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steveu's boys predictions - 2006 Foot Locker Nationals

Dec. 9, 2006 Balboa Park, San Diego

by Steve Underwood

Forys and NE Boys are Primed to Win

The West and Midwest usually battle for the team title at FL Finals, but this time look for a New Jersey sr to lead the Northeast to victory

In this edition of the Foot Locker National Championships boys race, the most interesting story might not be who wins individually, but the rise of a long-struggling region in the team race. 

Or maybe they’re sort of one and the same.  The stellar season, varied strategic abilities, and improved mental fortitude of Colts Neck NJ sr Craig Forys makes him the best bet to win Saturday over a field of no other super favorites, but a lot of very good ones. 

By winning, Forys can also lead the way for the Northeast to rise to the top of the four-region pile.  The meet has been dominated by the West and the Midwest in recent years.

Forys, whose talent has been strongly evident since his freshman year, appears to have finally put it all together.  He has broken the 2.5M record at Van Cortlandt Park as well as nearly topping the 5k mark at FL NE.  He nipped the long standing Holmdel mark at NJ Meet of Champs.  Better yet, he has won with blistering mid-race surges and tough-to-beat kicks in the last 200. 

Guessing the early pace will be good, but not brutal, look for Forys to use at least two of his best weapons.  He will probably push in the 2nd mile to break the pack apart and get things down to 2-3 other contenders, then he should be able to use his kick in the last 200-400 to get the win.  Look for a time around 15:05.

10 others in contention

There are 10 other runners who should be taken as serious contenders for the win, and three of them are from the NE.  Sintayehu Taye, the Cushing Academy MA jr., is kind of the wild card for the NE.  He was runner-up to his brother in FL NE last year, but didn’t have a good day at all here.  But he’s back and he looked just as good cruising in right behind Forys two weeks ago.  It says here that this time he’s going to get the job done and be in contention until the end.

The two others for the top ten from the NE are rivals-turned-teammates Tommy Gruenewald, the sr. from Fayetteville-Manlius NY (7th), and Steve Murdock, the sr from Shenendehowa NY (9th).  Although some other well-credentialed harriers from the other regions are ranked just ahead of him, it’s not hard to see Tommy G. right there for the top two or three himself.  Of course, he ran faster than Forys by 0.1 second at Manhattan.

The big thing for Murdock will be what does he have left as one of those coming in with several consecutive hard weeks.  Given he was a close 4th at FL NE after the NY season, and that he went out and hammered the NTN field last week, his tank has to be kind of low.  If somehow he’s fueled up, he could be at least a few spots higher.  But things could go the other way, too.

Then in the top 20, it’s easy to see Paul Springer PA and Matt Centrowitz MD, getting in there for at least 15th-20th, maybe better.  Springer was just 9th in the NE region, but with a bad hammy was just trying to qualify.  Expect better Saturday.

How the race will shake out 

Now, let’s get back to the top and see how the rest of the entire race after Forys will shake out.

Big Bear CA sr. Chad Hall, who hasn’t really been pushed in a race he was truly hungry to win this year, will give Forys the best fight.  They will likely just barely get away from Taye and fight for the win, with Hall’s kick falling just short.

Preseason national favorite and sr Matt Tebo of Eldorado NM has just not seemed quite like the runner he was last spring, when only A.J. Acosta could claim to be a better 2-miler.  Though a humble guy, he admitted maybe he was a bit too cocky (maybe “cocky” for him) this season and, with a 3-week setback due to severe shin splints, is not truly at top form.  Still, he will fight hard to cover any winning moves and he will have a good kick at the end. 

One can also imagine Minneapolis South MN sr Hassan Mead winning, especially if you’re from MN and have watched him win all year.  Some may say he won FL MW just because Jager didn’t, but to watch the way he came gracefully and powerfully from behind in that race was to watch a work of art.  This is his first national meet, though, and middle of the top 10 is probably most likely.  It will be tough to cover Forys’ move.

The other runner from the West who could win is Mike Cybulski.  It hasn’t been the dream season it looked like he could have after his string of awesome deuces last spring, but he’s still the Cali state champ.  Like Murdock, though, he has a string of tough races behind him in consecutive weeks.

It’s useful, finally, to consider the three FL South contenders together.  McEachern GA sr Ben Hubers started out the favorite there this fall and confirmed it at Great American.  But Girma Mecheso was the impressive new kid on the block, from Berkmar HS GA by way of Ethiopia and Kenya, and he completed an unbeaten season with a spectacular and decisive win over Hubers at state.

But Hubers was sick, it turned out, and he ran down Mecheso at FL South.  Yet it was not Hubers who won FL South, but surprising Hickory NC jr Ryan Hill, who executed a perfect race plan.  It’s tough for a junior to get much into the top ten in the Finals, so the pick here is Hubers’ experience to win out over Mecheso’s talent and Hill’s greenness.  All three, however, are serious contenders and any could be a top five finisher.

And while any of the 11 could win, look for Forys in the middle and in the end, for the title.

Here's my expected top 20:

1. Craig Forys NJ Northeast
2. Chad Hall CA West
3. Sintayehu Taye MA Northeast
4. Matt Tebo NM West
5. Hassan Mead MN Midwest
6. Ben Hubers GA South
7. Tommy Gruenewald NY Northeast
8. Girma Mecheso GA South
9. Steve Murdock NY Northeast
10. Mike Cybulski CA West
11. Ryan Hill NC South
12. Mikel Thomas CA West
13. Joseph Manilafasha CO Midwest
14. Ben Johnson NM West
15. Paul Springer PA Northeast
16. Elliott Heath MN Midwest
17. Emil Heineking OH Midwest
18. Matt Centrowitz MD Northeast
19. Taylor Farnsworth ID West
20. Mike Spooner VA South