Nike Cross Nationals - Boys Preview

Photo by Ron Crocker


2010 NXN Boys Preview


While the girls' race focus stays on the original purpose of the Nike Cross Nationals in crowning the national team championship and if the Fayetteville-Manlius girls can extend their streak to five titles, it is the individual stars which takes the spotlight for the boys' race at the 2010 Nike Cross Nationals. Defending Foot Locker Nationals champion Lukas Verzbicas of Sandburg High School in Illinois will be attempting to put stamp himself as one of the all-time greats in the history of United States high school cross country by trying to win both national titles at the Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker Nationals in consecutive weekends. His biggest test arguably will not be in doubling back on likely tired legs in San Diego next Saturday at Foot Locker Nationals, but his first stop in the double at Portland Meadows in his first ever Nike Cross Nationals race. 


The reason that NXN will be the tougher test is because many of the runners who would have been his toughest competition at Foot Locker Nationals will only be racing at the Nike Cross Nationals by choice or as result of their earning a berth to Nike Cross Nationals. Returning NXN individual champion Craig Lutz of Texas helped lead his Marcus squad to a NXN team berth by winning the South Regional, but opted not to race at Foot Locker South last Saturday and attempt the national championship double again and focus only on his race in Portland with his team. Lutz last year followed up his NXN title with a third place finish at Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego behind the champion Verzbicas. Elias Gedyon of California and Jim Rosa of New Jersey have both been ranked among the top 5 in several national rankings list throughout the fall, but similar to 2009 will only be racing at Nike Cross Nationals. Gedyon's Loyola team was selected as an at-large berth to influence his decision to race at Nike Cross Nationals instead of the Foot Locker West regional qualifier held this Saturday also.


Six of the top seven ranked runners in the latest MileSplit XC Super 50 Individual Rankings will be racing at the 2010 Nike Cross Nationals. The only runner among that seven not in Portland, which US #1 Verzbicas will have to deal with at Foot Locker Nationals is Indiana's Futsum Zeinasellassie who the tri-athlete star Verzbicas beat convincingly at Foot Locker Midwest last Saturday. Not to be overlooked and among the top 7 ranked in the nation according to MileSplit's national editors are California Division 1 state champion Ammar Mousa and NXN Northeast runner-up Edward Cheserek. 


Mousa has been the national leader at the 5K distance for virtually the entire season after a 14:37 victory at the Stanford Invitational on September 25th. Mousa led the Arcadia boys to a California state team title and NXN automatic berth as the top team in the results merge with the fastest time of the day in a 14:43 clocking. Elias Gedyon did not compete head-to-head with Mousa at the state meet while winning his Division state title race 9 seconds slower at 14:52. Ironically, Nike Cross Nationals will be the first time which Mousa and Gedyon will race against each other this fall after both have went the entire season undefeated up until this point. The last time which they faced off in cross country was the 2009 NXN race, which Gedyon just fell short of a national title by three tenths of a second to the Texan Lutz, wile Mousa trailed 8 seconds later in fourth place with a time of 15:17. The California pair might consider teaming up to challenge Verzbicas, who has been virtually unbeatable the past two years in cross country.


While Mousa and Gedyon have been rolling out fast times week after week on the West Coast, two New Jersey boys in James Rosa of West Windsor-Plainsboro North and Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep have been equally as dominating this fall on the East Coast. Rosa had often ran in the shadows of his twin brother Joe Rosa in races throughout high school, but when his brother suffered a season ending injury and surgery, Jim seemed to thrive and excel when running on his own. Rosa has won week after week including major victories at the Manhattan Invitational, New Jersey Meet of Champions, and most recently at the NXN Northeast Regional by taking down the Bowdoin Park course record with his 15:35 performance. A strength runner like his brother, Rosa should race well at Portland Meadows but will look to erase his 18th place finish last year and finish more closer to his brother Joe's 3rd place and near win performance in 2009. Besides two runner-up finishes to Rosa at Manhattan and the NXN regional race, Edward Cheserek's season has gone without blemishes and only first place finishes. The senior from Newark, New Jersey won the private school championship race at Great American and won the Brown Invitational with a 15 minutes flat performance prior to running a 14:42 5K PR at his county championships.


Someone is being forgotten with the attention on Verzbicas making his first racing appearance at the Nike Cross Nationals along with the California duo of Gedyon and Moussa to match up with the New Jersey tandem of Rosa and Meserek all tearing up cross country courses all fall long with fast times, undefeated streaks, and course records. The returning race individual champion who has won numerous state titles in Texas seems to have been lost in the shuffle, yet Lutz has showed no signs that he is slower than last year. Lutz was four seconds faster in defending his Texas 5A state crown and a whopping 68 seconds faster at the NXN South Regional race from his 2009 performances. With six teammates to support him on race day and throughout the weekend in Oregon, Lutz will be in great position to repeat as champion. Another important fact to note, among the top six ranked runners at NXN, Lutz is the only one who did not race last weekend and might serve to his advantage. His sacrifice for the team last weekend skipping Foot Locker South will hopefully pay off for another title for him and a high team finish well within the top 10 for the Marcus team.  


Transitioning to the team outlook for the boys off of mention of Lutz and his team's goals, there are a lot of hopeful teams and regions with strong beliefs that their team or region can finish high or potentially a champion. Very different from the girls' race which the top teams are more clustered in the same states or regions. The fact that so many teams have a shot at the state title, makes the race so much more unpredictable and exciting in the same token. California state champions Arcadia are ranked #1 currently by Marc Bloom's Harrier Rankings, while NXN Southwest Regional champions American Fork of Utah and Indiana state champions Columbus North of Indiana have both been featured as the top ranked team in the country at earlier points in the season. Columbus North and Arcadia have ran the fastest this season. Arcadia has the superior front runner in Mousa, who leads the nation with the fastest 5K performance in the US. With a 14:37 5K front runner, it would be understandable if Arcadia had a top five spread over one minute, but instead the California Division 1 state champs have a fifth runner in Eric Garibay with a season best time of 15:33 to keep them under 60 seconds. The season best 5K times of Columbus North's top five adds up to a 15:16 team average, which is five seconds slower than Arcadia at 15:11, but their spread is significantly tighter at 19 seconds.


However, York showed at the NXN Midwest Regional that times are relative to course difficulty and sometimes its the team running its best at the right time which matters most. Under the guidance of legendary coach Joe Newton, the York boys marched to their 27th state title and ending a four year drought before upsetting highly ranked Columbus North at the NXN regional race. York has one of the best individual runners among all team scorers in Jack Diggs, who qualified for Foot Locker Nationals last Saturday with a fifth place effort at the Midwest Regional. York has shown themselves in past years to race better each week in the post-season following their state meet through the Nike Cross Nationals as a team which has qualified all seven years for NXN's existence. In 2008, York did not win their state meet but finished second at the Nike Cross Nationals.


American Fork is a team which wishes they had the amount of experience as the York program has competing at the Nike Cross Nationals, but their first NXN experience last year included a solid eighth place national meet debut and first-hand knowledge gained should be enough to prepare them to seriously challenge for a national title in the 2010 race. Led by Utah state individual champion in junior Clayton Young, the American Fork boys tuned up well between the state meet and Nike Cross Nationals an the Southwest Regional race. The runner-up team to American Fork was double their team score as the Harrier US #2 squad put five runners under 16 minutes for 5K with Young (15:28), Ashenafe Richardson (15:30), Mackenzie Morrison (15:41), Derek Day (15:49), and Austin West (15:49) to dominate their regional competition. 


Christian Brothers Academy of New Jersey appear to be the best team from the Northeast Region since Pennsylvania's Coatesville High School won the title in 2006. Runners-up in the competitive Eastern State Championship race at the Manhattan Invitational, CBA has not lost since. Their recent win at the NXN Northeast Regional was one of the more decisive among all of the NXN regional champions with a 47 point separation between themselves and runner-up Pembroke High School from Massachusetts. Their team average of 16:36 on a difficult Bowdoin Park was five seconds faster than the Shaker squad in the NXN New York Regional race on the same day, which had last beaten CBA at Manhattan.


In all of the meet's previous six championship boys' races, there has been a new program and school becoming the Nike Cross Nationals team champions every year. 2010 NXN Northwest Regional champions and 2008 national champions North Central of Washington are looking to become the first school to win a second title at Portland Meadows. After finishing seventh in last year's Nike Cross Nationals, the boys running under the banner of North Spokane XC Club are looking to erase the 44 point margin which separated them from first place last year. It speakes volumes to the coaching and tradition of their program to graduate four of their top seven from 2009 and come back to nationals with a team capable of being right in the hunt with other national title contenders. Vince Hamilton leads their squad as he was only a second behind MileSplit US #8 Kenji Biering at NXN Northwest Regional. Hamilton joins York's Jack Diggs, Loyola's Elias Gedyon, and Arcadia's Ammar Mousa as some of the best individuals on contending teams at NXN.


The Southeast Region has never had a boys team finish among the top 10 in the six year history of the Nike Cross Nationals, so the Midlothian boys have the choice to either be a part of the history or make history following their NXN Southeast Regional victory and dominant Virginia 3A state title win. Midlothian qualified last for NXN in 2006 with two eventual Foot Locker finalists in Jason Witt and Michael Hammond. The 2010 Midlo squad appears to be even more talented and deeper than their 2006 counterparts, which finished 14th at Portland Meadows. Midlothian has a quality front two in returning NXN individual qualifier Brayden Burleigh (15:20 5K season best) and Darren Barlow (15:30). Ranked US #14 by the Harrier, Midlothian has two more runners under 16 minutes for 5K this fall, while their #5 and #6 runners are under 16:10.


The Fayetteville-Manlius boys are not going to let the F-M girls take all of the spotlight this weekend. Their boys' squad has a lot of momentum heading to Oregon following last weekend's NXN New York Regional upset win over Harrier US #7 Shaker boys squad, which had been the dominant team in their state for the majority of the season. It was a considerable jump in performance for the F-M boys who were not even runners-up to Shaker at the New York State Meet, but third place instead. Two top five finishers in the NXN regional race with Mark McGurrin (4th) and Nick Ryan (5th) sparked their win over Shaker. Fayetteville-Manlius' win at Bowdoin Park last Saturday might be more of a testament that New York has two teams capable of top 10 showings at NXN rather than Shaker underperforming or being over-ranked.