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2006 Nike Team Nationals - Southeast region preview

Southeast is five strong this year - regional editor Brandon Miles picks Midlothian VA and Eleanor Roosevelt MD girls 1-3

Dec. 2, 2006 Portland OR

by Brandon Miles, Southeast region editor

Boys - Girls - Midlothian VA girls  - Eleanor Roosevelt MD girls - Tatnall DE girls - Midlothian VA boys - Chapel Hill NC boys


 SE #1 - Midlothian XC Club VA (Midlothian)


3rd - Great American Festival 9/23
1st - VA State Meet 11/11


Jason Witt, jr, VA 3A state-2nd
Jonathan Mellis, sr, VA 3A state-8th
Mark Merritt, jr, VA 3A state-10th
Tommy Reese, sr, VA 3A state-16th
Thomas Cole, jr, VA 3A state-32nd
Mike Hammond, jr, VA 3A state-36th
Bray Wilkins, sr, VA 3A state-120th



KEYS TO SUCCESS: Witt continue to do what he's done all season up front. Coming off a somewhat subpar top 15 race at FL South that he will be looking to bounce back from. Mellis runs well in poor conditions. Midlothian is a lot stronger at #2 and #3 than what they showed at Great American earlier in the season as shown with two All-State runs by both a few weeks ago. They need to be breaking well into the top 50 to give Midlothian a chance to become the first Southeast boys team to crack the top ten at NTN. Reese, Cole, and Hammond are all capable of stepping it up. At least two of the three need to do so. Reese was not far off the team's #2 and #3 at the state meet. One overlooked factor is Midlothian is probably one of the most rested squads at the meet as they took a four week layoff from racing after Great American.


Q: The boys have raced in the shadows of the girls for much of the season, but how do you feel the boys can do in Oregon and what runners need to step up for them to do well?

Coach Stan Morgan: I know the boys might not have gotten all the attention that the Lady Trojans received, but the boys have worked so hard this season, improving week after week. The boys top three of Jason Witt, Mark Merritt and Jonathan Mellis need to run very tough for Midlothian to do well. The runners that really need to step up and have the race of their life, will be Tommy Reese, Thomas Cole and Michael Hammond. If any one of these three guys get tough and have a great day, this will help tremendously. If all three have a great day; I think the boys team could possibly be in the top 8. At NTN I think the teams that have a tough mindset and believe in themselves, will do well.

Q: In the past, the Southeast boys have not done well at NTN. No one has cracked into the top ten. A lot of the top ten teams' formula to success seems to be having a strong front three. Earlier in the season the team did not have as great of a top three, but the final weeks of the season, both you and Mark Merritt have really stepped it up. Does that give you guys an confidence of how you can represent the Southeast?

Midlothian senior and #2 runner Jonathan Mellis: We knew Jason Witt would be up there and he's been there pretty much all year long. Mark (Merritt) and I as well as a bunch of the other teammates have definitely stepped it up to close the gap because having a pack run is really what puts points on the board and ensures a really good team position.

SE #2 - Chapel Hill XC Club NC (Chapel Hill)


1st - Maymont Festival 9/30
1st - Wendy's Invitational 10/7
1st - NC State Meet 11/4


Taylor Gilland, so, NC 4A state champ
Miles Rampel, sr, NC 4A state-11th
Jack Marshall, jr, NC 4A state-12th
Kent Pecora, sr, NC 4A state-13th
Peter Anderson, jr, NC 4A state-18th
Taylor Muir, sr, NC 4A state-68th
Wes Sutter, fr, NC 4A state-81st

TULLYRUNNERS.COM SPEED RATING PROJECTION: 19th out of 20 teams (353 pts)


KEYS TO SUCCESS: Besides Gilland, Chapel Hill lacks the firepower up front to have any other runners into the top 50, which can leave a team well out of the top ten. However, if they can get four runners after Gilland in the top 75 and some closer to 50th place, they may be able to pull off a top 15 finish and come closer to the 2005 NTN team's 12th place finish. That pack has to be tight and come almost in a swarm in that small gap of finishers. Gilland could have a big race after his decision to skip qualifying for Footlocker Nationals to rest for NTN. Gilland had the fastest time in the NC state meet including over eventual FL South champion Ryan Hill. A single digit score from the #1 can only help Chapel Hill.  


Q: How much of a surprise was it for Chapel Hill to be selected as a NTN bound team for the second year when considering the pre-season expectations of this year's group?

Coach Ron Olsen: Truthfully, early on in August and early September, I didn't even bother thinking about the possibility of a return trip. It came up between the kids and myself, but I downplayed it.  I didn't want that to be the focus.  I told someone early in the season I didn't want the kids to win a State championship and be feeling they had a disappointing year because they weren't invited to Portland. I kind of felt that way, so as best I could, I outlawed any talk pertaining to it. The kids got the idea that nothing came from talk. They had to earn their way up the rankings, if they in fact could do so. They were gaining that mindset to establish the fact that they could achieve at the highest level possible only if they "won out'.

Q: What has been the missing pieces that have came together this season to help the 2006 team match up well with the 2005 team?

Olsen: There are, I guess, 7 pieces.  Each one of the kids that make up that team played a vital role. From Taylor's season long emergence as a #1, the added presence and unbridled enthusiasm of Kent Pecora, the immense improvement of Miles, Jack and Peter over where they were last year to Taylor Muir's steady presence and the 9th grader Wes Sutter's own contributions. They were told that no matter what, it would be the combined and concerted efforts of all of them that made this group what it in fact became.

Q: Not many seem to be thinking the Chapel Hill boys will finish as high as they did in 2005 at NTN. Does the lesser expectations by the outsiders without a Jack Bolas grabbing attention to the team put more so less pressure on the guys and allow them to perform well or motivate them more to prove themselves?

Olsen: I think the "outside" pressure is negibile.  The soothsayers and fortune tellers notwithstanding, the kids will race as best they are able this Saturday.  The outcome beforehand?  No one has a real idea.  I told the kids they were complete underdogs last year and again this year.  Nothing different.  The truth is that they will have establish their own identity yet again.

They have pieced together a fabulous year. Whatever comes from the Portland trip can't take away from that season in the slightest. It can only add to it.  How will they finish?  No real idea.  Hey, if I could tell the future, I would have already purchased that winning lottery ticket!  I'll watch it unfold Saturday, just like everyone else with an appreciation for these
kids' season achievements and a hope they can reach their own goals for the day.  I will say this much, it would be nice to confound the experts, again.

Q: How valuable has it been to have members from last year's NTN team there to pass on advice on what things are like in Oregon?

Chapel sophomore and #1 runner Taylor Gilland:  Its been a huge help they have given me. Kent and Wes have given a lot of tips on how to run the very unique course and race. I think they also help calm us down and stop us from going crazy with all the free stuff and the whole scene and keep us focused on the race. I think last year they were there to have fun and this year were there to prove something.

Q: Last year's Chapel Hill team had a great front three and strong #2 and #3 runners seem to be the formula to success in Oregon. You have really stepped it up this season in trying to follow in the footsteps in Bolas, but what do you think the remaining guys need to do in Oregon in order for Chapel Hill to match the 2005 team's performance at NTN?

Gilland: I think we all just have to push it harder. Our formula for success is probably me being in the top 12, either Jack and Miles around 30th, and then a pack in the 40's.

Q: What was the basis on the decision to skip out on a chance to qualify for FLN and focus just on Nike Team Nationals?

Gilland: I think the main reason was just the fact that I will have 2 more years to try and qualify for FLN and this might be my only chance to try and help the team get a top 10 at NTN.


 SE #1 - Midlothian XC Club VA (Midlothian)


2nd - Great American Festival 9/23
1st - Manhattan Invitational (Eastern States Champs) 10/14
1st - VA State Meet 11/11


Kathleen Lautzenheiser, fr, VA 3A state-3rd
Leia Lautzenheiser, fr, VA 3A state-20th
M.C. Miller, sr, VA 3A state-6th
Sammy Dow, jr, VA 3A state-8th
Paige Johnston, so, VA 3A state-13th
Christine Selander, jr, VA 3A state-32nd
Amy Witt, fr, VA 3A state-34th



KEYS TO SUCCESS: Duplicate performance from Manhattan from their front three with the Lautzenheiser twins and Miller and beating the other top teams in the #2 and #3 spots and conceding the #1 spot to teams with FL National caliber girls. Both Dow and Johnston have ran a lot better since Manhattan and closed the gap on their front three. They were not in all-state form at Manhattan and still took it to the other teams #4 and #5, but were running on a higher level at season's end with all-state performances.


Q: How has the mindset changed for the girls team from pre-Manhattan to post-Manhattan in looking at a trip to Nike Team Nationals?

Coach Stan Morgan: The girls are excited to be going to NTN, after winning the Eastern States Meet and winning a state championship, they would love to go to NTN and represent the state of Virginia and the Southeast Region in way that would make everyone proud. I feel the girls have the ability to run very tough and finish in the top 5. I feel if they run like I know they can, they could surprise a lot of people; not me. These girls are very tough young ladies who have worked
so hard to accomplish what they done and I am so proud of all of them. These girls BELIEVE in themselves and believe their teammates, this is why they will do so well.

Q: The order of the team seems to change on almost a weekly basis. Do you think this makes Midlothian a stronger team than most knowing anyone can step it up big if the others do not?

Midlothian junior Sammy Dow: I think it does because you don't have to worry as much about if you have a bad race that the team will suffer. You have the comfort of knowing the other girls are right there with you to pick up the slack.

Q: Do you feel the team has improved since Manhattan and do you think the team has ran to its full potential yet?

Dow: I personally don't think we have run to our full potential because in every race we've had at least one girl not at her best race. We haven't all had a good race on the same day yet. 
SE #2 - Greenbelt XC Club MD (Eleanor Roosevelt)


1st - Maymont Festival 9/30
2nd - Manhattan Invitational (Eastern State Champs) 10/14
1st - MD State Meet 11/11


Marika Walker, sr, MD 4A state champ
Teshika Rivers, so
Dominique Lockhart, jr
Jennifer Redman, sr, MD 4A state-5th
Tyreka Arrington, so, MD 4A state-9th
Christine Hickson, so, MD 4A state-40th
Brittany View, jr, MD 4A state-41st



KEYS TO SUCCESS: Similar to Midlothian without the Footlocker Nationals caliber #1, but their #2 Rivers and #3 Lockhart can run with and beat most of the top ten contending teams at those spots. Walker can pick up a top 15 finish though as their #1. Redman and Arrington ran tough in the #2 and #3 spot at the Maryland state meet with usual #2 and #3 suspended due to team violations. Both will have to come through in #4 and #5 Saturday and not blow up with ER not having the luxury of depth as Midlothian girls have at #6 and #7. Experience cannot be overlooked as ER has more than any team at Portland Meadows with six returnees from last year's NTN team.


Q: What was the reaction by the coaching staff and runners when learning of receiving the automatic bid?

Coach Desmond Dunham: We were very estactic to hear of the news!  We had no idea as to which way the committee would view our unique situation.  We felt that we deserved to go with performances that we had throughout the season; however, we still were not 100% sure that the committee felt the same way.

Q: Obviously Manhattan was a great barometer gauge on that the Eleanor Roosevelt girls could race well against and beat some of the nation's best teams. What is a bigger confidence booster for the team...last year's NTN experience and finish or the 2nd place showing at Eastern States?

Dunham: The Eastern States performance was definitely the biggest confidence booster.  It finally showed the girls that they could run with the best.  It was our most successful accomplishment as a team this year.  It really lets us know that if we run up to our full potential that we can have a great showing at nationals.  It doesn't hurt that we have experience from last year to add to the equation!  The girls are looking forward to being very competitive this weekend.

SE #3 - Tatnall XC Club DE (Tatnall)


4th - Great American Festival 9/23
2nd - Maymont Festival 9/30
5th - Manhattan Invitational (Eastern State Champs) 10/14
1st - DE State Meet 11/11


Juliet Bottorff, so, DE Div 2 state champ
Jenna McCartan, sr, DE Div 2 state-2nd
Joanie Castagno, sr, DE Div 2 state-3rd
Katie Kershner, jr, DE Div 2 state-5th
Annie Castagno, sr, DE Div 2 state-7th
Molly Parsons, fr, DE Div 2 state-12th
Megan Northshield, fr, DE Div 2 state-87th



KEYS TO SUCCESS: A top ten finish will fall on the performances two runners who had injury setbacks with a major knee surgery for Annie Castagno last year and early season injury this fall for Katie Kershner as the team's projected last two scorers at NTN in the fourth and fifth spot. Kershner was the team's #1 runner last year prior to injuries. If Kershner and Annie Castagno can catch up with Jenna McCartan and Joanie Castagno and push for top 50 finishes, Tatnall can definitely see itself in the top ten as Bottorff is a probably top 15 or better finisher.


Q: The conditions are expected to be cold and quite sloppy this weekend. Have there been any races this season to help prepare the team for such conditions?

Tatnall junior and #4 runner Katie Kershner: Yeah! We're so excited for all the mud! We had a few races in the rain, but one in particular was really bad. People were like losing their shoes and getting stuck in the mud. It was Bellevue Invitational at Bellevue State Park earlier this year.

Q: There were several other teams in contention for at-large berths, but did not end up getting them. Does the team feel like they still have something to prove to those who feel like the team doesn't belong at NTN? What are the team goals for this weekend?

Kershner: We are a really small school from a really state. Possibly the smallest there, so of course there is something to prove. However, there is gonna be incredible competition there, so everyone has something to prove and something to give to the race. We really want to make top 10 and top 5 is an even bigger goal.

Q: You guys traveled extensively during the season with trips to Great American, Maymont, and Manhattan. How has competing in those big meets this season helped the team in preparation for NTN?

Kershner: It helped a lot because the meets in Delaware are so small. Its always a good way for the team to bond going to meets that are far away too because we get such long bus rides together. It also helped us be ready for such large competition in NTN, and be able to get used to large starting lines and a lot of chaos at the beginning of the races.