on-site reports by Steve Underwood
Boys - Girls
Battling Buckeyes, Ige's Start, Michigan's Depth
By Steve (steveu) Underwood
Levi Fox is used to having Southwest Ohio neighbor Jeff See coming up on him in the last mile of a race. Last week he beat him for the first time. Never have they
come down to the final sprint.
It's not easy to stop a 4:06 miler in a sprint.
The Ohio rivals went 1-2 to lead the Foot Locker Midwest Boys race Saturday, with See (Middletown HS) moving past Fox (Troy HS) in the final 100 to win in 15:22, making up for his 4th-place at the 5-state Mid East Championships Nov. 20. Fox (15:23), who gained tremendous confidence winning that race, was in the main pack all the way and made a big move between 2-1/4 and 2-1/2 to lead a group in trying to pass early leader Mohamud Ige.
Ige (Denver South HS), however, was a huge part of the story, taking charge right away on the first long hill and proving he was legit by hanging with Fox, See and two others who moved in to challenge, then closing strong for 3rd (15:33).
The other big story was the performance of Michigan, which led the boys race with three qualifiers. Justin Switzer (Waterford Kettering HS) earned his second trip to San Diego in 5th (15:37), while the state's Div. 2 champ and fastest overall, Dan Roberts (Vicksburg), rambled in 7th (15:42). The biggest surprise, though, was John Black (Birmingham Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills), who wasn't really seen in the same league as his fellow statesmen despite taking 2nd in D-1 state and being the No. 10 returnee. But he joined Switzer, Fox, and See in the pack that fought for the top 5 and wound up a fine 4th (15:34).
The home state got a boost from its champion, Chris Rombough (Fremont), who moved past disappointment from last year and was 6th (15:38). The final qualifier was John McGuire (D'Evelyn HS, Golden), just nosing out fellow Coloradoan Glenn Randall, both in 15:42. Though the state champ's beaten Ige before and won Great American seeded, he struggled with too-short spikes in the slop and will look to move up in two weeks.
Ohio's tradition in prep distance running is pretty strong, whether you're looking at past Foot Locker champions like multi-Olympian Bob Kennedy or Scott Fry, or even earlier legends like John Zishka, Ricky Pittman, and Alan Scharsu, all members of the sub-8:50 2M club.
Jeff See became part of that tradition with his national class record 4:06 mile as a sophomore. In pushing See and taking their rivalry to a new level, Fox is joining in, too.
The Ohioans pulled away from a pack of five -- they were part of four who had caught early leader Mohamud Ige -- in the final half mile to wage their own battle. Fox controlled things, though, until the final 100 when See used that 4:06 speed.
For See, the biggest story is his season as a whole. After winning the state harrier title as a junior, he couldn't compete in Kenosha because of illness. Then thyroiditis curtailed a track season last spring that saw him fall short of his 2003 revelation. Further injury problems in the summer, including an injury to his foot while playing beach volleyball, meant he didn't get in the preseason work for this fall as quickly. "I delayed my training, but got stronger at the end of the
year. It's turned into a blessing."
Still, something didn't feel right last week at the Mid East meet. "I knew I was in trouble when I looked up at the sky before the race and it was spinning," he said. Despite a fever, he raced to a 4th-place finish anyway, casting some mild doubts on his national aspirations.
Then despite not feeling comfortable at the beginning of today's race, he got into his groove up and down the hills in the middle. "I went with Levi when he went and knew I could run with him," he said. "I was just waiting for the finish and I got a good push on the (last small) downhill. I got some momentum and was able to pass him."
Despite getting outkicked, Fox was not an unhappy camper. "It's awesome having two guys from Ohio go 1-2," he said. "After last week, I knew we'd be right up there."
The Troy senior had to rein himself in a little bit first. A notoriously fast starter, it didn't hurt when he saw Ige move powerfully to the front and realized he could do what he needed in the next pack. He didn't need to be aggressive until the last mile. "On a downhill, he started to come back a little bit. After we caught him, I started to think, 'I can win this.' "
Against a fully healthy See this time, it wasn't quite enough. "This almost always happens," he said. "Jeff gets me the last half-mile. At state he passed me at 2-1/4. At region, it was the last half mile. This time, I hung on til the last 10th."
Mohamud's Resolve; McGuire Hangs On
At the Colorado state meet, Mohamud Ige may have been the biggest victim of a fall by another competitor that forced a restart of the race. He reportedly ran further -- a full quarter-mile -- than anyone else, depleting his tank for a run at eventual winner John McGuire.
Last year in Kenosha, things could have gone better for the Somalian native, too, as he let himself get boxed in early and finished outside of the top 40. Saturday, Ige's trials and tribulations turned into resolve that controlled 3/4 of the race and got him the third qualifying spot.
"I learned from last year," he said. "From the time the gun goes off, you have to go out." Ige also avoided the crowding on the inside of the long straight up the monster hill, opting for the running room on the outside, then driving in.
He led through a mile (4:50) and two (9:55), running hard enough to stay on top, but not exactly losing the pack. His effort to win was derailed at about 2.5 miles, but he wasn't about to fade away. "What bothered me at that point was cramps. But I've learned not to give up. I didn't come all this way for nothing. I almost had them back."
After dropping to 4th and starting to drift back, he came on again and moved into 3rd, earning his ticket to San Diego.
Meanwhile, McGuire made a mistake he'll be sure to learn from in the future: Always have the right spikes available. The Colorado 5A and Great American Seeded race champ's shoes had permanent 3/16" spikes and only four of them on each shoe. "I struggled quite a bit," he said. "They weren't replaceable and I was
slipping and sliding all over the place. I'm just happy I qualified."
No doubt he'll be looking to show his talent a little more in San
With three of the top 10 returnees from last year, Michigan had a chance to make a big splash in the Wisconsin mud. In the end, Justin Switzer, Dan Roberts, and John Black all came through.
Black was unquestionably the most impressive, though. Twenty-eighth last year and the No. 10 returnee, Black was a strong 2nd in the Michigan D-1 meet, but far enough back time-wise from the others that top 8 here seemed like a stretch. But a hard, smart run did the trick.
"I wasn't too concerned at the beginning about my place," he said. "I just wanted to run my race. I wanted to be in the top 15-20 at the mile, but I was in the top 10. I knew I had a good shot at that point and felt comfortable and strong."
The Canadian senior continued to move up steadily and got in the group that caught Ige, who would eventually outkick him for 3rd. Still, he qualified easily, and the conditions didn't hurt him. "I'm more of a strength runner and I felt in my element today."
On the other hand, Switzer and Roberts were the second and fourth returnees from last year. Yet they had the vibe of a couple of guys who were just glad to get in after tough races. "I'm just happy to being going back," said Switzer, the D-1 champ. "I got in the front pack at the mile and tried as much as I could, but the last mile was so sloppy, it was hard to move."
Said D-2 champ and Portage winner Roberts, who got in the top group reasonably early, but never really went for the front and struggled to maintain: "I honestly just felt horrible out there. I guess it was nerves and publicity at my school. I probably should have gone out faster. But I just asked God for strength and I'm not disappointed at all. This is where He wanted me to end up at."
Rombough For the Home State
Maybe the happiest runner with the biggest smile was Chris Rombough. The Fremont senior had won Wisconsin state as a junior, but watched Ryan Gasper qualify here for nationals a few weeks later while he was 24th. "I went out too fast, plus I was sick," he said. "I was in the lead pack for 1.5, but that was it."
This year, he went out steadily with the pack behind Ige, making no aggressive early moves. "Then after the first mile, I just let it go," he said. "For a while during the second mile I was in fourth, then the last mile I was in sixth the whole time. The last half-mile I didn't feel too good, but I didn't want what happened last year to happen this year.
"It just felt awesome to make it."
The same could probably be said for all eight qualifiers.
Midwest Girls on a Rocky Mountain High,
But Kavan, Eckert Earn Props for South Dakota
By Steve (steveu) Underwood
Yes, give Colorado its due. Girls from that state Saturday turned in one of the most dominating performances in Foot Locker regional history (at least until the day's Northeast results came through). Four of the eight qualifiers from the Midwest meet to Foot Locker Finals were from the Rocky Mountain State, including 2003 Midwest and National champion Katelyn Kaltenbach, running her first race since being sidelined by injury in September.
But South Dakota deserves big props, too, especially Ramsey Kavan. The Yankton HS senior moved up a spot from last year in this race and firmly established herself as a national title contender with a splendid come-from-behind win. She spotted new Colorado superstar Whitney Anderson (Summit HS, Frisco) a 25-meter lead at the halfway mark, then roared back to take control between 2-1/4 and 2-1/2 miles. Her 17:25 was nine seconds better than 2003 and four up on Anderson (17:29) -- despite much worse conditions than '03 that included moderate rain, 40-degree temps and extreme muck.
But starting with Anderson, the race was a Colorado showcase. Kaltenbach (Smoky Hill HS, Aurora) ran a smart, conservative race and took 5th (18:11), serving notice that she could be a contender again in two weeks. She was bracketed by two others from her neck of the woods, Smoky Hill teammate Keara Sammons (18:16) five ticks behind her in 6th and the very impressive breakthrough 17:59 of Maddie McKeever (Heritage HS, Littleton) ahead of her in 4th.
South Dakota got its second qualifier in Allison Eckert (Roosevelt HS, Sioux Falls), who charged from 12th in the final 600 to grab the 7th spot (18:17). Another Heartland state, Minnesota, grabbed the final spot in Elizabeth Yetzer's 8th, as the Lakeville HS state champ finished in 18:18, three seconds ahead of Monroe, Michigan's Rebekah Smeltzer.
The Great Lakes states only earned one spot, but that came from an outstanding 17:50 3rd-place effort from Ohio Div. 2 champ Brittany Tinsley, who backed up her win at Mid East championships last week.
The New Queen
"It's been great; it's been a dream of mine to become a Foot Locker regional champion," said Kavan, who finished sixth in San Diego last year. Considering both Saturday's showing, which included Allison Eckert (Roosevelt HS, Sioux Falls) qualifying, and the selection of both Yankton and Roosevelt to Nike Team Nationals, she added, "We want to show people that South Dakota can run cross-country and to never count us out."
Exuding confidence and power, Kavan's response was very modest when Anderson made her big move into the lead 3:35 into the race. "I just wanted to go out relaxed and stay patient. I didn't want to make a big surge."
Anderson went through the mile in 5:36 and the lead got up to 30 meters during the second mile. But the new queen says she always goes into a race believing she can win, even if she doesn't necessarily force the issue. Anderson started coming back to her and the gap was just a few seconds by the two mile (11:11).
"I didn't really put in a move to catch her, but about 2.5 miles I came up on her shoulder," said Kavan. "After a while, I realized I could win, so I tried to get up on my toes and finished pretty hard."
Kavan, 6th in San Diego last year, might be ready to run with anyone in the country now. The fact that it was 21 seconds from Kavan and Anderson back to Tinsley, and 21 more to where the pack really started to come in, illustrates just how powerful she could be against the Nicole Bloods and Jenny Barringers and Marie Lawrences and Brie Felnagles.
Colorado: 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th
Colorado's dominance here in recent years has been headlined by national power Smoky Hill HS, but there were really several Colorado stories here: The comeback of Kaltenbach. The impressive qualifying performances of her teammate, Keara Sammons, and that of underrated Molly McKeever.
And then there was the front-running of Whitney Anderson, who took the race by the scruff of the neck for about 10 minutes.
After a handful of both contenders and pretenders led the tough start up the big hill in the first 600-800 meters, Anderson took charge at the 1000m mark. Even the most sage observers could not have been blamed for thinking the race was over right there, given the times (16:56) and placings (2nd Great American ROC) she has turned in.
"I felt pretty good and nothing was hurting," said Anderson, who may have been spurred on a bit by concern that her starting position was not close to the other top seeds and had to do some diagonal running to get in position.
"I tried to stay with her, but she just surged away," she said regarding the changing of the guard in the final mile. "It reminded me of Great American, when I was caught just after the middle of the race (by eventual winner Aislinn Ryan).
"But this just gives me more determination for nationals," the senior added.
After being in a boot for six weeks for what was "a pretty bad" stress fracture, Kaltenbach in October made a gradual return from walking to running, but also kept in aerobic shape with plenty of pool work and cycling. "Four days before the state meet, I was like, 'I'm running!' " she said.
But she didn't and it was probably wise. Another month of a gradual buildup got Kaltenbach to the starting line in Kenosha and she used all of her experience and wisdom during the race. "I planned to go out and just make the team," she said. "I wanted to have a good last mile."
The senior admitted to a little concern when she was only up to the top 10-12 around the mile, but was able to work her way into 5th at the end. The idea of having two more weeks until San Diego for improving her fitness and the biggest races still ahead gave her a very positive outlook. "For being out all season, I still will be able to have three pretty big races."
The demanding Wisconsin-Parkside course and brutal field left no margin for error and Kaltenbach's teammate and 2003 national qualifier, Morgan Schulz, could not overcome illness to finish 33rd. But another Smoky Hill standout, Keara Sammons, was able to break through and take 6th.
"I was in the top 14-15 at the mile and just tried to keep picking it up and moving up," said the soft-spoken junior.
No formal survey was taken to see if Colorado runners like fighting through the muck, but McKeever does. "I like the mud; it felt like a real cross-country race out there today," she said. "I think I benefitted from the conditions."
Third in the 5A state meet behind Schulz and near-qualifier and state champ Molly Palmer (11th), McKeever came in relaxed and not feeling any pressure -- and had the time of her life. "I wasn't really expecting to race again in two weeks (San Diego)," she said with a laugh. "I thought I had an outside shot at qualifying, but before today I haven't really had a race where everything has gone as good as I possibly could have imagined it. I just got into 4th, got more confidence, and didn't want anyone else to pass me."
More South Dakota
Roosevelt HS has combined with Yankton to put South Dakota on the cross-country map, with both schools coming out of the Heartland region to qualify for Nike Team Nationals. And like Yankton, Coach Kristi Rieger brought her girls to Kenosha to see what they could do.
With 600 left, it looked like she would get a couple of nice top 15 finishes out of her standouts, sophomore twin sisters Allison and Krista Eckert. Then some strong vocal encouragement made the difference. "I was about top 15 the entire time and 12th with 600 left," said Allison. "Then she just yelled at me -- and I have a pretty good sprint."
That closing sprint made up five places and got Allison Eckert into 7th, just four places back of where she finished in her state meet. That day, as is usually the case, she was one spot behind sister Krista, but the latter didn't quite have it at FL Midwest -- though she was still 13th. "I was right behind her and could see her most of the race, but I had a hard time getting going today."
With a long break since their Oct. 23 state meet, the suddenly busy racing/travel schedule for Allison shouldn't be a problem. "They've been able to crank up the mileage. It's been good for them to have this time," said Coach Rieger.
"Next week is the biggest meet for us," said Krista, referring to Nike Team Nationals.
Yankton also had Betsy Bies in 15th place, giving South Dakota four in the top 15.
Tinsley and Yetzer
Brittany Tinsley, (Indian Lake HS, OH) proved her 16:57 on a fast course early-season was no fluke.
Like Anderson and Kavan, she established position right away, settling into third just after the first kilometer, and wound up nine seconds up on 4th with 5th another 12 ticks back.
"I knew I wanted to get out with the front pack and was able to do that," she said. "The first two girls started to pull away, but I definitely wanted to qualify."
Hardly expecting to be by herself most of the race, Tinsley found she was in such a zone that she flew by the mile mark without noticing. "I didn't know I passed it, then all of a sudden I saw the 2-mile mark."
Despite her obvious ability, Tinsley didn't think of herself on the national stage until after winning the Mid East meet in dominating fashion. Hence, the high (#585) race number. "I was actually not planning on coming, but after I won the Mid East I was so excited. This has just been a great way to end my senior year."
Elizabeth Yetzer, a junior, had won the Minnesota state meet, but had never run FL Midwest before. "It was kinda fun," she laughed. "I had no idea who any of these girls were. I just followed along and tried to pick people off."
She was about 10th at 1.5 miles and moved her way into 7th before getting passed at the end by Eckert.
Hmm -- so maybe she did know who a few of the girls were. "Well, yeah, actually it was kind of interesting," Yetzer said. "Krista passed me for first at the end of the Roy Griak meet and Allison passed me at the end today."
Today, however, the reward -- a trip to San Diego -- was the same for both, and the other six qualifiers.