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Tough Choices for Top Harriers

With the introduction of NTN Regionals, some of the athletes who would be top Foot Locker contenders
are opting for Portland bids ... but there will still be very little dilution at the top in San Diego

One of the most significant aspects of the introduction of NTN Regional meets has been the clash of these events with existing Foot Locker Region meets for athletes in a big part of the country. As everyone who follows the sport nationally now knows, elite harriers in 21 states are going to have to make choices this weekend (Nov. 24). Do I/we run the new NTN Regional Meets at Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, NY or Veterans Park in Hoover AL? Or the Foot Locker Region meets at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City or McAlpine Greenway in Charlotte NC?

Derrick - trying to do it all
Similarly, if you ran as part of a club going for an NTN bid the last two weekends at the NTN Northwest or Southwest Regionals, from any of 11 Foot Locker West states, you were saying you were willing to pass up an opportunity to run in the Foot Locker Finals. The scenario where the top two NTN finishers in Portland from Foot Locker West states could qualify for San Diego is history.

The Key Points:
  • Foot Locker Regionals will again qualify 10 runners of each gender from each region to Foot Locker Finals. However, all athletes must compete in the regionals to qualify. There is no longer a provision for the top two NTN finishers in Portland from Foot Locker West states to qualify for San Diego.
  • The top athletes who are opting out of a chance to run Foot Locker Finals are: Georgia Griffin (Hanover NH), Melanie Thompson (Voorhees NJ), Hannah Davidson (Saratoga NY), Ben Johnson (Albuquerque Academy NM), Robert Gibson (Brookline MA)
  • The top athletes who are trying to do both are: Katie Flood (Dowling Catholic IA), Chris Derrick (Neuqua Valley IL), Colby Lowe (Southlake Carroll TX)
  • The top athletes who are on current or former regionally ranked teams, but are running Foot Locker instead of forming clubs for NTN Regionals: Jason Witt (Midlothian VA), Donn Cabral (Glastonbury CT), Carly Seymour (Central Cambria PA).
That fact epitomizes the current national championship landscape. In previous years, NTN – with just a single national meet – and Foot Locker had hammered out an agreement for these particular athletes. Albuquerque Academy’s Ben Johnson was the biggest beneficiary last year, finishing 2nd at NTN and 6th at Foot Locker Finals. Athletes from other regions, of course, had a chance to do both.

But the game changed when NTN introduced the regionals this fall. Although neither entity has made an official statement, there is no longer evidence of Nike support of Foot Locker on the latter’s web site, and officials on both sides will say privately that Nike no longer is a sponsor of Foot Locker. In the past, the agreement about these additional qualifiers was made public. This year, there has been no announcement either way, but the provision is clearly no longer in place. “The top ten runners from each region will qualify to the Foot Locker Cross Country National Finals in San Diego,” Foot Locker’s Jeanine Zocks states.

Meanwhile, top athletes in NTN Midwest, Heartland, and South have options to run in both series, but in doing so face a draining sequence of hard races over four or five weeks.

So how are these conflicts affecting top athletes and teams or clubs, and what are they doing about it? What are the choices they’re making and how are they affecting the quality of each series of races?

When Johnson, who is the top returnee from both national meets, ran with his club for the NTN Southwest Regional title last weekend, he was making his choice (wittingly or not). And his club is now Portland-bound, having nipped Los Alamos on a 6th-man tiebreaker.

Griffin - going for NTN
The scenarios and choices, however, are different for different schools, clubs or individuals. The Midlothian VA teams, ranked #4 (boys) and #3 (girls) in the Southeast, have not registered for NTN Southeast, but will rather give their top athletes a chance for Foot Locker glory. Their 3A state boys champ Jason Witt has an excellent chance to make San Diego and their state girls champ Kat Lautzenheiser has a solid shot, too.

Those from another prominent program, Saratoga HS in NY, were very vocal about their concern about the conflicting meets when it was announced that New York teams would have to run a qualifying race at Bowdoin Nov. 24 instead of being able to qualify from the Feds. After all, traditional power Saratoga has the NTN history of two victories and a 2nd between their boys and girls clubs, and while they were only 23rd (US) and 6th (New York) at points during the season, they have risen to 4th and 2nd. On the other hand, sr Hannah Davidson stood to join the small club of 4-time Foot Locker Finalists and teammate Cassie Goutos also had an outside shot of making it to San Diego.

Saratoga did not pre-register, but then finally entered NTN NY late. They will be at Bowdoin instead of Vanny on the 24th.

Meanwhile, Glastonbury CT entered both of its clubs, but its boys club was on the unconfirmed list of early entries. The girls, whose team is ranked NE#7, followed through, but the boys, formerly ranked, didn’t. So 2006 Foot Locker Finalist Donn Cabral will be at Vanny trying to make the team again.

As it turns out, there’s not a ton of affected athletes in the upper tier. Of the 40 athletes ranked in the Foot Locker Favorites November 16 rankings, it appears only two athletes at this potential All-American level are picking NTN over Foot Locker where the direct conflict exists. For Hanover NH sr Georgia Griffin, the choice wasn’t too difficult; if her club (representing the NE#1 team) runs well, it will power its way to Portland. “After New Englands, we couldn’t believe that our season was actually over,” she told Dyestat last week. “On the night before the registration for the NTN Northeast meet was due, we talked and realized that everybody … was really psyched to continue. I am so happy that we get to spend at least another two weeks training together. We could never have done any of it without each other.”

Seymour - going for
Foot Locker

Some of the other top athletes in the NE, NY, and SE who could make Foot Locker, but are going the NTN route are: Voorhees NJ’s Melanie Thompson, Fayetteville-Manlius’s Courtney Chapman, Mountain Brook AL’s Madeline Morgan, Brookline MA’s Robert Gibson, Germantown Friends’ Max Kaulbach, Hoover AL’s Pat McGregor, the Baylor TN duo of Bill Matthews and Waldo Du Plessis, Tatnall DE’ s Juliet Bottorff, Glastonbury CT’s Heather Stephens, and Danbury’s Matt Terry and Willie Ahearn.

Others who are on ranked teams, but are apparently running Foot Locker regionals, are Central Cambria PA’s Carly Seymour, Bromfield MA’s Emily Jones, and Con-Val NH’s Alex McGrath. Another athlete obviously going for Foot Locker is Xavier Prep AZ’s 06 FL Finalist Jessica Tonn, whose club didn’t run NTN SW.

On the other hand, some athletes have made a run at NTNs, but with their teams not making it will still be running Foot Locker, like the Bishton twins at Mountain Ridge AZ. Others ran their NTN region race as more of a tuneup for future Foot Locker races, like Luke Puskedra UT, Laura Hughes MN, Joash Osoro ND, Jim Walmsley AZ, and Kevin Havel IL.

Some of the All-American caliber athletes in Nov. 10 and Nov. 17 regionals may seem to “have it all,” since they can do both. But that can require a pretty tough string of races, as well as the ensuing travel, expenses, etc.

Since the NTN and Foot Locker regions are different in number and content, not even overlapping where one would expect them to, it’s useful to break it down.
  • NTN NE/NY and FL NE States – CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT – Direct conflict with three meets
  • NTN SE and FL NE States – DE, MD – Direct conflict with two meets
  • NTN SE and FL SE States – AL, FL, GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV – Direct conflict with two meets
  • NTN South and FL SE States – AR, LA, MS, OK, TX – Can do both
  • NTN MW and FL MW States – IL, IN, MI, OH, WI – Can do both
  • NTN HL and FL MW States – IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD – Can do both
  • NTN SW and FL MW States – CO – Can do both
  • NTN SW and FL West States – AZ, NV, NM, UT, WY – Can do both unless qualifying for NTN National Finals from NTN SW. Those chosen for and participating in NTN National Finals will not be able to run in Foot Locker West or qualify for Foot Locker Finals
  • NTN NW and FL West States – AK, HI, ID, MT, OR, WA – Can do both unless qualifying for NTN National Finals from NTN NW. Those chosen for and participating in NTN National Finals will not be able to run in Foot Locker West or qualify for Foot Locker Finals
  • California – Those chosen for and participating in NTN National Finals will not be able to run in Foot Locker West or qualify for Foot Locker Finals.
The three most prominent examples of athletes trying to do it all:

Chris Derrick – The unbeaten Neuqua Valley IL sr, now ranked #1 in the country, stated to DyeStat his intentions to run all of the races several weeks ago. “I think the base I've put in over the summer, and all throughout high school, will give me the physical strength and durability I need to get through that stretch of races,” he said. Then launched the campaign with his two best performances of season – the 13:52 at IL State and 14:54 at NTN Midwest as his club earned the top Portland berth from Terre Haute. He got a break last weekend and he could probably hold something back at FL MW and still qualify. That’s not really his style, though.

The Portland-San Diego double is never easy and no one has won both. He could be the first.

Colby Lowe – Also unbeaten, the Southlake Carroll sr has already kind of “been-there, done-that.” Last year, he won TX State, qualified in 7th at FL South, got 4th at NTN, then 10th at FL Finals. Of course, this year there’s one more race added to that slate, meaning 5 straight weeks of hard racing – something no other All-American type will face, or has ever faced in this scenario. It’s possible, though, that he may only have to run all out in Portland and San Diego. Of course, Lowe is not known for a lot of “holding back,” so it will be fascinating to see how he does if he runs all five races. He didn’t hold back much last weekend, when he won NTN South in 15:06.

Katie Flood – The Dowling Catholic (Des Moines) IA soph ran exactly zero post-season track and XC races as a freshman. This fall, she’ll run four if everything works out. Originally, the nation’s #5 runner and her family and coach were going to choose one over the other, but now they’re reportedly going for it all. She passed the first test with flying colors, winning NTN HL Nov. 10. She got last weekend off. This weekend she will – along with teammate Ashlie Decker (who has a reasonable shot to get in for San Diego) – be in Kenosha to try and make it 2 for 2. It might be to her benefit NOT to fight the Claire Durkins of the world tooth and nail for the Midwest title. Katie will probably be the individual favorite in Portland, but winning or even placing in the top 5 by San Diego will be considerably more daunting.

In the end, more nationals and more choices can be said to be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Just like with Indoor Track (NIN vs. NSIC), it’s pretty hard to do it all and the competing events can get watered down. On the other hand, there are plenty of folks who won’t complain about more opportunities – and that, indeed, seems to be the direction we’re heading in now. The bottom line is that in San Diego, the vast majority of the nation’s top harriers will still be toeing the line.

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