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NTN Finals
Portland Meadows Race Track, Portland OR
December 1, 2007

Open Races

Kenyans, Californians run off with blustery Open races

by Dave Devine

In the short, two-year history of the open races at Nike Team Nationals, ever since the announcement that school teams from Kenya would participate alongside American club squads, the event has ostensibly devolved into two separate races: the Kenyan teams against the clock, and the US entrants against one another. Last year, when season-end rankings determined invitations to the NTN championship races, teams which felt they’d been spurned in the selection process took to the open races as a way to demonstrate their fitness and underline the supposed mistakes of the selection committee, even if it meant a distant second- place finish to the dominant Kenyan squads. Other teams, imagining they might be a year away from a championship-caliber team, entered the race to gain valuable experience and insight.

This year, with bids to the championship race determined by head-to-head racing in regional meets, the “prove-it-to-the-people” motivation for teams was lessened, but several California squads (which had to rely on merged state meet scoring for bid determinations) still saw the open race as a court of last resort. And plenty of teams in the Western US flocked to the race for the experience it offered it offered or the proximity to the championship experience it provided.

Boys: Perfect 15 for Kenyans, redemption for Vista Murrieta CA

As expected, the Kapcherop School of Kenya dominated the Boys Open race, moving as a slick pack of five through the early kilometers until Joshua Toroitich drifted off the back end in the second loop of the course. The pack splintered for good in the final kilometer as race leader Justine Cheruiyot dropped the hammer and only last year’s runner-up, Philemon Rono could handle the ratcheted pace. Left in their wake was 2006 open champ Paul Lonyangata, who was nonetheless running faster than he had in that inaugural race. Cheruiyot and Rono held on for a 1-2 finish in 15:24.6 and 15:27.2, while their three trailing teammates made it a 15-point sweep and all crossed the line under Lonyangata’s 2006 mark of 15:54.

Behind the Kenyan troop, Kinetic NY's Demetri Goutos (16:34.8) was the top US finisher, while the American squads were duking it out for runner-up bragging rights.  No team was having a better day than Californians Vista Murrieta. Fourth in the merged state meet scoring that determined the California Region’s bids to NTN, Vista Murrieta found themselves odd men out, while the three other Cali teams ranked ahead of them—including crosstown rival Murrieta Valley—were invited to the championship dance.

“We believed we deserved to be in the championship race,” Vista Murrieta #2 runner David McDonald said as he exited the chute, “but we got left out of the at-large bid. So we were trying to show them what Murrieta’s all about.”

David McDonald

Vista Murrieta had a nice front pack in second kilometer and they finished 9-10-11 with 508 Noe Ramirez, 506 David McDonald, and 510 Chase Welch.


Establishing themselves as the top American team in the opening kilometer, Vista Murrieta did exactly that, placing all five scorers in the top 16 to record 56 points to the Kenyan squad’s 15. Although extrapolating performances across races on a course that deteriorates throughout the day is not always helpful or accurate, the Vista Murrieta crew certainly made their case with a team average of 16:59.48 which would have ranked them sixth in the championship race, ahead of all of the invited California teams.

In fact, the top four US teams in the open race were all from California, including Vista Murrieta, third place squad Falcon Running (Glendale CA) with 93, Petaluma with 109, and Apaches (Arcadia CA) with 122.

left, 6th place Demetri Goutos, Kinetic NY (Saratoga) was the first American runner, and Apache (Arcadia CA) teammates Kris Romero and Zack Torres were 13th and 14th.

photos by John Dye


Girls: Kenyans overcome toothache to their #5; Dana Hills CA keeps Cali flow going

The leaderboard of the Girls Open race had a decidedly California flavor as well, with only Wolfpack XC-Sammamish (Eastlake WA), third overall, able to interrupt a steady string of Golden State teams from 2nd to 8th.

Up front, there was the now familiar sight of red-clad Kenyans blistering the early kilometers in a tight cluster, but a closer look revealed they were lacking one of their numbers. Singore School’s Emmy Kerich was suffering an excruciating toothache, the pain of which was only exacerbated by the biting cold enveloping the infield. By the time she crossed the finishline in tears, after tumbling steadily backwards through the chase pack, she’d faded to forty-fifth place. Her undeterred teammates, however, recorded a low enough score with their 1-4 finish to stave off any challengers. Mercy Kosgei, a pre-race favorite after her silver medal performance at the World Junior Cross Country Championships last winter, ran as fourth on the team Saturday, also suffering in the unfamiliar and bitterly cold temperatures. Her teammate, Valentine Koech, led the way on this day, managing the only sub-18 girls’ time on the course with her 17:59.5 clocking.

Kenyan 4-pack out in front early in first kilometer
Jessica Barnard
Alaina Alvarez

As the four Kenyan finishers huddled in the finish chute to await their struggling fifth runner, they watched the drama unfold for the American squads coming in. Jessica Barnard of Little Branch (Temecula CA) was the first non-African, crossing in 19:38.9 for fifth.

“I usually go out in the first mile pretty relaxed,” she said afterwards, “but today I just wanted to go for it and see what I could do. This is my last high school cross country race, and I just really wanted to race as hard as I could.” Asked how it felt racing the Kenyan team, she shook her head in disbelief. “I really didn’t see them. They pulled away right at the start.”

Barnard led her Little Branch team to a fifth place finish, but it was fellow Californians Dana Hills who emerged as the top American team and held off a stiff mid-race challenge from Washington’s Wolfpack XC-Sammamish with their runner-up 86 point effort. The key to that run was the distribution of their scoring five in the top 25, fronted by Alaina Alvarez in tenth at 20:15.0 and Paxton Cota in fourteenth at 20:44.2. Wolfpack was third with 101 points and Canyon RC (Anaheim CA) was fourth with 104.

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