The field separated quickly after the “cannon” went off to start the 2011 NXN Championship, with the strong favorites, surging ahead from the crowd of runners behind them. Led by Sam Nadel of North Shore, the pack would include Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley, pictured left with Katie Knight), Haley Pierce (Tatnall), Katie Knight (Northwest), and Jillian Fanning (FM). Nadel took an early lead, reminiscent of Nick Ryan's race strategy from an hour earlier, and ran alone with a 20 meter lead. That lead soon diminished, as a strong group quickly caught up.
(All photos by Patrick Bendzick)
The big difference between genders was that the top pack stayed close as the race wore on, only splitting the pack as Sarah Baxter started to push the pace. With Baxter pulling away, Haley Pierce of Tatnall went with her. Pierce was not able to stay with the strong sophomore Baxter out of California, fading back to a distinct but solid 2nd.
“I wanted to run my own race,” Pierce said. “Luckily, I've had some experience here, so I knew what to expect. I wanted to try and place as high as I could to help out my team.”
And run she did, to a time of 17:42 behind Sarah Baxter's 17:38. Pierce's great run helped her team achieve 3rd place, after a tie-breaker came down to Tatnell's 6th girl over New Trier's 6th. However, the team race competition was once again dominated by the New York contingent, who scored 100 points ahead of 3rd place. Saratoga Springs, out of New York, proved true to their impressive reputation of national caliber athletes by placing their first girl in at 18:23, with a 33-second spread behind her. The young team, comprised mostly of underclassman, would be far and away be the most dominating force in the nation if not for the dynasty held by home-state rivals, Fayetteville-Manlius (pictured below).
FM came into nationals after a season that success amongst adversity. Two of the top five athletes had to drop out of the roster due to unforeseen injuries. In addition, Bill Aris, storied coach of the Hornets, lost his father close to the New York State meet. Despite these adverse conditions, FM prevailed:
“It was definitely a challenging season,” Aris told MileSplit. “In the words of Percy Cerutty, 'set backs are a spur in good, for within each problem contains its own solution.' When we lost, or I decided to end the seasons of two of our top killers, for the sake of preserving their futures, athletically, Heather Martin, and Kristy Rutledge, who were key contributors to our team last year, to put it mildly. You know it would be very possible for a team to just fold up their tent and say 'jeez, we just lost 2/5 of our top 5'. That just wasn’t the case for us.”
The FM girls, with only one of the girls running today graduating this year, have worked hard for their success, putting in good performances when needed. Their squad includes one eight grader, Jenna Farrell, and one sophomore, Alana Pearl, which proves that the Stotan-centric program is here to stay at the national level. Jillian Fanning, who ran with the lead runners the entire race, ended her season with her first defeat of the year:
“I went out really hard,” Fanning said. “I knew I was going to be challenged and I was ready for it. I just stayed calm and I just went with it, and I threw in surges when I can, but in the end I was just running flat out.”