Top Storylines: Leingang, then almost anyone’s game
The Foot Locker Midwest boys’ championship race can’t quite match the front-end, national championship-level firepower of the girls’ race. Still, there’s a big handful of 2011 Finals returnees, aspiring national championship doublers and talented state champions that will be present Saturday. US#7 North Dakota star Jake Leingang tops all three categories: He was 2nd here last year, is going for his second straight NXN/Foot Locker double Finals appearance, and dominated ND for the second straight year. After that, Illinois’ Grant Nykaza and South Dakota’s Addison DeHaven are the other two FL Finals returnees from 2011, but neither is a lock. Ohio’s Sam Wharton, Illinois’ Jack Keelan and Indiana’s Connor Sorrells are arguably the top state champion entrants, with NXN qualifiers Wharton, Keelan and Alex Riba and Scott Milling (also from Illinois) among those looking for two trips west.
2011 Top 10 Returnees
2. Jake Leingang ND, 12, 15:10 (4th Finals)
7. Grant Nykaza IL, 12, 15:18 (32nd Finals)
9. Addison DeHaven, SD, 11, 15:20 (33rd Finals)
14. Noah Kauppila MO, 11, 15:30
19. Danny Aldaba NE, 12, 15:35
23. Ryan McCoy WI, 12, 15:36
27. Tanner Hinkle MI, 12, 15:42
30. Carl Hirsch WI, 12, 15:44
33. Nick Raymond MI, 12, 15:45
37. Patrick Perrier IL, 11, 15:48
(Potential top 10 returnees not entered: Chandler Diffee WI [18th in 2011], Tyler Yunk IL [31st], Blake Hale IL [32nd]).
1. Jake Leingang ND
2. Nick Raymond MI
3. Jack Keelan IL
4. Sam Wharton OH
5. Grant Nykaza IL
6. Connor Sorrells IN
7. Sam Prakel OH
8. Troy Reeder IN
9. Carl Hirsch WI
10. Connor Mora MI
Analysis: Best Bets
This race seems much more wide-open than the girls’ race, but the one exception would have to be Jake Leingang, whose consistent career arc makes the idea of anything less than a win (or very high finish) seem extremely unlikely. The tempo by Leingang and probably a few others should prevent a repeat of NXN Midwest, where 18 were still in close contention at two miles – still, don’t be surprised if the top 10-12 are very close and a good kick is necessitated. Of the remaining top contenders, Wharton is probably the most reliable, while Nick Raymond of Michigan – the Mid-East Championships winner last week – could be a breakthrough waiting to happen.
Jake Leingang: This race last year, where he was second to now-graduated Futsum Zeinasellassie, probably really signified the ascent of the Bismarck (N.D.) senior. He was then actually moderately disappointed with 8th at NXN Finals before he had an outstanding 4th in San Diego. Establishing himself as a national standout continued in track, where he ran 8:51.23 for 3,200 at Arcadia and won the NBNO 5,000 in 14:27.16. If at US#7, Leingang seems under-ranked or with a less-than-spectacular fall so far, it’s only because he hasn’t really been pushed and has been totally focused on what happens from this meet forth. Look for a win here, but a tempered win as he preps for two national title shots.
Nick Raymond: Looking for a big breakthrough stunner? The Erie Mason (Mich.) senior might be your man after a dominating state D3 win (15:05.1) and then a decisive Mid-East win (15:25) over champions and near-champs from Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Raymond’s résumé was unremarkable outside of his division before this fall, but he clearly has talent to burn.
Jack Keelan: Talk about talent to burn: This Chicago St. Ignatius senior had the ability to place high at state and make a national meet last fall, but didn’t do either. Then he really showed how good he can be with an 8:54 3,200 at Arcadia. This fall, he’s been more consistent, with a dominating state 3A triumph (14:05 for 3M) capping off his Illinois campaign – but then he just barely made it individually to Portland from the tactical NXN Midwest race. Saturday’s race should be less strategic and Keelan would do well to get in position before the end.
Sam Wharton: The Tippecanoe (Ohio) senior got his feet wet in Portland last fall with his 21st-place finish, then progressed steadily in track to spring bests of 9:01.24 for 3,200 and 14:46.31 for 5,000. His unbeaten season in Ohio this fall included a fast D1 title three weeks ago. Then while trying to take the NXN Midwest crown, Wharton perhaps went a bit too fast, too soon and was beaten by Illinois’ Alex Riba, but still finished a strong second. This race should be a bit more spread out and Wharton should earn his San Diego ticket with plenty of room to spare.
Grant Nykaza: This small-school standout from Beecher (Ill.) was a huge surprise to many last fall when he was seventh here. He encountered little opposition in cruising to his state 1A title this fall and then declared he would focus just on Foot Locker again – bypassing other post-season meets after trying both regionals in 2011. He’s experienced and should be fresh (hopefully not stale) as he attempts to get back to San Diego.
Best of the rest, by state
Colorado – It’s very unusual not to have one or more Finals qualifiers from Colorado, but last year no one from that state was higher than 12th and the dry spell could extend to two years with a very inexperienced group competing. Denver East senior Ashi Geberkidane was the top performer at state, winning 5A in 16:21, then taking 12th at NXN SW. His junior brother, Cerake, was 3rd at state and Arvada West junior Connor Lockwood was 4th; they will also contend.
Illinois – Can Illinois get three or four to San Diego? Keelan and Nykaza (above) are probably the best picks, but obviously O’Fallon’s new senior NXN Midwest champ Alex Riba (just 58th last year and 4th at 3A state) deserves serious consideration, too. Can he shine just as brightly in an different type of race? And can his talented teammate Patrick Perrier (3A third, 10th NXN MW) join him? NXN MW 4th-placer Quentin Shaffer, on the other hand, will not try the double, and 2A champ John Wold is not entered. But others who could contend include Belvidere North senior Garrett Lee (5th in 2A after being favored, 10th NXN MW), Lake Forest senior Billy Bund (5th 3A state), Charleston senior Riley McInerney (3rd 2A state then surprise 2nd at Mid-East champs) and York senior Scott Milling (6th 3A state and 8th NXN MW, going to Finals with championship team).
Indiana – In Barr-Reeve senior Connor Sorrells, the Hoosier State has a very talented top contender, but which Sorrells will show up? The one who ran 9:01 3,200 last spring and had a late-season surge that culminated in a state title? Or the one who was beaten a few times early this season, bombed out at NXN MW, then was 6th at Mid-East? It’s rare for Indiana to have less than two in San Diego, so look for state meet 3rd-placer Troy Reeder of Hamilton SE (skipped NXN MW) to have the next best chance, followed by 4th-placer Terre Haute South junior Jackson Bertoli (35th NXN MW in off day) and several otheres.
Iowa – The Hawkeye State has had no recent Finals qualifiers and no serious contenders this year.
Kansas – Jacob Morgan of Topeka was 15th here last year, the best recent finisher, but 6A champ Colton Donahue, a Blue Valley senior, has a chance to improve on that.
Michigan – The Wolverine State has had single qualifiers in most recent years, with no one really contending nationally since Maverick Darling in 2007. Could the state at least double that total this time? Raymond is one of at least four solid bets: D2 champ and Cedar Springs senior Connor Mora, a 4:10 miler, was fastest at state in 15:04.2 – though he was just fourth in the Mid-East meet. Mora was 39th in this meet last year and Raymond 33rd, both behind D2 runnerup Tanner Hinkle, a Mason senior who was 27th and has run 9:14 for 3,200. Waterford Mott junior Nathan Burnand and Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills senior Jeff Bajema – both major invite winners and 3rd and 5th at D1 state – are also serious contenders.
Minnesota – The Gopher State has had a short dry spell since the 2008 and 2006 victories of Jakup Zivec and Hassan Mead, but that could change this year with Stillwater standouts Wayde Hall and Eric Colvin – following a bitterly disappointing NXN Heartland where their team missed returning to nationals. Colvin was 4th in Sioux Falls after taking just ninth at state, but state 2A champ Hall struggled to 43rd. Others who could contend are Hopkins soph Joe Klecker (3rd 2A state, 20th NXN HL), Proctor senior Matt Welch (1st 1A state, 7th NXN HL), and Cretin-Derham Hall senior Kevin Docherty (7th 2A state, 8th NXN HL).
Missouri –.Josh Harper in 2002 is the last from Missouri to make the finals, though several have come close. Noah Kauppila was 14th here as a soph in 2011, but has struggled some this fall and was just 20th at Class 4 state. The top four from Class 4 are here, however, led by Blue Springs senior Simon Belete – who was 15th at NXN MW.
Nebraska – The last Nebraska qualifier was Brian Parr in 2004, but that could change this year if Fremont senior Daniel Aldaba can execute the double. He was 19th here last year, then 2nd at last month’s Class A state meet, then produced a stunning runner-up finish at NXN HL behind Leingang. Class A champ Joe Harter was 9th at NXN HL, but is not entered here.
North Dakota – Leingang is basically the sole contender from N.D.
Ohio – A good group of entries could certainly give the Buckeye State additional qualifiers behind Wharton. Versailles senior Samuel Prakel, the D3 state champ and a heartbreaking 6th at NXN MW, should be able to earn a San Diego ticket this time. Just behind Prakel both at state and in Terre Haute was St. Thomas Aquinas senior Cory Glines, a 4:12 1,600 runner who also has a good chance.
South Dakota – Brookings junior Addison DeHaven is a returning qualifier with his 9th here last year and then 9:07.42 2M in the spring. But although he won the 2A state meet decisively enough, he hasn’t impressed so much in the bigger races, including a 10th place finish at NXN HL. But at the same race last fall, he was just 16th then came on in Kenosha, so don’t count him out.
Wisconsin – The host state has mostly had disappointment here since the glory days of Chris Solinsky in 2001-2002 (also Chris Rombough 6th in 2004). That could change this year with a deep list of contenders. You have to start with Hudson senior Ryan Kromer, who won D1, then qualified for NXN Finals with a 5th in the Heartland regional. D2 champ Ryan McCoy, a New Glarus/Monticello senior, saved it for this weekend, though – and he was a solid 23rd as a junior. Several others bear watching, but the real wildcard is Carl Hirsch, the Brookfield senior who was just 29th at D1 state – falling apart the last mile – but has crazy talent. He was barely outkicked by Leingang at the Roy Griak Invite and has 4:08/9:12 chops for 16/32 in track. He could finish 5th or 55th (or numerous other spots, of course).
MileSplit US Top 25 Entries
US#7 Jake Leingang, 12, ND
US#13 Alex Riba, 12, IL
US#15 Sam Wharton, 12, OH
US#25 Grant Nykaza, 12, IL
US#25 (tie) Nick Raymond, 12, MI
Honorable Mention Entries
Danny Aldaba, 12, Fremont HS, NE
Simon Belete, Blue Springs HS, MO
Eric Colvin, 12, Stillwater HS, MN
Chandler Diffee, Madison La Follette HS, WI
Ashi Geberkidane, 12, Denver East HS, CO
Wayde Hall, Stillwater Area HS, MN
Carl Hirsch, 12, Brookfield Central HS, WI
Jack Keelan, 12, St Ignatius College Prep, IL
Alec Kostelnik, Morgan Township, IN
Ryan Kromer, 12, Hudson HS, WI
Garrett Lee, 12, Belvidere North HS, IL
Scott Milling, York, IL
Connor Mora, 12, Cedar Springs HS, MI
Patrick Perrier, 11, O'Fallon HS, IL
Samuel Prakel, 12, Versailles HS, OH
Connor Sorrells, Barr-Reeve, IN
Matt Welch, 12, Proctor HS, MN