PORTLAND -- The rules are different here. This is cross-country -- a real team sport.
Kroy XC loses the individual champion. And yet is clearly favored to repeat as team champion on the boys' side. Kinetic Racing Club loses not only its frontrunner, but also its superb freshman. Yet it perhaps remains in the driver's seat on the national scope. 3-D Running Club loses the individual champion. Yet it should challenge Kinetic for the girls' team crown.
Don't spend your time seeking the leading scorers, top passers, quickest sprint speed, or best fastball. This is cross-country, where you truly are only as good as your support crew, as competitive as your scoring gap, and only shine as bright as does your golden anchor.
Interestingly, the biggest players on the Nike Team Nationals radar during the summertime look very much like the starring cast of a year ago. Success does indeed breed success.
As we approach the autumn season, here's what the SPARQ crystal ball tells us about the 2005 national prep cross-country team outlook:
BOYS -- 1. York HS (Kroy XC), Elmhurst, IL; 2. Fayetteville-Manlius HS (Stotan XC), NY; 3. Royal HS (Ernie's Army), Simi Valley, CA; 4. Mead HS (Tyson's Army), Spokane, WA; 5. Christian Brothers Academy (Lincroft XC), Lincroft, NJ.
Kroy XC turned the inaugural Nike Team Nationals into a literal runaway, coming from behind on such powers as Stotan XC and local favorite Crusader Harriers to seize the scoring lead in the last half mile, then turning it into a blowout with a series of strong finishing kicks on the final straightaway.
If you thought that was an impressive run for a team of runners considered the best ever from the fabled York High School (Elmhurst, Illinois) program, wait until you see what's on tap for 2005.
Yes, the "Yorkies" lose Sean McNamara to graduation, but do return the sensational Dettman Brothers (Matthew and Eric) and Nick Kuczwara, plus welcome back key runner Brian Marchese, who missed all of last Fall due to injury. Further evidence to suggest continued domination came at the Nike Outdoor Nationals of track and field in June, where York took 2nd and the York B team placed fourth in the invitational 4xMile relay, as at least six non-seniors took part. This team should be better than last year's winning squad!
As it did a year ago, the boys from Fayetteville-Manlius HS (Stotan XC, New York) should be the prime challengers to Kroy XC, with the "F-M" machine returning six from last year's NTN runners-up cast. Fay-Man repeatedly gave photographers opportunies to shoot a-thousand-words-worth, with their tight mid-race packing order often finding the entire crew visible through the lensfinder at any one time! Andrew McCann and Tom Gruenewald are among the frontrunners for the pack, which has the amazing level of depth to often stick even its non-scorers ahead of the #2 or #3 scorers of other outstanding teams.
Royal HS (Simi Valley, CA) brought loads of depth to the inaugural NTN, despite having one key team member sidelined for the year to injury. The Highlanders (Ernie's Army in NTN competition) lost their frontrunner of a year ago, but junior Michael Cybulski has quickly rocketed up the charts to fill his shoes. Cybulski was a Sophomore Class All-American last Fall and has since blazed to the fastest 10th-grade 3200m time (9:02.57) in the nation on the oval. The crew returns Jason Pedersen and Hudson Andrews, four runners at sub-4:25 for 1600m and six at sub-4:31.
Mead (Tyson's Army) completely manhandled a slew of better-ranked teams at NTN a year ago, with wizard coach Pat Tyson waving the postseason wand once more as since-graduated Laef Barnes and a horde of returnees stepped forward to uphold the great Mead tradition. Tyson left to coach at the University of Oregon for track in the spring, with his definite status for the Fall still undecided. Mead returns five from last year's NTN competition crew.
Christian Brothers Academy HS of New Jersey (Lincroft XC) took 11th at NTN last year, but might be the biggest mover up the ranks this time out. CBA has Chris Horel and Kevin Rogers headlining a quintet of returnees (including its top four) for the Northeast Region powers, with a postseason pedigree among the finest in the nation in recent decades. The crew was initally heralded as a national title contender by some a year ago, but this Fall might be a true better fit for their NTN podium aspirations.
GIRLS -- 1. Saratoga Springs HS (Kinetic RC), NY; 2. Yankton HS (3-D Running), SD; 3. Fremont HS (Kamataie XC Club), UT; 4. Carroll HS (Southlake XC), Southlake, TX; 5. Corona del Mar HS (Cal Coast XC), Newport Beach, CA.
Winners of the inaugural Nike Team Nationals and 8 of the previous 11 mythical national rankings titles before that, Saratoga Springs has been the benchmark for excellence across hill and dale for as long as most fans can remember.
Despite the graduation of one key runner and the high-profile unexpected departure of two All-Americans for personal reasons (including two-time FootLocker nationals finalist Nicole Blood), expect new members for the Blue Streaks to step up and fill in well. Saratoga/Kinetic has amazing depth, with national steeplechase champion Lindsey Ferguson and FootLocker finalist Hannah Davidson leading the crew. Only Saratoga Springs could have the chance to absorb such major roster losses, but one does not dominate a sport for so long without really having things down pat!
Yankton was among the Cinderella stories of 2004, with NTN individual winner Ramsey Kavan (since graduated) spearheading a third-place team finish, drawing attention to South Dakota, which had not been considered a hotbed of talent in the eyes of most over the years. Yankton (3-D Running) returns everyone after Kavan and is wel armed to return to the medal podium in Portland.
Fremont HS (Kamataie XC Club) was a wild-card entry into NTN after a blockbuster string of efforts during the late-season (including in horrible course conditions at the Utah state meet), then raced by their national-race counterparts to motor to a fifth-place team finish. Everyone returns in 2005, with Cassie Ricks among five senior-class returnees on board! Fremont didn't travel to any big meets in 2004 due to local restrictions, but figures to have enough in-state competition to secure a berth to advance to cross-country's "Big Dance" yet again.
All scorers returns for Carroll HS (Southlake XC, TX), the clear team title favorite in the Lone Star State, with FootLocker finalists Brooke Upshaw and Miranda Walker pacing the arsenal. Carroll actually returns six participants from last year's unit that placed eighth at NTN, and was a mere 25 points from being a podium team (top four placers).
The big darkhorse from the West could very well be Corona del Mar, which returns six from last year's California's Division III state champions and welcomes in all-state sophomore transfer Shelby Buckley. Additionally, CdM frontrunner Annie St. Geme was hampered by injury for much of the Fall in 2004, but rebounded nicely as a 4:51 miler in the spring. CdM had five girls run sub-5:19 for 1600m in track, not including Buckley!