Jeff Arbogast previews Great American
Coach of great Bingham UT teams sees Saratoga-Colerain-Bingham battle in girls Race of Champions.
"the premier high school running event of the decade"
"Expect a furious battle on the flat and fast McAlpine-Greenway course . . . The lead packs will be resemble a heavyweight fight with runners from virtually all the nation's top teams trading shots hoping to be the last team standing"
"the rare meeting of top western US teams and the best of the East"
by Jeff Arbogast
The inaugural Great American Cross Country Race in Charlotte NC will surpass even preliminary expectations as the premier high school running event of the decade. Meet Director Rick Hill has marshaled support from not only the greater Charlotte area, but also incorporated assistance and ideas from the nation's best meets in order to produce an event whose competitive field, organization, course, and peripherals will not be matched.
Initially touted as a race where the focus might fall on a strong girl's match-up of several top-5 teams, the field has not only developed in the girl's race where any one of 8-10 national powerhouses could upset the field, but it is possible that the girls could actually be overshadowed by a boy's race in which more ranked teams in the national top-20 will appear than in any other national race in the last 5 years. Expect a furious battle on the flat and fast McAlpine-Greenway course, traditionally used for the Footlocker-South Championships. The lead packs will resemble a heavyweight fight with runners from virtually all the nation's top teams trading shots hoping to be the last team standing. With this meet including only the best of the best, point scores will have to be tight and any one runner from a scoring 5 who should fall into trouble may doom a team instantly.
The focus of this event would have to be in the rare meeting of top western US teams and the best of the East. Traditionally, the power base in American cross country has been in the east, with a greater population base, a greater number of writers in the sport, and a base of the national cross country press. Eastern teams have had little motivation to travel west and in fact have rarely done so, particularly at a national level. However, the power in national cross country is showing a definite shift, with specific example being the team scoring at the national Footlocker race, where the power has been in the west on a near-yearly basis for the last decade in both boys and girls. The Great American is giving an opportunity to several top western teams to travel for a meeting with the best of the east, with western teams obviously hoping to continue the exploits of previous championship crews who have traveled to large eastern meets in the last several years with success.
The girl's racing will, in many minds, determine who may be the top-ranked team in the country as current #1 Saratoga Springs NY, winner of 4 of the last 6 national titles will meet current #4 Colerain OH and #5 Bingham, UT along with many other top-25 teams. Should Saratoga, with returning top runners Kate Markopolous and Danielle Coon (25th and 29th respectively at FL-NE in 1998) emerge on top, expect it's domination to continue, but Colerain and Bingham will rank as perhaps the top competition Saratoga has seen since it started its national championship run. Colerain sports a plethora of sub 5:15 milers, all from a championship team last year, and will have a friendly course in the flat McAlpine-Greenway site. Ranked #3 in the country in 1998, they return a state-championship team led by senior Alison Zeinner who should lead a strong pack at the front. Bingham represents the lead west team and is relatively unknown in eastern circles except for its traditional national-power boy's team. This team may have the potential to perform at a shocking level however, and will try to parlay some relative obscurity into a top finish. Led by the soph Zeigle twins, Laura and Jackie, they are undefeated thus far in the west. From a Bingham perspective, a chance to win will rely on strength and depth, as nearly every team has a superstar or two. The interchangeability of the Bingham 7, all with mile speeds from 4:55 to 5:20 (at altitude) will give other teams something to worry about. The 'speed' nature of the course will help teams with fast mile ability, and Bingham will be racing for the first time at low altitude. Ranked #11 last year, the team felt they had much left to prove in 1998. Look to see the start of a new dynasty, as 4 of the 7 are sophs.
Individually, the marquis racers will be Coon and Markopolous from Saratoga, the Zeigle twins from Bingham, and Zeinner from Colerain. The team title will go to the unit that can keep scoring runners #2-5 close to the front, as the leaders are all strong enough to not get too far apart. Still, Laura Zeigle's history has been relatively unknown to many, as she ran the Mt. SAC Footlocker race with the best California had to offer before fading in 1998 as a freshman. Her experience and confidence showed as she re-wrote the record books at the Oregon Trail Invitational on September 11th, defeating 1998 FL-Finalist Abby Miller from Green Valley, NV by 20 seconds, with her sister only 5 seconds back from Miller. With sub-5:00 mile speed and a general lack of racing fear, they have the potential to stun the eastern powers. Add seniors Jess Winters and 1997 5A Utah Runner-Up Lisa Paxton, and Charity Catmull, along with sophs Stacie Grover and 5:11 miler Angie Campbell, and the team is deep and solid, with multiple threats to make the FL-West team in 1999.
The second western possibility of note will be California's Esperanza High, ranked #18 at the end of 1998 and returning nearly all of their power. 1998 National Champ Campbell County from Gillette, WY will feature junior Alicia Craig leading some returners as well and will do well at the reduced altitude.
The boys race will be a true national meeting, with 12 of the top-20 national powers there, including several teams who have won national #1 rankings in the last decade. The national press has drawn attention to Christian Brothers Academy from Lincroft, NJ, undefeated last year and the 1998 #7 team. This year's pre-season #3 team, they finished an impressive 13-second split at the St. Dominic Academy Invitational, finishing 1-6 on September 11th. A deep field will challenge them, including 11 other national top-20 teams.