Foot Locker Boys Preview: Will It Be Another Midwest Win?

* Butler's Drew Griffith is a top contender at Foot Locker Nationals

Photo Credit: Ryan Comstock/MileSplit

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The beauty in a race featuring only the nation's top runners is just that: We finally get to put regional success to the test. 

Just how will everyone stack up? 

For the 44th time, Foot Locker Nationals will hold the country's last high school national cross country race on Saturday at Balboa Park in San Diego, and this year there is no clear favorite. 

Many athletes enter having raced impressively at their regional events, but Balboa Park can be an equalizer. Featuring various terrains, uphills, valleys and long stretches ideal for breakaways, the ball is in this field's court. 

Will it be a kicker's race?

Or will an athlete have the bravado to take it early and try to hold on?  

Tallahassee Leon's Patrick Koon has prepared distinctly for this moment: Saturday will mark his return to Foot Locker after finishing 37th as a sophomore; this year, he's among the top contenders to win. 

Brebeuf Jesuit's Cameron Todd, meanwhile, is the top returner from a year ago, and if odds are of any order, he could become the sixth straight Midwest runner to win this event. 

On the flip side, though, New Baltimore Anchor Bay's Thomas Westphal has never raced on a stage so bright.

In many ways, the Midwest champion is sort of reminiscent of Cole Hocker, who entered Foot Locker in 2018 as a bit of a sleeper. But just how will he fare with the stakes so high? 

And then there's Joshua Chu, the West champion who enters with a chip on his shoulder. With much of California competing at NXN last weekend, he captured the regional crown at Mt. SAC -- like usual, in a sprint with the first nine finishers separated by just five seconds -- and now holds his region's hopes on his shoulders. 

Like Westphal, this will be Chu's first big national competition. 

But we'll be honest: Anything can happen on race day. Just ask last week's NXN champion, JoJo Jourdon. 

Just wait until the final meters on Saturday. 

Individuals To Watch: 

The Frontrunners:

Patrick Koon, Tallahassee Leon (FL); Cameron Todd, Brebeuf Jesuit (IN); Ryan Pajak, Ringgold (PA); Drew Griffith, Butler (PA); Ty Steorts, Hurricane (WV); Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay (MI); Joshua Chu, Santa Ana Foothill (CA).

The Elite Packers:

Riku Sugie, Thomas Nelson (KY); Brayden Marshall, Winfield (WV); Colin Eckerman, Webb School of Knoxville (TN); Berkley Nance, Mills Godwin (VA).

Don't Sleep On These Guys:

Anthony Provenzano, Carmel (IN); Juan Gonzalez, Fremont (NE); Jake Liebert, Wando (SC).

Regional Champions: 

Northeast: Ryan Pajak, Ringgold (PA)

Midwest: Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay (MI)

South: Patrick Koon, Tallahassee Leon (FL)

West: Joshua Chu, Santa Ana Foothill (CA)

Highest Speed Ratings From Regionals

Ryan Pajak, Ringgold (PA) -- 198 (Northeast)

Drew Griffith, Butler (PA) -- 197 (Northeast)

Paul Bergeron, Westford Academy (MA) -- 194 (Northeast)

Patrick Koon, Tallahassee Leon (FL) -- 194 (South)

Tamrat Gavenas, Phillips Academy Andover (MA) -- 193 (Northeast)

Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay (MI) -- 193 (Midwest)

Connell Alford, Chelsea (MI) -- 193 (Midwest)

Riku Sugie, Thomas Nelson (KY) -- 192 (South)

Colin Eckerman, Webb School of Knoxville (TN) -- 192 (South)

Berkley Nancy, Mills Godwin (VA) -- 192 (South)

Cameron Todd, Brebeuf Jesuit (IN) -- 192 (Midwest)

Isaac Rivera, Lincoln Prep (MO) -- 191 (Midwest)

Josh Chu, Sana Ana Foothill (CA) -- 189 (West)

Davis Rydman, Layton (UT) -- 189 (West)

Grant Morgenfeld, Pal Alto (CA) -- 189 (West)

Where The Meet Will Be Won: 

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In 2016, Southlake Carroll's Reed Brown stormed down the course's biggest downhill at the Balboa Park course and single-handedly made the move that won him the race. 

But it's not always been so simple. 

In recent years, the move that's often been made has been the one just after the downhill, as runners reach the bottom of that point, traverse a few turns and then hammer up a small incline en route to the finish. 

Runners who have measured their races just right have enough left in the tank for one final surge. Others who expend too much energy up and down those last hills -- which the race hits twice -- ultimately see their races coming back to them. 

So where will this year's edition take us? 

Potentially, we think a breakaway could happen early -- leaving your race to the final 400 meters can also be the difference between a win and finishing top 10 -- but if not, we'll see one big shot over the last stretch to crown a new winner.  

If history proves reliable, a Midwest runner will earn the title. 

Fun Facts: 

  • Athletes from the Midwest have won seven of the last 10 races at Foot Locker Nationals -- not including 2020, which did not hold a title due to the COVID pandemic.
  • In 2017, Dylan Jacobs become the second national champion from Sandburg (IL) High School, following Lukas Verzbicas, who won Foot Locker titles in 2010 and 2009
  • Grant Fisher won two straight titles in 2014-2013; Edward Cheserek won two straight titles from 2012-2011; Lukas Verzbicas won two straight titles from 2010-2009; Dathan Ritzenhein won two straight titles in 1999 and 2000 -- the 2000 title is considered the strongest race in event history, as it featured Ritzenhein, Alan Webb and Ryan Hall. 
  • Galen Rupp competed at Foot Locker Nationals in 2003 and finished second

Cameron Todd's Interview In 2022

Past Foot Locker Champions Over The Last Decade:

2022: Kole Mathison, Carmel (IN), 14:56.6, Midwest

2021: Riley Hough, Hartland (MI), 15:11.4, Midwest

2019: Josh Methner, Hersey (IL), 15:08.8, Midwest

2018: Cole Hocker, Indianapolis Cathedral (IN), 15:13.7, Midwest

2017: Dylan Jacobs, Sandburg (IL), 15:19.7, Midwest

2016: Reed Brown, Southlake Carroll (TX), 15:01.8, South

2015: Drew Hunter, Loudoun Valley (VA), 14:55.7, South

2014: Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc (MI), 15:02.1, Midwest

2013: Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc (MI), 15:07, Midwest

2012: Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's Prep (NJ), 14:59.3, Northeast

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