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boys distance | 07-08 most outstanding performers

This is the third of a series of DyeStat year-end awards for 2007-08. The DyeStat Most Outstanding Performers series, which follows the DyeStat Athlete of the Year awards, includes top honors for boys and girls distances, sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws, relays, and multi-events. Selections are made by DyeStat editors and are based a combination of multiple major victories/honors won and performances on all-time and yearly lists. Performances from outdoor track, indoor track, and cross-country are taken into account..

Text by Dave Devine and SteveU - Photos by John Dye and John Nepolitan

German Fernandez

What else can be said about this year’s DyeStat Boys Athlete of the Year which hasn’t already been committed to paper or keyboard? It’s difficult to imagine any accolades or superlatives that haven’t been extended. His flawless outdoor track season included a string of impressive triples and doubles, the greatest single-day distance performance in prep history, and a two-second editing of Jeff Nelson’s 29 year-old, 8:36.3 two mile record.

Fernandez soared to national prominence during an undefeated in-state cross country season which saw him take down multiple course records and eventually slash 14 seconds from Olympian Marc Davis’ Woodward Park record, with his 14:24 5k run in the CIF State Meet. After winning Foot Locker West over Luke Puskedra, expectations were high for a triumph at the National Finals. But in his sole misstep of the year, the Riverbank CA senior managed third on a day Mike Fout was clearly the better runner. Fernandez wouldn’t lose again on US soil, winning the USATF Junior Cross Country Championships, leading the US team with his 25th place finish in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then embarking on his unforgettable and undefeated outdoor campaign.

He finished US#1 at 1500m (en route to his 4:00.29 1600), 3000, 3200 and 2 Mile, with US records at 3k and 2 Mile, and was selected as the Gatorade Boys Track and Field National Player of the Year.

Luke Puskedra

In almost any year but this one, Luke Puskedra might have been the preeminent high school distance runner in the nation. He emerged from the altitude of Salt Lake City UT for his senior year with an aerobic engine that laid waste to multiple course records during cross country, and carried him to fifth place at the 2007 Foot Locker National Final. During a somewhat abbreviated indoor season, the Judge Memorial UT senior nonetheless emerged as the dominant indoor distance man, leading the nation in the mile and the two mile, as well as their metric equivalents.

The knock against Luke, even as late as December of his senior year, was that he was great starter of races, boldly leading from the gun, but a questionable tactician and finisher. Puskedra silenced some of that talk with his sizzling 4:08.77 mile victory over Colby Lowe at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games, then punctuated his newfound closing chops with his driving run to the Nike Indoor Nationals 2 Mile title in 8:49.58 (again, over Lowe).

Always a game racer, Puskedra ducked nobody and sought out the best his class had to offer, traveling to Arcadia CA with hopes of facing German Fernandez (and defending his ’06 3200 title in the process), then taking down New Zealand junior star Dominic Channon—8:46.60 to 8:48.00—when Fernandez withdrew with an injury. At Nike Outdoor Nationals, he again went after the cream of the crop, hanging with Fernandez as long as possible in the 2 Mile record assault before fading to a runner-up 8:47.06, then doubling back on Saturday against the nation’s top four lapper, Rob Finnerty, in the mile. His 4:06.60 in that race left him at US#2 for the distance in 2008, and cemented his status as one of the best distance runners of the year.

Rob Finnerty

While some of the runners recognized as Most Outstanding Performers secured their place on the list with a body of work extending through the entire year, Burnsville MN senior Rob Finnerty primarily grabbed his spot with a flurry of late spring races that set the high school track world on its ear.

Finnerty has long been on the national radar, and his ninth place finish at the 2007 Foot Locker Nationals showed he was near the top of the heap among high school harriers, but it was on the track during his final outdoor campaign that he truly stepped up in a way that fulfilled years of promise. Running somewhat out of the national spotlight in Minnesota, Finnerty made sure no one could ignore his efforts with a series of battles against fellow Minnesotan Jordan Carlson which included a 4:08.73 1600 at his conference meet, a 4:06.49 at his state regional meet, and one of the jaw-droppers of the season, US#1 4:01.09 for a full mile at the Midwest Distance Gala in Illinois. That race, in which he gave a serious scare to the 4-minute barrier, elevated him into the stratosphere of Fernandez, Puskedra and Lowe as the buzz for Nike Outdoor Nationals built.

At that Greensboro NC meet he finished a very strong 8:50.96 for fourth in the epic national record two mile race, then doubled back the next day to battle Luke Puskedra in the mile, eking out a 4:05.25 win there.

Chris Derrick

It seemed clear that Chris Derrick would be one of the nation’s best in 2007-08, based on an 8:54 3200 PR from the previous spring, but he probably didn’t anticipate a harrier campaign that would end as the first recipient of the Gatorade Boys Cross-Country Athlete of the Year award – or, for that matter, that his outdoor track season would be short-circuited before his state meet with a bout of mono.

The Neuqua Valley senior first emerged as the Illinois’ top harrier with a slate of performances culminating in a historic state meet run at Detweiler Park, his 13:52 considered to have at least equaled Craig Virgin’s 1973 record on a slightly different course. With his team near the top of the national rankings, Derrick decided to attempt to lead them to an NTN title AND go for Foot Locker glory. The month-long quest began with a decisive NTN Midwest win (14:54), then a Foot Locker MW 2nd-place finish (15:03) where it was speculated he might not have pushed to the limit. In Portland, he pulled away from Colby Lowe to win the NTN Championship (15:39) and lead Neuqua Valley to the same. Now fatigued and somewhat “under the weather,” he started conservatively at the FL Finals before rallying for 2nd (14:57) behind Mike Fout’s decisive victory. The combination of efforts was enough to take the Gatorade award.

Derrick’s track campaign was limited to just a few national-class efforts, but no one will forget the well-documented, solo 13:55.96 5000 he authored at Arcadia, good for #6 all-time and the best-ever in a HS-only race. While fans and Derrick himself could only speculate how he might have fared against German Fernandez at NON, the athlete was able to share his perspective on things as a DyeStat reporter, putting a final, unique twist on a senior year full of both “what was” and “what might have been.”

Joe Franklin

Joe Franklin had big plans for this spring, including a sub-4:00 mile. While he didn’t achieve that, he did plenty along the way to make him one of DyeStat’s Most Outstanding Performers.

While is a sub-49/sub-1:50 runner in the 400 and 800, Franklin also has enough endurance to be on the verge of national class in XC. So he started out his school year with a fall that saw him win the Florida 2A state meet (2nd fastest time all classes) and the FACA All-Star meet in 15:23. Indoors, he was just 8th in the Reebok Boston mile, but by Nike Indoor he was ready and outkicked Andrew Perkins WI and a strong field to win in 1:54.09.

In early April, Franklin made a strong early-season outdoor statement with a US#1 (at the time) 4:09.13 1600 at the Florida Relays, just missing his PR from the previous year’s state meet. He then worked his way through his state series to an eventual 800-1600 double, then launched into what he hoped would be a monumental post-season. The best came first, with his long-sought first foray under 1:50 (and 1:49) coming with a then-US#1 1:48.97 victory at the Running-Zone.com meet. At the Atlanta International Classic, he faced a crack field with fellow sub-1:50 talent Dylan Ferris and New Bern NC’s Hendrix brothers, and beat them all with a 1:50.41. Next came a victorious, though disappointing mile at Golden South. Finally, against a deep field at Nike Outdoor, he got a big lead then held on for a 1:50.48 win to complete the Nike in/out double. While his US-leading 800 time was topped at USATF Juniors by Elijah Greer, Franklin proved he was a man of championships all year.

Elijah Greer

The Lake Oswego OR junior first caught the attention of national track fans with a 1:52.66 800 effort at the mid-winter Husky Classic on the University of Washington’s oversized indoor track. Ranked US#1 at the time, Greer slipped no lower than third on the yearly indoor list, but eschewed the season-ending national championship meets which might have garnered him more attention. A relatively low-key outdoor campaign concluded with a 1:50.60 victory in the Oregon 6A state meet, taking down the defending champion in the process.

From there, Greer’s post-season exploded. He dropped a 1:50.31 PR in the morning developmental heats at the Prefontaine Classic, and then turned his sights on the USATF Junior Championship meet in Ohio. His 1:50.15 to lead all qualifiers on Friday looked surprisingly comfortable, but nothing prepared the crowd in attendance for the 1:47.68 he unleashed in Saturday’s final. That mark was US#4 all-time, unseating California legend Michael Granville from his stranglehold on all four class records by handing Greer the mark for high school juniors.

The USATF Junior triumph advanced Greer to the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he made it to the semi-finals with consecutive-day rounds of 1:50.73 and 1:50.47, but it was clear that the long post-season had taken its toll, as he failed to make the final. He is the only 2008 boys distance MOP who returns next year.

Honorable Mention

Colby Lowe TX – The Southlake Carroll TX sr was as close as you can get to the Most Outstanding Performer designation without making it. He swept through the XC season in TX, including state and NTN regional (15:06) titles. Going for the NTN/Foot Locker double, he then won FL South (14:45), was 2nd at NTN Finals (15:42), and 4th (15:12) at FL Finals. In track, Lowe dominated TX again and was 2nd only to the likes of Luke Puskedra at Reebok Boston Mile (4:08.99) and NIN 2M (8:50.79), and Luke and German Fernandez at NON (3rd, 8:47.07). Finally, he capped off the year with a 4:05.8 anchor of SLC’s 9:56.54 DMR, the fastest DM in the US since 2001 and #5 all-time.

Mike Fout IN – An injury short-circuited almost his entire indoor and outdoor track seasons, but the way the LaPorte IN senior ended his harrier campaign earned him honorable mention. Though he ruled The Hoosier State, many did not give him a lot of credit after he won with a great time (14:54) at Foot Locker Midwest over Chris Derrick, who was seen as perhaps holding back with his NTN/FL schedule. But then at FL Finals, facing one of the best boys fields this decade, Fout made a monster move in the final mile that no one could match en route to a 14:50 and the national title.

Donn Cabral CT – The Gastonbury CT senior earned his mention while taking the path less traveled. After giving the 10k track distance a go in an open meet early in the year (30:53.08), he decided to run the at USATF Juniors to try and make the World team. He took second in Columbus in 30:50.28, then 17th at World Juniors in 30:47.55. In XC, Cabral was the FL Northeast champ and 8th (15:19) at FL Finals, and on the track he also added 4:09.80y and 8:56.35y, as well as the NSIC 5000 title.

Solomon Haile MD – Like Cabral, the Sherwood MD junior, by way of Ethiopia, made his mark at a non-traditional distance. The 5,000 IS, however, gaining increased interest as a legitimate track race as it’s offered now at NIN, NSIC, NON and Arcadia. Haile won both Nike championships in the event, hitting 14:53.93 indoors and 14:38.23 outdoors, the latter tying the meet record.

Zach Ornelas TX – The Vista Ridge TX junior made sure he got his money’s worth out of both national meets he competed in this year. He won the NON 2k steeple with a US-leading 5:54.58 after finishing 2nd in the 5000 (14:56.42). He had also doubled indoors at NSIC with a 2nd in the 5000 (15:07.49) and 3rd in the 2M (9:11.77). Two other strong steeples for Ornelas included a runner-up finish to Ben Johnson at Great Southwest, and a victory at the AAU JOs to cap things off.

Year-End Awards Index