PORTLAND -- Oregon senior Kenny Klotz and California junior Michael Cybulski will be pulling double duty at this Saturday's Nike Team Nationals extravaganza at Portland Meadows, seeking to lead their respective teams to the national club team championships while chasing berths to the following weekend's FootLocker Cross-Country Championships for individuals in San Diego.
On the girls' side, Californian Annie St. Geme of the nation's top-ranked high school program and Alaskan Crystal Pitney of America's Cinderella story program will be leading the NTN battle for berths to San Diego for the individual nationals race.
Under a new format for 2005 that was announced by FootLocker in late October, a total of 38 automatic berths per gender will be granted for its nationals meet from the four regional events, while additional at-large berths per gender will be granted for the top two West region finishers in each race at NTN, completing the 40-runner-per-race field for FLCCC in San Diego.
In the NTN boys race, Klotz (Central Catholic XC Club) is considered the clear favorite to earn one of the two West Region berths to FootLocker Nationals as he has been racing especially well in recent weeks. The University of Oregon-bound talent overcame a spill (and subsequent last-place position early on) to rally well for victory at the Nike Border Clash event two weeks ago, becoming the first two-time winner in the popular Oregon-vs.-Washington postseason all-star event. The week before, Klotz won his second successive Oregon state 4A Division title.
Cybulski, the reigning California state 3200-meter champion, finished third in Division I at his state cross-country meet last weekend, leading Royal High School to a successive defense of its 2004 state title. Slowed by both a bone spur injury and a tender hamstring in midseason, the talented 11th-grader is now rounding into the form which saw him upset eventual national two-mile champion Mark Matusak at last June's state track meet, running a personal best 9:02.57 for 3200 meters.
Spokane Harriers senior Robert Cosby edged Mead's Taylor Nepon by one second at the Washington state meet last month (5th and 6th in Division 4A in 15:55 and 15:56, respectively). Adam McDonald, who ran 4:18 for 1600 meters as a California sophomore two years ago, made the move to Utah a successful one in keying his Mountain View team's state team title while winning the individual crown by large margin while competing at high altitude. Dylan Hatcher, who has improved considerably from national powerhouse Mead after winning the preliminary "#8-man" race at NTN last year, is a sleeper pick here, as is Simi West junior Hudson Andrews.
St. Geme is the clear favorite in the girls race, fresh off winning the California state Division III cross-country title last weekend. Courting sub-4:50 speed for 1600 meters, St. Geme also has flourished in the big races, including keying her track club's state-record 4-x-mile victory at last June's Nike Outdoor Nationals. Coached very conservatively by Corona del Mar coach Bill Sumner for much of the recent XC season, St. Geme arrives here very fresh and focused with the big year-end meets now on the horizon.
Pitney (Fairbanks XC Club/West Valley HS, AK) was a quiet but serious threat for a bid to FootLocker as well. Although competing locally in her homeland state (Fairbanks is situated 2400 miles away from Portland), Pitney actually will be making her second big-meet appearance in Oregon, finishing second and 10 seconds behind eventual Oregon all-stater Claire Michel when the two dueled in the mid-season Concordia Classic. Cassie Ricks, premier female harrier from the state of Utah, will be seeking a berth to sunny San Diego from here as well. Ricks posted the top time of the day while winning the 5A title for Fremont HS at her state championships way back in mid-October. Boise Striders' Dana Morgan and Gig's Kesslee Payne (Gig Harbor HS) are additional threats for the two tickets to FootLocker Nationals.
#### Rich Gonzalez's NTN-to-FootLocker odds to qualify-BOYS
Kenny Klotz (Central Catholic, OR) 3-to-2
Michael Cybulski (Simi West, CA) 3-to-1
Robert Cosby (Spokane Harriers, WA) 4-to-1
Adam McDonald (Mountain View, UT) 4-to-1
Taylor Nepon (Mead, WA) 5-to-1
Dylan Hatcher (Mead, WA) 6-to-1
Hudson Andrews (Simi West, CA) 6-to-1
Jason Pedersen (Simi West, CA) 8-to-1
Luke Wiltshire (Central Catholic, OR) 8-to-1
Kevin Sullivan (Simi West, CA) 8-to-1
Rich Gonzalez's NTN-to-FootLocker odds to qualify-GIRLS
Annie St. Geme (Newport, CA) 3-to-1
Crystal Pitney (Fairbanks, AK) 4-to-1
Cassie Ricks (Fremont, UT) 5-to-1
Dana Morgan (Boise, ID) 5-to-1
Kesslee Payne (Gig, WA) 6-to-1
Sarah Cummings (Newport, CA) 7-to-1
Courtney Lightfoot (Oak Park Station 36, CA) 7-to-1
Katie Sullivan (Portland Harriers, OR) 8-to-1