Nike Team Nationals


how the new regional ranking system will work

By Marc Bloom

April 7, 2004 -- Qualifying for the new Nike Team Nationals, a high school team cross-country championship to be held next December and announced last month, will be based on a regional rankings system-an expansion of rankings done in The Harrier magazine for the last 15 years. As the announcement stated, 2 boys teams and 2 girls teams from each of 8 regions will be invited to the national championship, to be held in the Portland, Oregon, area. There will also be 4 boys teams and 4 girls teams chosen on an at-large basis, for a total of 20 teams in each race.

Following is a further explanation of the rankings, which are based on careful analysis and rooted in scientific method.

Q: Why is a rankings system being used for this national event?
A: Without designated qualifying meets, The Harrier rankings, which draw upon the expertise of longstanding cross-country authorities nationwide, offer the most reliable way to identify the best teams.

Q: How will the teams actually be chosen?
A: Teams ranked 1st and 2nd in each of 8 regions, after the state meets are held in the respective regions, will be invited to the nationals. If any team declines, the 3rd-ranked team from that region will be invited, and so on. The rankings will also help determine the at-large selections.

Q: How will teams know if they are ranked and in contention for nationals berths?
A: The Harrier rankings, top 10 per region each for boys and girls, plus the national Super 25, will be done on a weekly basis next fall, beginning with the pre-season rankings in late August. They will be appear weekly on and in issues of The Harrier.

Q: How is the information gathered on team performances across the country?
A: A network of more than 100 correspondents nationwide submits results and perspective on a weekly basis throughout the season. Many of these correspondents are coaches with more than 20 years experience in the sport. Others are media people who run websites or publish statewide newsletters. Additionally, meet results are checked through DyeStat and other websites. All of the results and information will be reviewed by a Nike Team Nationals rankings committee.

Q: What factors are considered in evaluating teams?
A: One important pillar of strength is team times, and since 5 runners score, 5-runner team time averages are analyzed. For example, a boys team averaging 16:20 for 5,000 meters (5k), or a girls team averaging 19:20, may be worthy of consideration, depending on whether the course is flat and fast or hilly and slow.

Q: But not all teams compete at the same distances.
A: Boys usually run 5,000 meters (3.1 miles), or sometimes 3 miles. The difference between 3 miles and 5k is 188 yards, which computes to roughly 30 seconds at 5-minute mile pace, and about 37 seconds at 6 minute mile pace. Occasionally, boys run an odd distance, such as the hilly 2.5-mile course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, used at the huge Manhattan College high school meet.

In comparing New York and New Jersey teams in the Northeast Region, there is a time difference of about 3:20 between performances at Van Cortlandt and those at New Jersey's Holmdel Park, a hilly 5k where the state meet and other events are held. A top boys team averaging 13:10 at Van Cortlandt equates to about a 16:30 at Holmdel. Years of performance comparisons bear this out. And since the Manhattan meet usually draws most of the leading area teams, valuable head-to-head results can be seen. Last fall, Shenendehowa of New York was ranked 1st in the Northeast with Mainland of New Jersey 2nd. Shenendehowa had the top team time among the hundreds of schools at Manhattan while running a meet record 12:59 2.5-mile average. Mainland had the second-fastest team effort at Manhattan. Both teams continued to have exceptional seasons, winning state championships over other top-caliber teams. Had Shenendehowa lost its state meet race, however, the team probably would have been dropped from number-1 in the region.

Where girls run 2 miles or 4k, times comparisons can be made. A girls team averaging 12 minutes for 2 miles achieves 6-minute mile pace. That same team running a 5k would run a lot slower than 6 minutes a mile-how much slower depends on course difficulty and the particular team. Even in states where girls' distances tend to be less than 5k, top teams should have a chance to run at least one 5k, whether in-state or elsewhere, during the season. Competition at inter-state meets is encouraged.

Q: So, along with fast times, a team's competitive record is important.
A: Absolutely. Head-to-head competition and performances at major invitationals afford excellent team comparisons. State meet results are crucial since they serve as the climactic regular-season event that all teams peak for. A poor performance at state usually lowers a team several notches in the rankings. Teams that are state champions with other major victories are highly regarded. Margin of victory is also a factor. The best teams usually win by wide margins, even against other accomplished teams.

At last fall's Great American meet in North Carolina, which featured teams from across the country, The Woodlands (TX) boys won by 63 points and Saratoga Springs (NY) girls won by 43. Runnerup Denver West went on to win its state 5A race in Colorado by 64 points with a 15:51 5k average. The Woodlands won its state 5A race in Texas with a 15:53 5k average. The Woodlands, based on Great American, was clearly the superior team and was ranked number-1 in the country.

Q: What if my team is unable to make a big trip to a meet like Great American?
A: There are more and more inter-state invitationals in all parts of the country, offering a wide range of
options with convenient travel. Meets that impact on the rankings, in addition to the aforementioned Great American and Manhattan meets, include the Mobile Cross Country Challenge (AL), Midwest Meet of Champions (OH), Roy Griak Invitational (MN), Cowboy Jamboree (OK), Liberty Bell Invitational (CO), Sunfair Invitational (WA) and Stanford Invitational (CA), among others.

Last fall, Fargo South boys of North Dakota, ranked 2nd in the Heartland Region (and 13th nationally), were state class A champion averaging 16:26 for 5,000, while Marshall boys of Minnesota were ranked 3rd in the Heartland (and 14th nationally) while winning their state 2A division with a 15:58 5k average. Fargo was rated ahead based primarily on the results of the Griak meet, which featured teams from several states, offering head-to-head analysis. In that 5k, Fargo South, placing 2nd, finished 23 points ahead of Marshall, which was 3rd. The winner, Des Moines Roosevelt of Iowa, triumphed by 34 points and went on to win its state 4A title with a 15:41 average on a fast 5k course. Roosevelt was ranked number-1 in the Heartland Region and 11th nationally.

Q: Course difficulty seems to vary widely from site to site.
A: More than many people might think. At Griak, Roosevelt averaged 16:23, 42 seconds slower than at its state meet. Both events were held on golf courses. This variation emphasizes the importance of comparing courses.

For girls in the Midwest Region last fall, Indiana state champion Valparaiso was ranked number-1, with Michigan state Div. I winner Clarkston number-2. Valpo averaged 14:58 winning state on a 4k course. That time equates to a high-18s average at 5k. Clarkston averaged 18:53 on a 5k course, but one faster than Indiana. Also, Clarkston suffered an earlier defeat at the Midwest Meet of Champions, placing 3rd. Chesterton of Indiana, which edged Clarkston for 2nd, wound up 2nd to Valpo by 42 points at state.

On the boys' end of the Midwest meet, the situation was reversed. Michigan's best team, Milford, defeated Indiana's best team, Columbus North, by 41 points.

Q: Can teams that compete only in their home state be considered for rankings?
A: All top teams are considered but inter-state meets do help. Los Alamos girls of New Mexico, ranked 2nd in the Southwest (and 3rd nationally), competed only in New Mexico last fall. The Hilltoppers were undefeated, achieving a near-perfect 16-point score in their state meet with a 19:19 5k average on a challenging course at 7,000-foot altitude. But Los Alamos coaches, seeking to further demonstrate their team's excellence, are currently seeking an inter-state meet for next fall that is manageable from a travel standpoint.

Q: How can teams find out where they can face other top teams?
A: Check last fall's results for the leading inter-state meets. (One list is on DyeStat's US News) Call or email meet directors, who usually know which teams are coming back and what new ones are interested. You can contact other coaches directly. Teams striving for a high ranking have a common goal: seeking the best competition. A list of leading invitationals by region will soon be available on DyeStat.

Opportunities are everywhere. Last fall, Snohomish girls of Washington raced the heralded Sultana girls of California to the wire at the Iolani meet in Hawaii. The scores: Sultana 48, Snohomish 52. Snohomish went on to win its state 4A race by 54 points with a 19:04 5k average and was ranked #1 in the Northwest (and 8th nationally). The Iolani meet also emphasized course differences. Snohomish averaged 20:43 for 5k. On "paper," the team time was not extraordinary, but course conditions were rigorous. Snohomish was able to face an established national power in Sultana, demonstrating a level of excellence that the team carried to the end of the season.

Q: Even with this comprehensive system, how can coaches and athletes who feel their teams may be unnoticed assure that they receive consideration?
A: Anyone can send information, perspective and opinion on behalf of a team to Marc Bloom .
All views will be taken into consideration. As stated, teams competing in major meets against other top teams will show their level of excellence.


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