going to be running for herself, but will also look to lead her team to a NXN title.

Addison Ritzenhein from Niwot (CO) will be that girl on Saturday, and she's certainly rose to the occasion this season. The sophomore won her first Colorado 4A state title as she produced the fastest time of the day with a 17:08. Throughout the season, she led Niwot to multiple team titles, including the big one at states. Ritzenhein cruised to a third-place finish at NXR Southwest to punch her ticket to nationals with her team by her side. 

But of all the athletes in the mix on Saturday, who may have the most experience competing at the national level? Sadie Engelhardt has that advantage as she has been running in championship-level meets since she was in middle school.

Engelhardt is one of the fastest girls from the state of California and the Ventura junior is coming off a CIF State Championships win where she won gold in 16:40. 

Lastly, don't count out one of the youngest athletes in the field. She may be in eighth grade, but Gianna Rahmer of Eldorado (NM) can be the future of cross country. She's been undefeated this season and even grabbed the New Mexico high school state title with a 16:58 personal best for 5K. Rahmer backed up her performance by claiming the NXR Southwest Regional title and took down some of the best high school runners in the nation. 


Who Will Win The Girls Championship NXN Title?

Top Team Contenders

* Emily Bush dives into her individual win of NXR New York Regional and how the defending NXN champions are approaching nationals 

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The team race should be epic.

Throughout the season, Colorado's Niwot and Air Academy have been going back and forth between being ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.

Currently, Niwot is No. 1, while Air Academy is No. 2. 

But both programs are coming off state titles Colorado and they also finished one-two at the NXR Southwest Regional meet.

Niwot finished with a better day as they scored 58 points to the Kadets' 72. 

Air Academy has the best team average this season with a 17:24, while Niwot sits in the No. 2 spot at 17:26.

Regardless, the Colorado teams have the opportunity to finish one-two overall. The last time a state took the top two spots was in 2006 when New York's Fayetteville-Manlius and Hilton finished first and second. Since then, there hasn't been a state that's been that dominant at NXN. This can be a year for Colorado to rewrite the record books. 

Still, you can't overlook the defending champions of Saratoga Springs (NY).

The No. 7 ranked program over the last several weeks won state, New York Federation and NXR New York titles, the latter coming with a score of just 42 points. 

However, there's another program that has an opportunity to finish the season on a high note.

California's JSerra Catholic, ranked No. 3 on our MileSplit50, has dominated their competition throughout the year.

They've been able to take down Buchanan, a powerhouse program in the state, at Woodbridge and at the Clovis Invitational. Recently at states, they won the CIF Division IV title with 40 points and even won the merge with a 17:56 average. 

Other Oregon programs like Lincoln and Jesuit will be able to hold their own. The No. 4 and No. 5 ranked teams finished one-two at the NXR Northwest Championships. 

* Photo Credit: John Harris