Top Storyline: The Big Four Showdown
It’s an easy one – the clash of the “Big Four” (see analysis below) Michigan stars Erin Finn and Julia Bos, and Indiana standouts Anna Rohrer, and Ashley Erba should be the most exciting individual war for any of the Foot Locker or NXN regional races this season and there are several reasons why: First, Finn, Bos, Rohrer and Erba are all ranked in the top 10 individuals nationally. Bos (2nd) and Finn (3rd) are the top returnees from last fall’s Foot Locker Midwest, and placed 10th and 2nd, respectively, in San Diego last fall – but Rohrer and Erba were yet to emerge at this level in fall 2011. Then you have the great rivalries which have developed with Finn-Bos in Michigan and Rohrer-Erba in Indiana. Finally, with Finn (indoors) and Erba (outdoors), you have both of the 2012 New Balance national track 5,000 meter champions, with Finn having set a US record at The Armory in March.
2011 Top 10 Returnees
2. Julia Bos MI, 12, 17:14 (10th Finals)
3. Erin Finn MI, 12, 17:34 (2nd Finals)
5. Maria Hauger MN, 12, 17:40 (21st Finals)
7. Nicole Mello MO, 12, 17:43 (20th Finals)
10. Kaylee Flanagan IL, 12, 17:44 (31st Finals)
11. Hannah Long MO, 10, 17:47
14. Courtney Ackerman IL, 12, 18:04
15. Mimi Smith IL, 12, 18:07
19. Kirsten Olling MI, 11, 18:16
21. Melanie Nun CO, 12, 18:22
(Alexandria Fons WI, 8th last year, is not entered, but MileSplit received a press release saying she was planning to compete).
1. Erin Finn MI
2. Julia Bos MI
3. Ashley Erba IN
4. Maria Hauger MN
5. Anna Rohrer IN
6. Hannah Long MO
7. Heather Bates CO
8. Madeline Perez IL
9. Stephanie Jenks IA
10. Jordyn Colter CO
Analysis: Best Bets
The earliest and most significant instance in memory during the internet era of a given number of elite prep track or XC athletes being called the “Big X” (‘X’ being the number of athletes mentioned, i.e., Big Three, Big Four, etc.), is during the 2000-01 school year when all-time greats Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb, and Ryan Hall were packaged as the Big Three on message boards and other relevant media everywhere. Do Erin Finn, Julia Bos, Anna Rohrer, and Ashley Erba have the same creds as the above-mentioned legends? No. But for purposes of this weekend’s Foot Locker Midwest Championships, are they absolutely deserving of being mentioned as such? Absolutely.
Erin Finn: The West Bloomfield (Mich.) senior proclaimed she was “back” after winning the D1 state meet in 17:07, and who could question her? Her career ups and downs have been well chronicled, with the most recent being the peaks ascended with her FL Finals runner-up finish last December (after third behind Molly Seidel and Julia Bos at FL MW) and New Balance Nationals Indoor 5,000 US record in March, and the valleys endured in a fourth at the USATF Junior 5,000, a loss to Bos at the Spartan Invite, and uninspired wins preceding a low blood iron diagnosis in October. If she’s as “on” as she was at state three weeks ago, or better, she’s the one to beat.
Julia Bos: The Grand Rapids Christian (Mich.) senior first made a national impact when she was second here last year, following a D2 state meet win and finally beating D1 rival Finn. She followed that with 10th in San Diego, then stayed mainly in-state for a lower-key track campaign. She’s unbeaten this fall with a series of wins that included beating Finn at Spartan, a major CR at the mega Portage Invite, and a D2 state title defense. She could win, but it’ll be tough if Finn is 100 percent.
Ashley Erba: Wow, what a difference a year has made for the Warsaw Community (Ind.) senior. Her XC state title in 2011 was followed by 28th here, but she really first made national headlines in track, where her 10:24.94 3,200 state triumph was followed by a jaw-dropping 16:18.21 NBNO 5,000 title in June. You had to think she’d sail through Indiana this fall before fighting for national titles, but then along came super soph Anna Rohrer with even a faster ascent than Erba. Even as Erba was setting two all-time state bests this fall, she was settling for one win in three tries against her new rival and a runner-up at state. Since then, Erba has claimed NXN MW and the Mid-East Champs and will finally face Rohrer again here. She’s shooting only for San Diego and will bypass NXN Finals.
Maria Hauger: Sometimes, prodigal harriers have a hard time as juniors and seniors improving their earlier standards. Other times, they get wiser, faster and better with age. The latter seems to be happening with this Shakopee (Minn.) senior, as she has motored through her state season with just a single loss (early, to outstanding small school rival Clare Flanagan) and with a victory at the prestigious Roy Griak Invite, and defenses of her state 2A and NXN Heartland titles. She’s expected to go for the nationals double and obviously hopes to upgrade her finishes of 24th and 21st respectively, from 2011.
Anna Rohrer: It’s hard to improve much more than the Mishawaka (Ind.) soph has done this fall. After running 19s early in her frosh season, she broke her foot. Then, healed in the spring, she clocked 11:11 for 3,200. But when she started running 17s out of the gate this fall, that was a little unexpected – as was a victory over Erba at New Prairie. Rohrer would lose to Erba at Culver, beat Erba’s state record time at semi-state, then beat her again in a super state meet showdown. Rohrer bypassed NXN MW, where Erba won, and now will try and excel in the cauldron that is NXN MW on the challenging Parkside course. It might be tough to win again versus some of the tough seniors on her level, but she should earn a San Diego ticket.
Best of the rest, by state:
Colorado -- The last time this state didn’t have a qualifier was 2007, and there have been as many as four (2004). The big question mark is whether Cherry Creek soph Jordyn Colter will be able to rebound from a DNF at state and make her first national XC meet. Don’t forget, her early season included a ridiculously fast 17:00 win at Liberty Bell and a super third at Stanford in 17:05 behind Washington superstars Amy-Eloise Neale and Alexa Efraimson. Then the next question is whether Pine Creek senior Heather Bates will go for the nationals double, following her third at NXN Midwest (and 5A state title). If both run and run well, Colorado will have at least two qualifiers. Among the darkhorses: Legacy senior Melanie Nun (21st last year, 5th at 5A state) and Fairview junior Isabelle Kennedy (2nd at 5A state).
Illinois -- Always a ton of contenders from this state, but surprisingly, as recently as 2009 there were no Illinois girls at FL Finals. This year, you have to start with Glenbard West junior Madeline Perez, who crushed Kayla Beattie’s 3M state best in stunning fashion three weeks ago and then was runner-up at NXN Midwest. She was 39th last year. The double is always tough, but she should make it in. Another who could double: New Trier senior Courtney Ackerman, who was 14th last year, 3rd at 3A state, and a good 4th at NXN Midwest. Lake Park senior Kaylee Flanagan was 10th here in 2011, and also a nationals doubler, but her struggles this year – culminating 4th at 3A state and 16th at NXN Midwest – will make it tough for her to return to San Diego. Surprisingly, 3A runner-up Emma Fisher of York, who would be a top 10 pick, is not entered (did not run NXN either).
Indiana -- Since the three qualifiers in 2004, Indiana has had only the Culver tandem of Alex Banfich (3 times) and Waverly Neer (2010) qualifying to San Diego in the last seven years. Barring disaster, at least two (Erba, Rohrer) will make it from the Hoosier State. Could there be more? State meet 3rd- and 4th-place finishers Bobbie Burgess (West Lafayette senior) and Mackenzie Caldwell (Columbus North junior) are the next two possibilities. Burgess was 6th at NXN and got into the Final after Erba deferred, while Caldwell qualified to Portland with her team, so both would likely be shooting for doubles if they run.
Iowa – The last time Iowans were serious contenders here was when Katie Flood and Ashlie Decker were doublers from Dowling Catholic in 2009. Some of the state’s best could get back to San Diego. Freshman 4A champ Stephanie Jenks of Linn-Mar is the best bet – if she doubles – after her third at NXN Heartland. 3A champ Anna Holdiman (Waverly-Shell Rock senior) was 10th in Sioux Falls, so this would be her one chance to make a national meet.
Kansas – The state’s best chance for their second qualifier since 1999 (Avery Clifton made it in 2009) would have been Alli Cash, but she’s not entered here after qualifying for NXN Finals.
Michigan – To say Michigan is on a roll in Foot Locker would be an understatement. The last time Michigan did NOT have at least three qualifiers for girls was 2007 and there have been four moving on to San Diego each of the past two seasons. Four might be tough this time. After Finn and Bos, the best chance lies with D4 champ Kirsten Olling, a Breckenridge junior who was 19th here last year, then 9th at NXN Midwest two weeks ago.
Minnesota – It hasn’t been easy for the Gopher State: Since 2006, the aforementioned Hauger (2009 and 2011) has been the only qualifier. The best chance for Hauger to have a Minnesotan teammate this time around would be with Bemidji soph Jenna Truedson, the first girl out at NXN HL (7th) after she was 5th at AA state.
Missouri – Few states have more interesting prospects than Missouri. Class 4 champ and Eureka soph Hannah Long has had a great season, unbeaten other than her upset loss to Taylor Werner early and a fine second at the Great American ROC to West Virginia’s Maggie Drazba. Long was 11th last year and has the experience to get to San Diego this time. But Werner will be here, too, the Class 3 frosh champ from Ste. Genevieve who was unbeaten until NXN Midwest when she earned her first nationals ticket with a third-place finish. Won’t be easy, but she could make it a double. Then there’s 2011 surprise qualifier Nicole Mello, now a Hickman senior who was a distant second to Long at state.
Nebraska – Other than Emily Sisson, before she transferred out of the state, Nebraska has had no recent success getting qualifiers to San Diego and will likely not do so in 2012.
North Dakota – No contenders for Finals.
Ohio – The Buckeye State’s prospects are interesting, starting with super frosh Mary Kate Vaughn of Oakwood, the D2 champ who has already made it to Portland after a fourth at NXN MW. None of D1’s best raced at NXN MW, but 1st- and 3rd-place D1 finishers Jacquelyn Crow (Lebanon junior) and Annie Heffernan (Cincy St. Ursula soph) will go for it here and have a reasonable chance. Crow was 20th as a frosh two years ago. No one has qualified from Ohio since Chelsea Oswald and Jessica Zangmeister in 2008.
South Dakota – Tamara Gorman, 15th at NXN HL, represents South Dakota’s only chance for a qualifier.
Wisconsin – After victories in this race the past two years from national champ Molly Seidel and Allison Woodward, it will be hard for the host state to continue its superstar run. Alexandria Fons (Franklin) stunned as a soph last year when she made it in 8th place. She’s been sidelined all fall by injury, though a press release was received this week that indicated she would run. The next best chance to make it would seem to come from Baraboo senior McKaela Christenson, the D1 champ over 4k.
MileSplit US Top 25 Entries
US#3 Erin Finn, 12, MI
US#4 Anna Rohrer, 10, IN
US#7 Julia Bos, 12, MI
US#10 Ashley Erba, 12, IN
US#11 Maria Hauger, 12, MN
US#19 Madeline Perez, 11, IL
(Top 25 not entered: #14 Hannah Meier MI [no post-season], #20 Elise Cranny [NXN only], #22 Clare Flanagan MN [NXN only], #25 Katie Rainsberger CO [NXN only]).
Honorable Mention Entries
Andria Ostenso, 12, Ladysmith HS, WI
Anna Holdiman, 12, Waverly-Shell Rock HS, IA
Annie Heffernan, 10, St. Ursula Academy, OH
Ashlynn Yokom, 11, Iowa City West HS, IA
Audrey Belf, 10, Seaholm HS, MI
Bobbie Burgess, 12, West Lafayette HS, IN
Brooke Kovacic, 12, Oxford HS, MI
Brooke Wolfe, 12 Prospect HS, IL
Courtney Ackerman, 12, New Trier HS, IL
Elena Miller, 12, Lahser HS, MI
Elianna Shwayder, 11, Saline HS, MI
Elizabeth Flatley, 11, Brookfield Central HS, WI
Emily Leonard, 11, Maine South HS, IL
Hannah Long, 10, Eureka HS, Eureka, MO
Heather Bates, 12, Pine Creek HS, CO
Isabelle Kennedy, 11, Fairview HS, CO
Jackie Dubnicka, 11, Arrowhead HS, WI
Jacquelyn Crow, 11, Lebanon HS, OH
Jamie Morrissey, 12, Rochester Adams HS, WI
Jenna Truedson, 10, Bemidji HS, MN
Jordyn Colter, 10, Cherry Creek HS, Greenwood Village, CO
Kaitlyn Fischer, 12, Herculaneum HS, MO
Katie Hietpas, 9, Sun Prairie HS, WI
Kaylee Flanagan, 12, Lake Park HS, IL
Kirsten Olling, 11, Breckenridge HS, MI
Lisa Luczak, 10, Glenbard West HS, IL
Mackenzie Caldwell, 11, Columbus North HS, IN
Mary Abramson, 10, Avon HS, IN
Mary Kate Vaughn, 9, Oakwood HS, Oakwood, OH
McKaela Christenson, 12, Baraboo HS, WI
Melanie Nun, 12, Legacy HS, CO
Nicole Mello, 12, Hickman HS, MO
Sarah Billingsley, 11, Oldenburg Academy, IN
Sarah Kanney, 10, Coldwater HS, OH
Stephanie Jenks, 9, Linn-Mar HS, IA
Tamara Gorman, 11, Stevens HS, SD
Taylor Werner, 9, Sainte Genevieve HS, MO