Saratoga boys crash defending champion Elmhurst's party.
Saratoga boys bump last year's top three down a notch by cleaning up on positions 3-4-5 - Toga's Greg Kiley comes from 81st to 11th to cover Steve Murdock's fall from 1st to 16th - On crutches before and after the race, Hilton's Amanda Griggs lays down a hurt on opponents during the race - Klotz is clutch - Bies is best - Chapel Hill NC boys and Naperville North IL girls are surprise teams - Northeast region strong, Southeast on the rise .
By Rich Gonzalez, DyeStatCal Editor
PORTLAND 12/3/05 -- The Northeast Region boys teams crashed the party for defending champion Elmhurst at the second annual Nike Team Nationals. It was the 'support crew' of Greg Kiley, Andrew Bangert and Christopher Allen who really emerged as their team stars to ensure this ended up being a "Toga Party."
In the girls' challenge, the national club championship trophy found a new residence, vacating the familiar penthouse setting of the Saratoga juggernaut and checking in for a night at the Hilton.
Competing amid the mud slop and unsteady footing conditions along a flat but deceptively tough 5,000-meter course, New York-based Saratoga's boys and Hilton's girls powered to a sweep of the team titles and capped a successful day for Northeast Region teams during Saturday's second edition of the team-based extravaganza at Portland Meadows racing facility.
Individually, local hero Kenny Klotz of Central Catholic purred into contention by mid race and then sped away in the final 1500 meters for the win in 16:25, earning a four-second triumph over Jack Bolas of Chapel Hill, who took a heel-over-head spill while trying to negotiate the last set of hay bales along the final kilometer. At the time, Bolas trailed Kenny by just a couple of strides. Klotz and Mead's Taylor Nepon (fifth in 16:53) also earned the remaining two West Region bids to next weekend's FootLocker Nationals, completing the 40-person boys' field for the big race in San Diego.
Betsy Bies of Yankton 3-D (South Dakota) outlasted Californian Annie St. Geme of Newport XC Club in a thrilling duel up front in the girls race, with Bies withstanding some late-race dramatics to win by four seconds, 19:23 to 19:27. Bies barreled into the mud late in the race after catching her foot on a haystack, but quickly re-gathered momentum to get back on her feet and win. St. Geme and Cassandra Ricks of Fremont (Utah), who was 10th in 20:27, earned the two automatic West Region berths to FootLocker.
Not as easy as 1-2-3 ... more like 3-4-5.
Saratoga's Bangert and Allen easily outclassed their 4th- and 5th-scorer counterparts to seal the outcome as the powerful at-large entry and state public schools champions stunned the pre-race favorites for a savory 111-134 victory over runner-up Elmhurst XC of Illinois, which won the inaugural NTN event while competing as Kroy XC Club. Elmhurst and Manlius tied this time on raw score, with Elmhurst officially earning the runner-up position based on a better-placing sixth runner, 65th to 79th. Mead of Washington, which rode an at-large berth to an eventual 3rd-place finish at last year's NTN, utilized this year's at-large invitation to perform well again when the biggest stakes were down, placing fourth overall. Aside from Saratoga's title run, the next three teams in the standings matched their order from a year ago.
Saratoga lead man Stephen Murdock boldly risked the team's chances from the outset by charging aggressively along the first kilometer of the strength-tapping layout, taking out the pace in a race-leading 3:05. Murdock, traditionally loving to take the pace out hard, learned the hard way that starting fast here usually does not pay, as he eventually dropped off pace to place 16th in 17:07. Fortunately for him, teammate Greg Kiley was deep into the pack for the first 1000 meters and conserving his energy for when needed most -- when others began falling apart.
Gregory, in 81st place at the kilometer mark, bided his time before passing scores of runners along the two two-kilometer loops (moving to 47th, 27th, and 15th place in subsequent kilometer splits) to finish as the team's #2 man and in 11th in 17:01. Usual #2 man Greg Kelsey led Saratoga here, kicking off its scoring by finishing 9th in 16:57. The aggregate scoring at the 4-5 positions, however, was where Saratoga dealt a critical blow to the field, with Bangert (23rd in 17:14) and Allen (52nd in 17:37) combining to score 75 just points, compared to Elmhurst's 92, Manlius' 96 and Mead's 117.
Elmhurst held the team-scoring lead at both the 2k (over Manlius) and the 3k (over Saratoga based on 6th runner points, as both were tied at 131 at the time) according to the 'quick scores' being flashed on the Jumbotrons by the FinishLynx timing system, with the crowd eagerly watching the thrilling race for the team championship unfold.
Manlius, which gapped just 31 seconds for its first four runners on a course now known to wedge costly time spreads into the heart of team lineups, fell victim to a gaping 33-second hole between its final two scorers, thwarting any slim chance at the team title. As was the case a year ago (and not to the surprise of anyone following the sport closely), perennial powers Mead (WA) and Mountain View (UT) came through in the clutch to place 4-5 in the team standings.
Simi West XC (which competed as Royal HS during the high school season), endured a bittersweet showing as Jun Reichl surprised to finish 18th individually behind a cadre of Who's Who talent, but no other teammate was within 20 places as the Mt. SAC course record holders endured a rare rough outing to finish sixth with 195 points. With weather conditions at 39 degrees (with a wind chill of 34) and drizzling at the start of boys' race, it was unfamiliar weather for the Southern California crew to say the least,
There was a clear separation of power between the first 10 teams in the standings and the next 10, as a considerable 87-point gap existed between 10th-place Spokane XC Club (members of Ferris HS) and 11th-place Central Catholic of Portland.
But in the end, Saratoga was #1 and there was nothing fluky about it -- after all, it defeated previous national #1 Fayetteville Manlius last month and then current #1 Elmhurst this month.
According the Kelsey, the focus was on winning NTN since June: "We knew if we all did the best we could, we'd win it."
'Tearing' away from the field
Senior Amanda Griggs arrived at the pre-race welcoming ceremonies donning a set of crutches and left the post-race awards show doing the same. In between, however, it was the Hilton XC Club senior who was laying down the hurt. Griggs, Allison Sawyer and Caroline Schulz set an aggressive pace from the outset to provide the group a scoring lead it would never relinquish en route to an 85-112 victory in the girls' team battle.
The triumph was not a major surprise, with many thinking for weeks that Hilton had the arsenal to beat rival Saratoga, especially after a narrow one-point loss at the NY state meet. But the story here was Griggs' gutty performance to finish 12th in 20:34, especially as her body was telling her to stop.
Griggs said she felt her leg "tearing apart" at one stage in the race, with a bad case of shin splits in recent weeks obviously surfacing at the most inopportune time.
"I was very nervous. I knew if I stayed with Caroline and Allison, we would definitely win," explained Griggs. "But I had doubts because they took it out so fast. I didn't feel like it was fast, so I just told myself I could do this. The first time over the hills I gained some confidence." But the second time over, she heard a Hilton fan tell her that teammate Schultz was having some trouble. "That got me going."
Griggs powered home to earn valuable team points up front and Hilton's depth runners of Schulz, Shelby Herman and Ashley Jones then holding a shocking 65-to-100 scoring advantage over Saratoga at the 3-4-5 positions.
Saratoga, which trailed by more than 70 points after the first kilometer, sheared that deficit in half three minutes later, but the margin remained between 25 and 30 points the rest of the way. Carroll XC Club of Texas, a group which unintentionally kept a low profile after the early-season Nike South meet was canceled due to hurricane conditions, peaked admirably here to finish with 123 points, just 11 behind Saratoga.
Naperville North of Illinois provided the true step-up performance of the day with a fine fourth-place effort and 133 points. Jacksonville XC Club (runners from Episcopal HS) pulled a mild surprise to finish 14th with 313 points, giving the Southeast Region and 11-14 placement in the team standings (joining Greenbelt XC). Maggie Traylor was the top finisher for Episcopal and finishing 35th individually, that despite getting one of her shoes sucked off in the first quarter of the race.
Klotz is Clutch; Bies is Best
Although the team battles were of prime importance here, it was noteworthy that Central Catholic's Kenny Klotz and Yankton 3-D's Betsy Bies put forth national-class performances of their own. Klotz started conservatively along the sloppy course but moved up well to win while looking to be in complete control, churning strongly toward the finish tape to defeat Bolas.
Klotz admitted that conserving any energy he could for next weekend's FootLocker Finals was in the back of his mind: "I wanted to hold back if I could, and that worked. I was able to move up, felt strong, and think I definitely had more left in me."
Bies won the personal struggle between her and St. Geme, with the battle becoming a tad more physical than is usually the case in this sport, as the elements played a major role.
"I didn't think I could let "St. Geme" get away from me, she's so tough," said Bies. "I'm afraid we ran into each other, and I hope she's not mad at me, but we were both trying to get the best way through the mud, and in most places there was only one path."
Once Bies finally did open daylight on the Californian late in the race, she then took an accidental tumble over a foot-high bale of hay. "Oh my gosh! I couldn't believe I did that," gushed Bies. I just got up and thought, 'Okay, there's just one more reason to win!' " '
St. Geme rose her 'game' to a new level here, being tenacious under intense circumstances to match Bies stride for stride for much of the race, as the tandem pulled away from the field. The Stanford-bound St. Geme -- if she gets her legs back in time -- could be a dangerous darkhorse for a Top 6 finish at next weekend's FootLocker meet.
Surprise Teams/Rough outings
Which teams seemingly outdid themselves, perhaps caught the rankings committee a bit by surprise, or perhaps quieted the message board skeptics? For the boys, it had to be Chapel Hill of North Carolina. Placing second at the Great American Cross-Country Festival (with the top three teams in that late-September affair going 1-12-17 in this 20-team field), the squad finished in 12th place with 318 points, 13 spots ahead of the Harrier's pre-meet rankings. Additionally, it beat the #1-seeded teams from both the South and Heartland Regions.
The slam-dunk surprise for the girls was Midwest #2 seed Naperville North, which finished fourth overall and earned an automatic berth only when Clarkston of Michigan had to decline its automatic bid due to state regulations. Westfield, the #1 seed in the Midwest Region, suffered in the team standings when a pair of team members opted to halt their season and join the school's basketball team.
On the flip side, Simi West's boys and the Newport's girls -- both California teams -- fell victim to misfortune on a day with little room for error.
Simi West nearly lost to Sacramento XC (competing as Jesuit HS during the prep season) for the second time this year, although this time it would have been at full strength. Simi West frontrunner Michael Cybulski started strongly in the first half of the race, but seemed heavy-legged during the last kilometer to fall several places, with teammate Hudson Andrews -- who usually draws off Cybulski's pace -- also unable to pull off his familiar strong close.
Fortunately, seniors Kevin Sullivan and Jason Pedersen gained a few spots along the stretch to provide Simi West a final three-point cushion over Sacramento, 195-198. Michael Salvatierra led Sacramento with a Top 20 finish in 17:11 as his team beat Simi West's head-on at three of the five scoring positions. Jesuit has pinned Royal its only in-state loss of the season at the Clovis Invitational on a day when the latter was missing a trio of key scorers.
"It was a good day for us, we enjoyed how things turned out," quipped Sacramento coach Walt Lange in the hotel lobby after his #10-ranked nationally team placed seventh.
Newport, whose runners competed for Corona del Mar HS during the season,
Unlike our post-race analysis of a year ago, this time around the findings are considerably more difficult to decipher. This was due more to the variances in race strategy rather than mere talent. It was not so much the treacherous course conditions that derailed some top teams and runners, but rather how they chose to adjust -- or not adjust -- to it. Those coming out hard, paid the price. Those showing patience opened the door to be rewarded handsomely.
Nevertheless, a few conclusions could be drawn. The Northeast boys were strong as advertised up top, claiming two (Saratoga and Manlius) of the top three sports on the podium platform. Brothers XC then took eighth (trying to argue that any team member had any off day would be moot, however, as several top 10 teams endured that fate) while the region's fourth entry -- Hills XC Club -- finished 13th, behind two other at-large teams and four regional #2 seeds. Most other regions also ran as expected, although the two Southeast teams garnered a bit more national respect for the region, with top seed Chapel Hill riding Bolas' runner-up placing to a 12th-place team finish and St. Xavier of Louisville KY placing 17th to beat a pair of automatic berths teams.
For the girls, top Northeast teams Hilton and Saratoga toppled Newport (Corona del Mar) to then otherwise place as expected (with only the order between the two teams being in question), but NE at-large entrant Roxbury XC (listed as Succasunna in the results) was a shade or two off expectations but managed to finish ninth.
Much like the boys, the Southeast Region girls raised their stock in Portland, with Maryland-based Greenbelt XC placing a very surprising 11th and #2 entry Jacksonville placing a very respectable 14th. The Southeast showing here confirmed a few earlier signals this Fall that the Southeast Region is definitely on the rise. On the other hand, the South Region struggled. Boys teams from the South took 16th and 20th here, with a great clutch showing by Carroll XC on the girls' side securing a 3-16 showing there.
The Northwest Region was a mixed bag for girls, with Gig Harbor once again peaking well, placing seventh overall while arriving here as the region's #2 entry. Fairbanks (Alaska), Portland Harriers (runners from Jesuit HS) and Boise Striders -- three teams being the focus of several emails to the NTN Rankings Committee -- all finished outside the top dozen and behind the Southeast's #2 team. Fairbanks (whose state meet was nearly two months ago!) placed 15th (316 points), Portland Harriers took a distant 18th (409 points) and Boise landed the final place (468 points).
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