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 Great American Cross Country Festival

October 11, 2008 at Veterans Park at Valleydale Road (formerly Spain Park), Hoover AL

SteveU, Pat Davey, Tony Jones on site

Preview: Girls ROC Features Super Girls Field
The last two Foot Locker national champions (and also the last two Great Am champs) -- Ashley Brasovan and Kathy Kroeger -- will be challenged by 2007 NTN champ Madeline Morgan AL, and 2007 Foot Locker Finalists Emily Sisson MO, Jessica Tonn AZ, Kayla Hale FL, Stephanie Morgan OH, and Brittany Koziara FL.
So who's it going to be?

SteveU Girls Race of Champions Preview
Jump down to general preview
Odds are one of the Super Six below is going to finish at the top Saturday, with the rest
following (along with the other four that comprises the top ten contenders). 
SteveU breaks down what these runners brings into battle and how it will all play out.

Ashley Brasovan
Vitals:  Wellington FL senior
Calling card:  2007 Foot Locker National Champ
But don’t forget … :  Not only was Ashley the Nike Outdoor 5K champ outdoors, but also won the Nike Indoor deuce in her only attempt in 2007.
Great American history:  1st 2007, 2nd 2006, 1st 2005 (Seeded)
Overcoming adversity:  Ashley’s big breakthrough was qualifying for Foot Locker Finals last fall after missing it her first two years (having being talented enough to make it).  Ashley was considered the national favorite after Great American last year, but her 6th at FL South also had the effect of taking the favorite’s pressure off.  Of course, the result was her tremendous performance in San Diego.
Something to prove:  As good as California’s Jordan Hasay and the nation’s other top runners are, Ashley wears the crown of top harrier until someone beats her.  Winning here would go a long way towards mentally steeling her to repeat.
The big picture:  Obviously, Ashley’s ultimate goal is to win another national title, hopefully in a battle of the three previous champs.  Not too complicated.
Kathy Kroeger
Vitals:  Independence TN senior
Calling card:  2006 Foot Locker National Champ
But don’t forget … :  Kathy, who tacked on a runner-up FL Finals finish last fall to her 06 victory,  will also have a chance to join the group of 4-time Foot Locker Finalists, if she goes that route, in December. 
Great American history:  2nd 2007, 1st 2006.
Overcoming adversity:  After winning FL Finals as a soph in 06, she missed the track season due to doctor’s orders for her to gain weight.  A late-summer injury followed, but the “new” Kathy came back strong, all the way to a runner-up finish in San Diego.
Something to prove:  Kathy is obviously further along in her fitness than she was last year at this time – and she was a strong 2nd in 07, even if she couldn’t hang with Brasovan late.  Of course, she won here and beat Brasovan in 2006.  Is she ready to run with the defending champ all the way in 2008?
The big picture:  While Kathy sometimes sounds like she’s just happy to be included in the same sentence as the other stars (modesty), the fact is that she has as good a chance as anyone to win a national title again.  If Kathy Kroeger 2.0 winds up being superior to her sophomore self, that not only would be a great triumph for her, but for high school girls battling weight issues in general.
Madeline Morgan
Vitals:  Mountain Brook AL senior
Calling card:  2007 NTN Champ
But don’t forget … :  Madeline showed a lot of talent at shorter distances this past winter with her relay legs on her team’s winning DMR and 4x800 at NIN, and her 2nd in the mile behind Jillian Smith.  Her speed among the top contenders is probably second only to her namesake from Ohio.
Great American history:  11th 2007, 16th 2005.
Overcoming adversity:  As good as Madeline had run all season last fall, almost everyone picked Katie Flood as their favorite in the slop at NTN Finals.  The course hardly favored an Alabama runner, but Madeline showed great determination and more talent than national pundits thought she had in victory.
Something to prove:  In this race last year, Madeline wasn’t able to hang with the big girls, finishing 11th.  Since she went the NTN route and didn’t run an outdoor track national meet, she hasn’t had another chance since.  Battling the likes of Brasovan and Kroeger would be a huge confirmation of her talent.
The big picture:  With her team at the top of the NXN SE heap again this fall, Madeline is almost sure to attempt to defend her title in Portland … and see if she can push her team to move up in the ranks.
Emily Sisson
Vitals:  Parkway Central MO junior
Calling card:  3rd 2006 Foot Locker Finals
But don’t forget … :  Emily’s coming out party was really her super 2006 FL Midwest triumph … In 2007, she won the USATF Junior 5000 in track and got international experience at the Pan Am Juniors, something that none of the other contenders have.
Great American history:  None
Overcoming adversity:  Regardless of the circumstances, running for a new school every year, as Emily has done, has to be a challenge.  Fall of 2007 seemed to be a step back for her as neither her FL Midwest or Finals showings (4th and 23rd) were up to her previous standard.  Her 10:21 3200 at Arcadia seemed to be a step forward, though.  At school #3, she only has one big race this fall so far, a 4K win at Rim Rock.
Something to prove:  A finish in the top three would show that Emily is back at least in 2006 form.  Anything better would give notice that she’s ready to contend for a national harrier title.
The big picture:  Getting back at least in contention for a national title, as she was in 2006, would seem to be the goal.  She could go either the NXN or Foot Locker routes, or even both – though “both” might compromise either opportunity.
Jessica Tonn
Vitals:  Xavier Prep AZ junior
Calling card:  3rd 2006 and 2007 Foot Locker West
But don’t forget … :  Jessica ran a big PR 10:24.57 2M at 2008 NON, good for 5th.
Great American history:  None
Overcoming adversity:  As a freshman, Jessica was definitely not a favorite to make it to Foot Locker Finals, not with all the talent coming back and having been 40 seconds out of first at the AZ state meet.  But she made her national class arrival at FL West and has been there ever since.
Something to prove:  Like Sisson, a finish of at least third would confirm what she showed at NON last spring – that she is a national title contender.
The big picture:  Having placed 24th and 20th at Foot Locker Finals the past two years, after 3rd and 3rd at FL West, it’s time for Jessica to move into the top five or ten in a national XC meet.  She should be ready to do that this fall.
Stephanie Morgan
Vitals:  Barnesville OH sr
Calling card:  2007 NON and 2008 Penn Relays Mile Champ
But don’t forget … :  Stephanie was 3rd at the 08 USATF Jr. 1500, trailing only Hasay and Kosinski.  She has placed consistently high in every national track meet she’s run.
Great American history:  5th 2007.
Overcoming adversity:  After her freshman year, Stephanie’s family moved from Clarkston MI, where she was running for a powerhouse program, back to Barnesville OH, where she was definitely a big fish in a small pond.  But with her mother – a former elite runner herself – doing most of the coaching, Stephanie has grown into a national class performer.
Something to prove:  Unlike the rest of the top contenders here, Stephanie is a miler first and a harrier second.  But last fall she ran well here in 5th and went on to make her first Foot Locker Finals.
The big picture:  While in San Diego last December, Stephanie had a rare off race and took just 35th.  She’s way better than that and would like to prove it at one of the nationals this fall.

Four more who could break into the top group

Kayla Hale – Holy Trinity Academy FL senior - The 2-time Foot Locker Finalist had a career peak when she was 2nd at Foot Locker South last fall.  She was 19th in the Finals after taking 6th and 21st in the region and finals the year before.  Kayla was 6th here last year, 20 seconds back of 5th, but ahead of Madeline Morgan and other standouts.  In her last race, the flrunners.com Invite last week, she was 2nd behind Brasovan, but a minute back.

Brittany Koziara – Boone FL senior - First time at Great American.  Was 4th at Foot Locker South last year, than 29th in the Finals (first time).  Last week, she was edged by Hale for 2nd at flrunners.com Invite.

Amanda Winslow – Collins Hill GA senior - Was 9th here last year and will lead her team into battle with Mountain Brook for team title.  2nd-fastest miler in the field at 4:48.  Was 2nd at NTN SE last fall, then 33rd in the NTN Finals.

Diane Robison – Parkway Central MO junior - Defending Missouri 4A state champ now joined by national class star Sisson on her team.  Was 2nd to Sisson by 16 seconds at Rim Rock (4K) two weeks ago, then won an invite with Sisson sitting out the next week. 

How will it play out?

It’s hard to bet against defending champ Brasovan, especially after her flrunners.com Invite course record last week.  Her 16:47 is the nation’s best time.  But almost all of the standouts she beat last year are back and they’re better, too.

Kroeger, who won here in 2006 and was 2nd last fall to Brasovan both here and at Foot Locker Finals, is obviously better than she was this time last fall.  She should certainly close the 42-second gap from the 2007 ROC (she was 8 ticks behind at FL Finals).  Both girls have a racing style that’s patient early, then breaks the race open in the middle.  Neither is a great kicker, but Kroeger’s probably better.  Brasovan’s job is to get a margin to work with before the last 800.

The next two best contenders are probably Great American newcomers Tonn and Sisson, or NXN champ Madeline Morgan.  Again, none are reckless, early-pace pushers, though one could imagine Sisson taking it out if someone has to lead at first.  None of these girls are super milers, so no advantages there.

Stephanie Morgan is also patient and clearly has the best miler’s speed in the field.  But to take advantage of it, she’ll have to stick a lot closer to the leaders and have the endurance to make her kick relevant.  Winslow also has good speed, but faces the same challenge as Morgan.

The race is almost certain to unfold with a solid, but not spectacular pace, with all the major players in contention at the mile.  Brasovan knows she has to push it in the middle to win and everyone else knows they have to try and hang on.  Brasovan may not have a great kick, but she doesn’t get reeled in at the end of XC races either.  If Ashley has lead of 20 meters or more at 2M, it’s probably over.  If she still has company, then watch out.


Great American: National class girls boost meet in transition

Great American started in 1999 with the greatest collection of nationally ranked teams ever until Nike Team Nationals came along in 2004.  Great Am is still one of the leading in-season invitationals in the country.

Last year, Ashley Brasovan FL (17:06) & Sean Keveren TN (15:37) set course records.

There’s no need to skirt the fact that the Great American Cross-Country Festival is not the national mega-meet it used to be.  From the beginning and into the middle part of the decade, it became a giant juggernaut of harrier competition; there had never been anything like it.  With the rise of the NTN regional meets last fall, as well as the fact of Birmingham AL perhaps not being quite the draw of previous sites, the meet has settled the last few years into being mostly a good regional-level meet.

Except in one area.  One MAJOR area.

When the Girls Race of Champions field toes the line Saturday, you will see an individual field that rivals any invitational field in history.  At least five, maybe more, of the girls considered to be the top ten in the country are in the field.  You start with the last two Foot Locker National Champions, Ashley Brasovan FL and Kathy Kroeger TN.  You add one Nike Team Nationals champion, last fall’s surprise winner in Portland, Madeline Morgan AL.  Then mix in Stephanie Morgan OH, who was the 2007 Nike Outdoor mile champion and won Penn in 2008, and Emily Sisson, who was 3rd at Foot Locker in 06 and won the USATF Junior 5k title the next spring.  Then spike it up with two-time Foot Locker Finalists Jessica Tonn and Kayla Hale, 07 FL Finalist Brittany Koziara, GA 6A champ and 4:48 miler Amanda Winslow and Sisson’s new teammate Diane Robison, the defending Missouri 4A state champ.

There are at least 10 girls here who could place in the top 10 of a national meet this year.

It is a field that has built off the quality of the last two years and attracted a handful of others to propell it from very good, to historically great.  “It’s probably in the top five invitational fields all-time,” said AJ Holzherr.  “It’s hard to say beyond that.  I don’t think there’s any other invitational this year with an individual field at this level.”

Holzherr said there’s a number of reasons the stars have aligned to produce this superlative clash.  “First, there’s a lot of excellent (female) runners in this neck of the woods,” he said.  “And I also think those who were in the race last year enjoyed it.  Then when some of the other kids heard about who was going to be here, they wanted the opportunity to test themselves.

“I also think a lot of it has to do with our relationships with the athletes from prior events,” he added.

The best team battle is in the same Girls Race of Champions, where Winslow leads her SE#2 Collins Hill team against Madeline Morgan and SE#3 Mountain Brook.  Those two should be head and shoulders above the rest, but there are three SE “bubble teams in the field – Assumption KY, Lake Highland Prep FL, Oakridge TN – and several more traditional powers.

Mountain Brook is defending champ (Collins Hill was 2nd last year) and has most of its top girls returning.  But they backed off this summer after a long 2007-08 and some of its pack is still getting into top shape.  Meanwhile, Collins Hill has absolutely dominated Georgia, but was nipped by Tatnall DE on a tiebreaker in the McDonald’s Invite at Maymont VA.

Similarly, two SE top-ten teams lead the way in the Boys Race of Champions:  #3 Collins Hill GA and #7 Baylor TN.  SE bubble teams in the field include Bishop Kenny FL, Hoover AL, and Montgomery Bell Academy TN.  Baylor was 2nd last year behind Oak Ridge TN (unranked but also in the field), Hoover 4th and Collins Hill 6th.

Individually, there should be a good regional battle between Knoxville West TN sr Matt Sonnenfeldt, Baylor TN sr Bill Matthews, and Hoover AL senior Patrick McGregor … with added intrigue from Nashua NH senior Francis Hernandez, one of the top runners in New England.  Sonnenfeldt, Matthews, and McGregor were 2-3-4 behind last year’s now-graduated winner, Sean Keveren TN.  Matthews recently broke a Keveren record on the TN state meet course.  McGregor’s credentials extend to the mile, where he was the NIN runner-up last winter.

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