Foot Locker Girls Preview: Rohrer, Rocha, Chase lead favorites

MW Champ Rohrer has patience, smarts to win

Even though she might arguably be the favorite in Saturday’s Foot Locker Finals at Balboa Park in San Diego, don’t expect Anna Rohrer to zip out in the lead.

In fact, don’t expect the Mishawaka (Ind.) soph to even consider going out on her own until she’s good and ready.  She’s had more than her fill of running alone all fall.

You see, Coach Chris Kowalewski has explained, “Anna loves running in a pack.”

The Indiana state champ first got her real taste of elite pack running at Foot Locker Midwest, November 24.  Until then, it had either been blowout wins or duels against fellow Hoosier State star Ashley Erba.  Yes, at certain meets like state, there were other challengers – for a while – but it wasn’t too long before she was either alone or battling Erba.  Rohrer was handed her only loss by the Warsaw senior and New Balance National 5,000 track champ at the Culver Invite, but the rest of the season was a crazy ride to a state title and a rapid elevator ride to becoming one of the nation’s best.  Then in Kenosha a week and a half ago, she finally did put away that beloved pack just before two miles – en route to a meet and course record 16:53.

That Foot Locker Midwest victory heard ‘round the prep distance running world set in motion a rather surreal next few weeks for Rohrer as she gets ready for her first trip to California.  “It was kind of funny at first ... it’s been cool at school, with people talking about it,” she said.  “It’s taken a while to sink in.  But once I get to practice, I forget about it, focus on my workout, and carry on with my day.”

“The whole season has been surreal,” Coack Kowalewski added.  “We knew she could be pretty good, but we had no idea something like this would happen.  Our goals were for her to stay healthy and reach 18:30.”

The coaching staff knew Rohrer had a great engine, they just didn’t know how good it would be once some form issues were straightened out.  As a freshman – during which she ran in the 19s before breaking her foot in XC and then 11:11 for 3,200 in track – Coach “Kov” described her form as a “wounded Bambi,” with excessive up-and-down bounding and feet crossing, etc.  “We worked on tightening it up, shortening her stride, and so on,” he said.

Rohrer cites her form work with Coach Kov over the summer as the key to her improvement.  “We did a lot of drills and strengthen work of the different little muscles you use,” she said.

As she got under 18:00 for 5k and stayed there, it’s been all about developing her racing savvy and instincts – which has become a real strength for the soph and something she’ll rely on Saturday.  “I’ll think about the race and visualize it,” she said.  “But I don’t think about it too much.  I feel like I’m a lot smarter than I was a year ago and more confident.  I know when to respond to a move and I’m not afraid to take the lead.”

“We talk about the race, but ultimately we leave the race plan open,” said Coach Kov.  “She’s smart out there and ready for anything.”

Of course, Rohrer will hardly be alone in going for the victory or a finish in the top three.  Here are six others who are prime contenders for the top of the podium (in order of MileSplit Dec. 3 ranking)


US#4 Catarina Rocha, 12, Peabody HS, MA

Rocha took charge early to snag a 3rd Foot Locker berth. (Photo by Don Rich)

1st FL NE, 1st D1 All-State, 1st Eastern Mass D1, 1st Bay State, 7th 2011 FL Finals

Comments: Rocha has the mother of all Foot Locker lineages with her father, mother, and uncle all being past Finalists.  She’s coming to San Diego for the third time with 31st- and 7th-place finishes in 2010 and 2011.  And 2012’s been her best year yet, beginning with track PRs of a 4:50.38 mile and 10:45.50 2-mile.  Admittedly, she hasn’t really had heavy competition while compiling her undefeated slate this fall, but also should be very fresh.  It’s an approach that’s worked before.  “She is improving by 35-40 seconds on the same courses she ran last year,” said her father/coach Joe Rocha to Steve Mazzone for MileSplitMass.  Catarina said she didn’t expect to win the Northeast Regional and is not pressuring herself in San Diego, even if she’s a very strong top-three contender with a shot to win.  “I am just going to take it like any other race,” she said. “I just want to run the race I usually run ... If I can get top 7 or top 14, that would be great.”


US#5 Sophie Chase, 12, Lake Braddock HS, VA

Sophie Chase dominating the South Regional. (Photo by John Olson)

1st FL South, 1st AAA State, 1st Nike South, 1st Maymont, 11th 2011 FL Finals

Comments: After her 11th-place finish last year, Chase has had a long run of success that brings her back to San Diego as a clear top-three favorite with a chance to win.  In the spring, she claimed the Penn Relays 3k, and later ran a 10:19.14 2-mile for 4th at NBNO.  This fall, she started off slow, as an injury related to a “growth spurt” caused her to drop out of an early meet. “We spent more time on flexibility, which in the long run has paid off,” said Coach Michael Mangan.  “Sophie is much stronger this year, both due to the progression of her training and the addition of a weight training and core strengthening program. We have also focused on building a bigger base, so that she would be stronger later in the season ... For Foot Locker, we are hoping to improve on last year's race. I think her experience from the last two years is a huge help. Staying calm in a race with this much talent is a key to success.”


US#8 Karis Jochen, 12, A&M Consolidated HS, TX

Jochen (purple) on her way to 2nd at the South Regional (Photo by John Olson)

2nd FL South, 5th NXN Finals, 1st NXN South, 1st 5A State, 12th 2011 FL Finals

Comments: After taking 31st and 12th at NXN and Foot Locker in 2011, Jochen has already notched 5th at NXN last weekend.  Prior to Portland, she had lost only to Chase at FL South and rolled through her Texas campaign unbeaten.  “I am very excited about NXN,” she said. “The course was pretty gruesome with all of the mud, but it was a great testament of both my strong mentality and my season's training. I am feeling recovered, and am extremely excited about Saturday ... The key to my improvement has been more consistent training components that have built on each other. By realizing that each day has a different purpose, and being aware of that purpose, I have been able to better prepare my body and mind for the days that count the most. After this past weekend, I am confident that I can run with anyone in the country and I am going to approach this weekend with that very attitude.”


US#10 Courtney Ackerman, 12, New Trier HS, IL

Ackerman (blue and purple) during the Midwest Regional (Photo by Kane Baker)

5th FL MW, 6th NXN Finals, 5th NXN MW, 3rd 3A State, 14th 2011 FL MW

Comments: During her career at New Trier, Ackerman has been part of a very strong program – fourth at NXN in 2011 and 11th this year – helping front it with her twin sister Jessica and other teammates.  But in recent weeks, the senior has established herself as a rising national class individual harrier as well.  Starting in particular with her third at AA state, she has simply gotten better and better each week, placing 5th (NXN MW), 5th (FL MW) and 6th (NXN Finals) against successively tougher fields.  After all that, she can’t be ignored as a first-team All American contender.  Ackerman also has track PRs of 4:54.45 1,600 and 10:28.98 3,200.  One of the special joys of Ackerman’s season was learning that her team would join her in Portland as an at-large qualifier, two weeks after she had already made it individually.  “It was literally the best moment of the season,” she said.  In San Diego, though, she’ll have another chance to shine individually.


US#13 Maria Hauger, 12, Shakopee HS, MN

Hauger (orange) leads the early-going at the Midwest Regional. (Photo by Kane Baker)

3rd FL MW, 14th NXN Finals, 1st NXN HL, 1st AA State, 1st Griak, 21st 2011 FL Finals

Comments: Like Jochen, Hauger is on her second trip through the double nationals gauntlet, having placed 24th at NXN and 21st at Foot Locker in 2011.  She lost just once during a Minnesota campaign that concluded with her fourth state title (AA), something only Carrie Tollefson had done previously.  After repeating as the NXN HL champ and taking third in Kenosha, Hauger finished 10 spots higher in Portland than she had a year ago.  However, it’s safe to say she wore something like the McKayla Maroney “not impressed” look afterward.  “I was not happy with 14th as I wanted to be in the top five,” she said. “I make no excuses and I'm using the NXN experience as motivation for Foot Locker ... I love (Balboa) and San Diego is awesome ... My training has gone well and I'm confident in the work that I have done preparing. This is the race that I have thought about all year. I would like to finish in the top five and I'm prepared to expend every ounce of energy I have.


US#14 Jordyn Colter, 10, Cherry Creek HS, CO

Colter (77) during the Midwest Regional. (Photo by Kane Baker)

4th FL MW, DNF 4A State, 3rd Stanford, 1st Liberty Bell 

Comments: Colter’s 2012 campaign had been pretty much flawless through her regional victory and she looked on her way to defending her 4A title in October.  Then in the final, she “passed out” during the race and didn’t finish.  Her body simply didn’t have what it needed and after some medical attention in the days following, she was back training well.  In 2011, Colter ended her season after state, so the Nov. 24 FL MW was her first national qualifying attempt of her career.  Her experience battling in the big Stanford race, though, helped acclimate her to the elevated competition and she came through with flying colors, qualifying easily for San Diego.  Balboa should be to her liking, so don’t be surprised if she’s well into the top 10.


Six more to watch


US#12 Taylor Werner, 9, Ste. Genevieve HS, MO

2nd FL MW, 40th NXN Finals, 3rd NXN MW, 1st Class 3 State, 1st Forest Park

Comments: The mud of Portland brought this freshman phenom back to earth a bit after her two stunning regional qualifying runs.  The only frosh to attempt the NXN/FL double should find Balboa more appealing and hopes to have the energy to bounce back.


US#19 Maggie Drazba, 12, St. Marys HS, WV

3rd FL South, 1st AA-A State, 1st Great American, 2nd USATF Jrs, 13th 2011 FL South

Comments: Drazba has the wonderful honor of being, along with Amelia Paladino, the first two harriers ever to make the Finals from West Virginia.  Don’t expect jitters, though, because Drazba has a deep national-class resume already and is a great top 10 contender.


US#23 Marissa Williams, 10, Palisades Charter HS, CA

1st FL West, 1st Mt. SAC (Soph D1 Yellow), 2nd Clovis, 18th D1 State

After a disappointing state meet, this L.A. Section rising star rebounded with a fantastic and dominating win at Mt. SAC.  She had a great 2nd behind Hagen Reedy at Clovis and her time in winning a non-sweeps race at Mt. SAC Invite was fifth best for the weekend.


US HM Carmen Carlos, 12, McGill-Toolen HS, AL

5th FL South, 1st 6A State, 1st Jesse Owens, 1st Mobile CoC, 28th 2011 FL South

Comments: After a long, great career in ‘Bama, Carlos has finally made her first national XC meet.  That follows a junior year that was highlighted by an indoor track achievement: She captured the New Balance Nationals Indoor 2M last March.


US HM Julia Maxwell, 11, Branson HS, CA

2nd FL West, 1st D5 State, 4th Stanford, 18th 2011 FL West, 

Comments: Maxwell’s Friday D5 sweeps victory was the 2nd best time of the weekend at Mt. SAC in October, trailing only Sarah Baxter.  At state, she was third best overall behind Baxter and Hagen Reedy.  She should be very solid here.


US HM Makena Morley, 10, Bigfork HS, MT

3rd FL West, 1st Class B State, 1st Mtn. West, 9th 2011 FL Finals

Comments: After another season unbeaten in Montana, Morley is back in San Diego for her second Finals.  In 9th, she was one of the big surprises last fall at Balboa.  She also sports a 10:44.46 3,200 PR from last spring.



Top 15 Predictions

1. Anna Rohrer IN

2. Sophie Chase VA

3. Catarina Rocha MA

4. Maria Hauger MN

5. Karis Jochen TX

6. Courtney Ackerman IL

7. Jordyn Colter CO

8. Maggie Drazba WV

9. Taylor Werner MO

10. Marissa Williams CA

11. Julia Maxwell CA

12. Carmen Carlos AL

13. Makena Morley MT

14. Alex Davis OK

15. Sandie Raines TX