New Balance Nationals Preview: Thursday

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Sides) Wesley Frazier returns to defend her 5000m title, plus a new relay has been added to the schedule.


Championship Boys Decathlon

The traditional boys' multi-event will have participants grinding through the 100m Dash, Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump, and 400m Dash on Thursday.  Kris Horn (Pembroke MA) recorded a total of 6299 last summer, making him the favorite coming into this meet.  Jordan Thomas (North Gwinnett GA) also broke the 6000-point barrier last year, while Robert Cacace (Hackley School NY) and Quentin Cieslinski (Madison OH) have both been close with 5800-plus marks.  Taylor Cudequest (Pascack NJ) led the nation in the Indoor Pentathlon this past spring, but the Decathlon is a much bigger burden.  With several entrants apparently making their multi-event debut, there could be a surprise contender hiding in the field somewhere.


Championship Girls Heptathlon

The girls' multi-event competition opens with four events on the first day: 100m Hurdles, High Jump, Shot Put, and 200m Dash.  Shaina Burns (Prior Lake MN) is US #7 with her tally of 4227 this spring, but she will have her hands full with Monti Willis (Campbell GA, left), who put up a score of 4386 last summer.  Heather Sweeney (Massapequa NY) has a mark of 4137, good for US #11 this spring; experienced returner Meghan Jean-Baptiste (Oakton VA) will join Brielyn Rogers (Bishop McNamara MD) in a quest to break 4000 for the first time.


Championship Youth (Under 17) Boys Octathlon

This event was added to match up with the event contested in the World Youth Championship.  The field appears to be wide open, as nobody who is entered in this event has recorded a result in any multi-event since last spring, according to the MileSplit database.  On Thursday, these boys will compete in the 100m Dash, 400m Dash, Long Jump, and Shot Put.


Championship Swedish Relay

How do you preview a relay that goes 100-200-300-400?  If you figure that out, let me know.  This new event throws an extra wrinkle into the picture for deep sprint teams looking to challenge for medals, or simply wanting a new experience.  The race begins at the 200m start, with the first exchange coming onto the homestretch.  The second legs get to break during their 200, and then the relay is run 4x400 style (with an exchange at the 300 hurdles start before going to the anchor leg).  

Boys: Looking at schools with strong 4x4's (since the last two legs more than double the distance of the first two), you find Suitland MD (running under Rams TC) at US #13 with their time of 3:14.80; they have two studs in David Winters and Taivon Jacobs to close out the relay, but might struggle in the first two legs.  Union Catholic NJ has clocked 3:15.85 for the 1600 relay, and they have a balanced group of long sprinters.  Smith's Station AL comes in at 3:18.96, and they have a top-notch anchor along with a strong short sprinter.  Great Oak CA is also under 3:20 for the 4x4, and they have broken 42 for the 4x100, which could give them the early lead.

Girls: Columbia NJ has the top seed, and with their US #24 3:48.42 mark for 4x400 it's easy to see why; they also ran 47.12 for 4x100, showing great ability across the sprints.  They may find themselves running against a familiar foe, as fellow Garden Staters Newark Tech NJ have a strong squad.  Western Branch (VA) should also be right in the mix; both Newark Tech and Western Branch run in the 3:55's and mid-47's.  A third New Jersey team, Pope John XXIII, has a 3:52 for 4x400 but is a touch slower in the short sprints, with a 48.83 mark in the 4x1.


Championship 5000m Run

The highlight of the day for Thursday, for many fans, is the last event.  True long-distance runners can get their moment in the spotlight (literally, as the race is run while the sun sets and the stadium lights take over).  If the current forecast holds, it should be about as perfect as you could ask for on a June day in North Carolina: under 75 degrees, although the humidity will be moderate.

Girls: Defending champion Wesley Frazier (Ravenscroft NC) is back for another go, hoping to improve upon the US sophomore-class record of 16:24.83 she ran last year.  Frazier has been impressive in the mid-distances this spring, well ahead of last year's marks, but it remains to be seen where her long-distance fitness lies.  Megan Lacy (Cherokee NJ) ran 16:49 indoors, and could provide some push, although none of the girls that have been under 16:40 this year (indoor or outdoor) are in this race.

Boys: Defending champ Edward Cheserek (who ran 13:57 indoors this winter) and current US leader Thomas Graham both opted for other races this week, leaving the field a little more wide-open than it otherwise would have been.  Jacob Thomson (Holy Cross KY) is currently US #3 with his 14:49.75 clocking, while Patrick Gregory (Butler KY) has also been under 15 this spring; that should make for a neat in-state battle.  The favorite, however, could be Daniel Lennon (Peru NY, right), who put up a 14:37 to win New Balance Indoor Nationals.  Brayden Cromar (Davis UT) broke 15 during the winter, as well.  A dark horse: home-schooled James McAlister III, who has not run a 5K on the track, but clocked 31:24 for a 10K this spring, ranking second only behind Cheserek.


Emerging Elite Competition

Just because it doesn't say "championship," doesn't mean the competition won't be exciting to watch.  Thursday is a great day for fans of the field events to see future stars gaining experience on the big stage.  The girls' and boys' pole vault will be contested (girls first, at 3:30), with opening heights of 10' 2.25" and 13' 8.5", respectively.  If you head out the rear entrance to the stadium, you can catch both the discus and the javelin on the outside field.  If you prefer running events, you can see the 1600 Medley and 800 Medley in the afternoon.