the view from SteveU
by Stephen (steveu) Underwood
FROM THE UPPER PENINSULA 12/12/03 -- This is a slightly jaundiced look at this weekend's proceedings from someone who's really jealous right now of anyone who's going to be there — or actually, anyone who's somewhere warmer than Northern Michigan and its 15 degree weather.
Before I educate, entertain and inspire you with a bunch of pithy Foot Locker predictions, please allow me a brief and somewhat immature reaction to the fact that I won't be in San Diego for the Big, Happy 25th on Saturday:
Thanks. Yeah, it sucks that I won't be hanging with John, Donna, Derek, Rich, Doug and everyone else Saturday. It's not too great that I haven't really seen so many of these kids run this year. And it kinda stinks that I haven't even been able to muster up the time to do a “serious analysis.”
But as long as we're talking in quotes here (think: the finger-quotes of Dr. Evil and “The Laser,” or Chris Farley's Bennett Brauer character who's not “camera-friendly”), I'm going to tell you why I'm going to pontificate on these races anyway: because this is a “column” and it contains my “opinions and predictions.” And, yes, some of them may seem slightly “uninformed” or “off the wall,” and you may feeling like “smacking me up side the head” before I'm through.
What the heck, I'm going to “just do it” anyway. So on with it.
Yeah, I'd love to be gutsy. I'd love to be fearless. But I just can't on this one. No, I've never seen him run — and neither have a lot of other folks outside New Mexico and those at Mt. SAC last weekend. But by reputation, times and talent, Shadrack Kiptoo has to be the favorite. He has the 1500 (3:41) and 5000 (13:57) track times and he's run well enough this fall, obviously not taxing himself too much last week.
If there was someone at Chris Solinsky's level or better, or if this was being held in miserable winter weather that the NCAA and World Cross meets have had off and on in recent years, someone else might have a real chance. But this is San Diego and there aren't any Solinskys this year.
Expect Shadrack to push hard fairly early in the race and drop, eventually, everyone. In fact, he may push hard enough early that no one will go with him at all. He'll win by 10-15 seconds and just miss the course record.
After that, you've got quite a handful of guys that are obvious contenders for the next few spots. Naturally, I gravitate towards starting with my new home and the Midwest guys (so sue me). Despite the fact that Illinois' Matt Withrow ruled at FLMW, I still have to give the nod to Colorado transplant Ryan Deak to be the next one across the line. Okay, yeah, I like the guy. But he's fit and confident and will get the job done, even if it's in the race for second.
I also have to consider Minnesota 's Garrett Heath more seriously than Withrow, given his 6th-place finish last year and solid, consistent season this year.
Then, I'd look at Withrow. But wait, you've also got Indiana 's Christian Wagner and Colorado's Bradley Harkrader. Obviously, Wagner has the championship pedigree (8:53 deuce to win AOC), but something went wrong with him in Kenosha, and I've got to think there's questions as to whether he can get it together by Saturday. Harkrader's really improved and had a great year, but can he peak now with the big boys? He'll likely be back a ways.
All right, now let's look at the West. Oregon's Galen Rupp's also got great track times and has had a great fall (8:10 3k indoors last year), but his big dance record — here last year and 7th at AOC 2M leaves him something to prove. From Cali , Mohamed Trafeh and Mark Matusak are obviously big dogs. Trafeh was huge last year and I think you've got to consider him in the top 3-5. Matusak doesn't have the experience yet. I don't think anyone else, except maybe Oregon 's Stuart Eagon, is ready for top ten consideration yet.
As far as the South — alas, the warmth which I left and hope to someday return — boy, some of those boys ran pretty good times at McAlpine, didn't they? Texas ' Brian Sullivan was here last year, but he didn't run well and hasn't been to a track nationals yet. I just can't see him in the top five. The other Texas kids are even less proven at this level (though Eric Stanley is really getting there) and who outside of Tennessee knew anything about James Strang? They're just not ready for prime time. A South guy will be lucky to get top eight.
Then there's your East regional guys. All right, I'm admitting some ignorance here — I don't quite know what to do with those guys. Ben True definitely has the experience, being 9th last year, but boy, it's not going to be easy to move up. Same for Ahmed Haji, who was just 8th at FLNE, but 8th here last year and has beaten True this season. I guess I like Victor Gras of Mass and Gavin Coombs of Conn , too, but after that, I don't know. New York 's Josh McDougal has had impressive performances all over the place the last few years, but can he do it here?
It's going to be tough at the top this year, because you've got four guys who were surprises in the top 10 last year — Trafeh, Heath, Haji and True — who certainly are going to want to improve. Then you've got three more guys — Rupp, Wagner and Sullivan — who didn't do so well last year and are obviously wanting to place in the top 5 or better. On top of that, you've got Deak who obviously wants to win and Withrow, who as a regional champ has to give it his best shot.
Add Kiptoo and you've really got at least 9 guys who really feel they should be in the top 2-5 if they have a good day.
So here's my lucky 13:
1. Kiptoo - Really shows his true stuff and dominates; look for an early break.
2. Deak - Probably won't try and go for Kiptoo; either way will finish strong for silver
3. Trafeh - Talented, consistent and ready; but loses close battle for second
4. Rupp - Likely to spend some of race in second, but can he avoid the late fade?
5. Heath - He should be in the fight the whole way, but he's just not at the level of others.
6. Wagner - Talented enough to be second, but has to overcome what ever bothered him at region.
7. Withrow - Needs to be conservative; if he goes hard, he'll blow up; MW strategy won't work here.
8. True - He won't sneak up on anyone this year. Will have to show more speed.
9. Sullivan - Maybe he'll prove me wrong, but don't think he's there, yet.
10. Haji - Sorry, but this field's too deep for improvement on 8th .
11. Gras - Not quite at this level yet, but close; will kick down some folks with 4:06 speed.
12. Harkrader - It's been a long season, but he'll acquit himself fairly well
13. Matusak - Top junior not ready yet, but will be a favorite next year
You hate to make things too simple — after all, you've got 32 girls out here — but the girls race, whoo boy, it's like the Final Four — or maybe the Big Four. Yeah, that's the ticket. The last time “Big” was this big, it was the Big Three of Ritz, Webb and Hall. (haha, we all know how sick we got of that, right?).
We all knew about Montana 's Zoe Nelson and New York 's Nicole Blood's been a prodigy forever, but who thought Florida 's Jenny Barringer and Colorado's Katelyn Kaltenbach would be THIS good? Who'd have thought we'd have a showdown of four region champs — absolute monsters (I mean that in the most complimentary way) — this year?
This is big time. Zoe. Nicole. Jenny. Katelyn. Four different paths. Two seniors and two juniors. All of them can, and should, feel they can win.
Sure, you've got to give some other girls a shot: Um, definitely Ohio's Sunni Olding ... maybe California's Lindsay Flacks?
Yeah, right. No, the Big Four are going to rule ...
Nelson, of course, is the defending champ. Interestingly, she was probably the most vulnerable of the Big Four at regionals, battling a side-stitch before winning by two ticks. She'll have to be “smooth” (in her words) to stay with this crowd. But she wears the crown until someone takes it.
Blood's time may have finally come. She ran just “okay” here last year and only ran relays at AOC, after running great there as an 8th-grader. But she's fashioned an unbeaten fall that's included a Great American victory on top of her region title. She's strong, fast and confident and (I can't help it) out for blood.
Then there's Barringer, probably the best runner to come out of the South in several years. None of these contenders was less likely to be considered a Foot Locker favorite last spring, but Barringer's upward curve has been steeper than “The Hill.” She's run the 5k as fast as 16:55 (third best in country behind Blood and Lindsey Donaldson) and has a 10:18 3200 to boot, which is faster than any finalist.
But what about Kaltenbach? No offense to Megan, but the younger K has already proven to be much more of a force over hill and dale than her track-beast sister. Seventh last year, she went into MW as at least a co-favorite, but that finishing kick and the ease with which she pulled away puts her on a new level. She's just oozing with confidence.
Gah! It's going to be brutal.
The girls with the best chance to break up the Big Four is Olding, who was outkicked for the region crown, but holds the AOC 2M title and was 10th here last year.
After that, it's very hard to say how things will unfold. There's what, five other returning finalists? But do any of them look like they're ready to challenge for the top 5 or 8? Hmmm.
Well, here goes: First, figuring out how the Big Four will come out is tough, but confidence and speed will probably come into play at the end, and I say KK has the most of both.
1. Kaltenbach - Most likely to sit on anyone who's willing to lead, then unleash the kick.
2. Blood - She'll be toughest on the hills and toughest to shake; a narrow defeat.
3. Barringer - May make a mid/early-race break, but won't have strength to sustain it.
4. Nelson - So tough to pick against her, but she won't quite have what it takes this time
5. Olding - The best of the rest and possibly by herself in the middle of top 10.
6. Flacks - The up-and-coming Californian keeps progressing
(boy, it gets really tough here!)
7. Schueler - Maybe a bit of an upset, but experience pays off here.
8. Harrington - Again, going with experience here, and two extra weeks to recover from off-season surgery.
9. Kavan - unknown outside of South Dakota until the Midwest regional..
10. Schulz - Doesn't let her teammate get too far away.
11. Sedberry - king99 might hurt me if I don't pick someone from Jersey.
12. Pasciuto - Liza's tough; will do better than at regional.
13. Bryan - Rachel will do better, too.
All right. That's all. I'm sure I've ticked a lot of people off. Please feel free to burn this newspap— ... oh, wait ... we're online here. Okay, if you need to, go “Office Space” on your computer.