By Marc Bloom
The heralded Los Alamos High School cross-country team from New Mexico is traveling to Oregon for the Jim Danner Invitational in October. The Hilltoppers, which swept boys and girls state 4A titles last fall and were ranked number-3 nationally for girls, are making their first big trip as a team. The squad seeks competition and an opportunity to establish credentials for the Nike Team Nationals, the new team cross country meet that will select the top two teams from 8 regions, plus at-large selections, for its national finals in December.
The Danner meet, scheduled for Blue Lake Regional Park in Gresham, Oregon, on Oct. 16, attracts many of the best teams in the northwest and beyond. Last fall, in a fierce dual between regional powers, Mead boys of Spokane, Washington were 2-point winners over Central Catholic of nearby Portland, led by the magnificent Galen Rupp. In an equally competitive girls race, Bellarmine, one of Washington's best
teams, edged Oregon state 4A titlist Jesuit by 3
"It'll be a great experience for our kids," said Los
Alamos coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood, whose girls squad will return almost the entire lineup that scored a near-perfect 16 points to capture its third straight 4A title in 2003.
Boasting one of the nation's leading programs, Los
Alamos will add that much more excitement to the Danner meet, indicative of a nationwide trend that has developed since the announcement of the Nike Team Nationals in March. Coaches seeking to broaden their teams' experience and find outstanding competition on a path toward regional rankings consideration are searching for the best fit and in some cases new
horizons-- for their athletes. With many meets expanding and new ones cropping up, there are
competitive opportunities in every region of the country, facilitating convenient travel as the fall season starts taking shape.
Stillwater boys, Minnesota state 2A runnerup with a deep squad returning, are making their first trip to the Roy Griak Invitational, Sept. 25 in Minneapolis. The Ponies' entry, said coach Scott Christensen, is based on the fact that they will meet other Heartland Region powers like Des Moines Roosevelt of Iowa, defending Griak champion and ranked number-1 in 2003 in the Heartland, which embraces Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, in addition to Minnesota and Iowa. A long roster of leading schools is expected at Griak, held on the University of Minnesota golf course. They include Minnesota state boys 2A titlist Marshall and other Heartland Regional contenders like the Iowa City girls and Shawnee Mission Northwest boys from Kansas, according to the meet's high school coordinator Bill Miles.
The Midwest Region, embracing Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, will also be prominently represented with teams like Colerain of Ohio and Eau Claire Memorial of Wisconsin, both state girls' runners-up last fall. Stillwater boys have the added distinction of having been ranked number-1 in the country in The Harrier's Super 25 in 1997.
This fall, at the Nike Team Nationals on Dec. 4 in the Portland, Oregon area, definitive national team champions will be crowned for the first time, for both boys and girls. A total of 20 boys teams and 20 girls teams will compete for national honors. The specific race course, at 5,000 meters, will be announced shortly. With the cross-country season coming up, now is the time to line up fall invitationals, which will fill up fast. Griak, which runs 50 teams, is already nearing capacity. Meet directors nationwide have expressed interest in hearing from top teams, to enhance their events and provide an enriching inter-state experience for all youngsters.
Teams are finding meet opportunities near and far. Virginia state boys 3A champion Midlothian, ranked 8th in the Southeast Region in 2003, is considering a trip in September to the Iolani meet in Hawaii, where many top California and Washington squads will run. El Camino boys of California, which has an excellent young team back and has been enjoying a superb spring track season, hopes to compete in the Manhattan College high school invitational in the Bronx, New York, in October.
There are meets--small and large, on golf courses and park trails, in warm weather and cool conditions for every team need, interest and focus. Even race
distances vary. While most meets run 5k, there are options like the historic 2.5-mile trails at Van Cortlandt Park in the Manhattan meet; or, if you're looking for a short, fast girls run, there's the flat 2-miler at the 68th annual Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater. The Jamboree, which attracts 4,500 runners and is scheduled for Oct. 2, will feature most of Oklahoma's top squads along with leading teams from neighboring states like Missouri 4A boys champion Liberty and Kansas 6A girls runnerup Blue Valley North, which has a deep squad coming back led by state champ Jana Gwinn.
A number of Oklahoma teams, seeking to meet other top squads from the South Region, which contains Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas along with Oklahoma, are also expected to compete in the expanding Woodlands Invitational in Texas, slated for Sept. 25. The field will be headed by the host school, The Woodlands, whose boys squad was ranked number-1 in the country in 2003. Coach (and meet director) Danny Green is returning another stellar lineup.
And when it comes to 5ks, course features vary widely. If hills are what you're looking for, try the Briarwood Classic at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia in September. Meet director Ed Ulmer hosts many top squads from the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area on the Belmont Plateau hills. Ulmer said he would like to expand the fields for this fall. The meet is also sanctioned for Delaware and Virginia. If it's speed you'd prefer, the Brown University meet on the flat Goddard Park course in Warwick, Rhode Island, always produces some of the fastest team times of the season. Last fall, Saratoga Springs girls of New York, ranked number-1 in the nation, averaged 17:47 for 5k while defeating a lineup of Northeast powers.
Because of close proximity, many of the best Southeast schools will run the Great American Festival in Cary, North Carolina. The meet--which has moved its date one week later for this fall, Oct. 1-2, has led
the way in inter-state competition with an annual array of accomplished teams from coast to coast. The season's major opener for many Southeast schools is the Mobile Challenge of Champions in Alabama, where a number of state champions from throughout the region will hook up on Sept. 11. Entries include Chiles of Florida, the number-1 Southeast boys team of 2003, and Collins Hill of Georgia, number-6 girls squad from last fall.
One established meet in the Midwest with a great reputation that is looking to get more of the top-team action is the Portage Invitational in Michigan. Meet director Dan Wytko has invited state team winners from throughout the region and expects a deep and diversified entry for his meet on Oct. 9. One new entry already confirmed comes from right at home: Michigan state Div. I girls champion Clarkston, ranked number-2 in the Midwest in 2003 and with 6 of its top 7 harriers returning. The Portage meet offers many perks like 7 free t-shirts per team and ChampionChip timing. The 5k course has some hills but is considered fast. When the incomparable Dathan Ritzenhein (Rockford High) ran in 2000, he set the boys course record of 14:41. But that day the fields confronted sleet and snow. Yes, winter may not always be kind to Michigan runners, but distance men and women are a hearty bunch. And, as they say, it's real cross-country.
Fall Lineup of Select High School Invitationals
That Promote Inter-state Competition
Following is a sampling of meets of interest to the high school cross-country community. Additional details on these events and others can be found in The Harrier magazine, and elsewhere on DyeStat.com.
Sept. 18: Briarwood Scholastic Inv, Philadelphia, PA. Contact: Ed Ulmer, 215/357-9020, [email protected], or Fred Rosenfeld, 610/896-7356. [email protected]
Sept. 25: Manchester Coca Cola-Adidas Inv, Manchester, NH. Contact: Doug Glance, 603/622-3111 or Joe O'Neill, 603/625-6317.
Oct. 2: McQuaid Inv, Rochester, NY. Contact: Peter Glavin, W 585/256-6162, H 585/720-9252. [email protected]
Oct. 2: St. Anthony's Inv, Kings Park, NY. Contact: Don Buckley, 631/272-2020 x229. [email protected]
Oct. 9: Manhattan College High School Inv, Bronx, NY. Contact: Edward Bowes, W 718/857-2700 x2233. H 718/680-7902.
Oct. 16: Brown University High School Inv, Warwick, RI. Contact: Bob Rothenberg, 401/863-1041. [email protected]
Sept. 11: Mobile Challenge of Champions, Mobile, AL. Contact: Steve Schoenewald, 251/639-0303. [email protected]
Sept. 18: Trinity Inv, Louisville, KY. Contact: Chad Waggoner, 502/895-9427. [email protected]
Oct. 1-2: Great American Cross Country Festival, Cary, NC. Contact: [email protected]
Oct. 2: Salesianum Inv, Wilmington, DE. Contact: Ralph Heiss, 302/654-2495. [email protected]
Oct. 9: Furman University Inv, Greenville, SC. Contact: [email protected]
Oct. 16: Georgetown Prep Classic, N. Bethesda, MD. Contact: Rich Drozd, 301/493-5000 x257. [email protected]
Sept. 25: The Woodlands Inv, The Woodlands, TX. Contact: Danny Green, 936/273-8687. [email protected]
Oct. 2: Oklahoma St. Cowboy Jamboree, Stillwater, OK. Contact: Dan Zeroski, 405/533-6338. [email protected]
Sept. 4: Marshfield Columbus Inv, Marshfield, WI. Contact: Mike Bauman, 715/384-8618. [email protected]
Sept. 11: Midwest Meet of Champions, Hilliard, OH. Contact: Pat Schlecht, 614/771-2299. [email protected]
Oct. 9: Portage Inv, Portage, MI. Contact: Dan Wytko, W 269/323-5233, H 269/806-7001. [email protected]
Sept. 17-18: Rim Rock Farm Classic, Lawrence, KS. Contact: [email protected]
Sept. 25: Roy Griak Inv, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. Contact: [email protected]
Sept. 17: Liberty Bell Inv, Littleton, CO. Contact: Geoff Ferguson, 303/734-6639. [email protected]
Sept. 18: Iolani Inv, Oahu, HI. Contact: Greg Char, 808/689-0132. [email protected], or Jim Rubasch, 808/486-2180. [email protected]
Oct. 2: Sunfair Inv, Yakima, WA. Contact: Phil English, 509/573-2644. [email protected]
Oct. 16: Jim Danner Inv, Gresham, OR. Contact: Tim Tank, 503/259-4780. [email protected]
Sept. 18: Woodbridge Inv, Irvine, CA. Contact: George Varvas, 949/559-8171. [email protected]
Sept. 25: Stanford University Inv, Stanford, CA. Contact: Greg Muniz, 650/723-2736. [email protected]
Oct. 22-23: Mt. San Antonio College Inv, Walnut, CA. Contact: Evelyn Lewis, Mt. SAC XC office, 909/594-5611 x4882.