|NTN Finals |
Portland Meadows Race Track, Portland OR
December 1, 2007
Rich Gonzalez Preview
Defending champion Manlius NY girls seem unstoppable;
Dana Point CA is the pick in a balanced boys field.
by Rich Gonzalez in Portland
Rankings are out -- regional races are in!
Controversy is out -- head-on clashing is in!
Mud-caked championship course is out??? -- Snow is in !?!!
As quickly as the Nike Teams Nationals format has continually evolved in just three-plus years, the
refinements have resulted in a new era of growth for the sport of cross-country.
Record participation numbers are evident across the map, performance levels have skyrocketed as
once thought-to-be untouchable course records now tumble like dominoes, and the "all-timer" lists are
quickly becoming a "has been" lists!
And most importantly, the era of mythical paper champions has been purged, now replaced by an
infusion of regionalized blockbuster clashes across hill and dale to identify who is truly number one.
This year's return to Portland Meadows for the fourth edition of the NTN extravaganza even has
another anticipated new twist. Internet weather forecasts over the last week called for highs in the upper
30s and sunny conditions but have in the last few hours given way to predictions of snow flurries on
Thursday and additional snow on race day according to the local TV station weather reports.
First regionals, then a revamped at-large format, and now snow instead of mud at NTN?
Can anyone run with defending champions Manlius NY girls?
Does this foretell a possible overhaul of the results trend we've seen in recent years, where New York
girls teams have dominated? Is the reign of the Big Apple over? Will pesky 130-pound worms from other
regions eat away at the core of what has been our nation's finest? Are New York's female runners finally
going down the for count?
Manlius XC Club of New York appears to be the class of the nation in 2007, with Coach Bill Aris' crew
this year repeatedly dismantling all challengers, even often doing so when being shorthanded at major
meets. Without question, his group has thus far shown to be the best in the land this fall and perhaps the
second-finest from the state's all-time annals, trailing only the super 2004 crew from Kinetic Racing Club
(Saratoga Springs) that dominated the inaugural NTN challenge. Strong frontrunners, sensational depth, a
master coach, and an eye on the big prize are a perfect combination for success which last year
unlocked the team's first national crown.
Can anyone in the land run with Manlius in 2007? On a snowy or muddy course, probably not. And
even on any type of course, the jury is still out.
It might take an earthquake from California
Perhaps only an earthquake can shake the New Yorkers from their perch.
Enter the top team from California, the earthquake epicenter of America.
Newhall XC Club of Saugus, CA comes in as a team on a tear, destroying the all-time course records
at both Mt. SAC -- site to the nation's largest invitational -- and Woodward Park, the permanent home of
the California state meet and one-time residence of the FootLocker (then named Kinney) Wes Regionals
Newhall has amazing balance at the front of races, often with 6 or 7 girls storming through courses at
national-class pace. The group is very fit, very tough and very focused, but under Southern Section rules
will be without Coach Rene Paragas and staff as after-the-state-meet contact with athletes in preparation
for subsequent competitions is prohibited. The squad is anxious for another crack at a high-end finish,
especially after the flu bug plagued that team throughout NTN week in 2006.
Additional powers from the Midwest and Southwest regions will seek to pull the upset, with three-time
defending Indiana state champion Westfield seeking to earn redemption after being beaten by in-state
rival Lake Central at the Midwest Regional. The Northeast Region checks in with surprise regional winner
Eastern Mass (athletes from Lincoln Sudbury) as part of a group of teams that held their own against
the New York Region powers at the midseason Manhattan Invitational.
Boys race should be a doozy
Naperville IL (athletes from Neuqua Valley) is the odds-on favorite despite
commonly having a 40-second gap knifing between its final two scorers. But Naperville gets the job
done up front better than anyone, especially with the top frontrunner in the field (with apologies in
advance to Albuquerque's Ben Johnson (Albuquerque Academy, NM) in senior Chris Derrick, who sliced
15 seconds off Evan Jager's Detweiler Park course record (current version). Add in the fact that three
teammates can typically gap an average of 50 seconds behind their national-class pacesetter and one
can see why they're the favorite.
Dana Point CA is the pick
But in a meet of this caliber, 35-40 seconds between your 4th and 5th man can be an eternity, which is
why for the first time in NTN's short history, this native Californian is picking a Golden State team to pull
the upset. After an inauspicious start to 2007 for a team showcasing considerable talent from a year ago,
Dana Point (athletes from Dana Hills, CA) finally began turning the corner on its season with with major wins at the
Orange County and Mt. SAC meets. Then came even more commanding margins of victory at the
Division I Southern Section and State meets.
While depth has always been its calling card, this year's Dana crew has improved notably at both the
front and back ends in recent weeks. Tyler Valdes tore through the Mt. SAC course in 15:00 while four
teammates gapped within 48 seconds behind him at the section finals. Then came a stunning
development at the state meet, where a usual scorer was sick but another stepped up to run 15:53 at
Woodward Park (a 15:35 equivalent on the Mt. SAC course at worst) as its fifth scorer. Such depth
warrants talk as the crew perhaps having the best depth in state history. Don't worry too much about the
"cold and muddy" factor affecting this crew -- Dana Point is being coach by school alum and recent
Columbia University (NY) graduate Tyler Kastorff, who assured these beach boys would be unfazed by
the weather elements.
Others are strong too
Danbury CT, a team loaded with talent and the preseason #1 byThe Harrier Magazine,
remains a viable threat from the Northeast, along with Brookline MA, a team that pulled out
a one-point decision between the two at the regional final. It'll be very interesting to see how juggernaut
powers Los Alamos NM and Albuquerque NM (Academy) hold up this weekend, especially after
repeated high-end clashes culminating with trading wins at the state meet and Southwest Region
in recent successive weekends.
Additionally, North Central WA and Murrieta CA were very strong out of the gates, with Murrieta rebounding well
at its state meet while North Central has labored to keep its long season going.
a longshot for the race track setting
Since this is a race track we're running on, here's a longshot pick that could pay off: Portland (Central Catholic HS).
The group was extremely impressive in winning the Oregon state meet, is well-coached, boasts a very proud
tradition and will be competing in front of the hometown fans.
Be sure to tune in Saturday at 10;15 a.m. PST for the live Webcast!
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