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

Rich's Reflections

Battle of New Mexico | Regional Rivalries, Act 4 | NTN-FL doublers | Teammate of Year is Ben Johnson | myth of California and mud |

by Rich Gonzalez

Wrapping up NTN . . . .

The Battle of New Mexico continued for a final week, with the outcome not officially decided until a lengthy wait scheduled
around the ensuing Girls Championship race clash. Los Alamos, which had lost to previous U.S. #1 Albuquerque XC at the
Southwest Region Championship via a sixth-runner tiebreaker, prevailed in the final go-around by seven points (127-134) in
the NTN Championship. Albuquerque had been unbeaten in 2007 until Los Alamos’ triumph at the state meet, only to have Coach
Adam Kedge’s Albuquerque crew gain the tiebreaker decision in the regional championship. Over the last 10 years,
Albuquerque has won 8 state championships and been second twice, with Los Alamos earning two titles and 8 runner-up

Los Alamos co-coach Kathy Hipwood (along with husband and Co-Coach Rob Hipwood) shared about the stretch-drive developments
from Saturday, where runners from both New Mexico powerhouses were again locked in battle. As they charged for home, Los
Alamos’ Allen Pittman found himself going stride for stride with Albuquerque’s Patrick Zacharias as they approached the
chute. According to Kathy Hipwood, Pittman later admitted that as he looked over and saw Zacharias as his nemesis in the
final strides his own reaction was “No way! Here we go (battling Albuquerque) again!”

The regional rivalries, Act 4

Illinois gets no respect!” “The Northwest is loaded!” “New York is over-rated!” Among the more passionate debates that
plays out on message boards each year is the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each of the regions. With New York state
being broken off into its own region in 2007, the debate was torqued up even tighter. Here’s how the action played out once
all was said and done:

Midwest boys were best

From the end of summer on, my view was that the Midwest Region would be the toughest, most exciting and most intriguing of
the nine on the boys’ side. The athletes did not disappoint:

Naperville (IL), with runners from Neuqua Valley HS, started the season ranked 15th nationally by The Harrier Magazine yet
finished as national champion, an improvement of 14 slots. Elmhurst (IL), with runners from York HS, started the season
ranked 23rd in the country and placed ninth, an improvement of 14 slots. Medina (OH) was unranked nationally to start the
season, yet placed 12th at NTN as an at-large entry, an improvement of at least 14 spots (assuming they might have been the
top unranked team). Fishers, the Indiana state champion, finished just two points behind national #12 placer Medina at the
Midwest Regional. Palatine and Naperville North, two other Iliinois teams, beat eventual NTN #9 Elmhurst during the course
of the year. Hands down, the Midwest was the best boys region in 2007!

Northeast Region Boys: While the addition of a ninth NTN region in the 2007 qualifying alignment allowed for New York girls
teams to get an even better chance to advance to nationals, it also gave New York’s boys a chance of making it. Simply
put, Northeast Region boys teams were too strong for the New Yorkers. With Danbury (CT) in 5th, Brookline (MA) in 7th and
Bergen (Don Bosco Prep, NJ) as the best at-large placer in 10th, the NE was the only region to have three teams place in
the Top 10.

The NTN rankings committee was unanimous in approving the selection of Bergen for an at-large berth and the
team then affirmed the choice with its showing at nationals. New England’s top teams and the adjoining states deserve

New Mexico of the Southwest Region had the best 1-2 state punch in the entire nation with eventual NTN runner-up Los Alamos
and third-placer Albuquerque taking half of the podium position at nationals. As has been the case for over the decade,
these New Mexico powers have pushed each other to greatness by season’s end. Majestic running areas, training at altitude
and excellent coaching guidance have been the successful formula for those two juggernauts.

Galena (NV) ran its best race of the year to finish as the #3 team at the Southwest Regional, drawing somewhat close to the New Mexico schools who were
both a bit off their game after an excellent and emotional clash at the state meet the week before. Nevertheless, Galena
statistically matched up very well at season’s end to rank among the top 25 teams in the nation.

North Central WA could be 2008 pre-season #1

North Central (WA) regained the pop in its step at just the right time, finishing sixth at Nike Team Nationals after being
slightly off during its Northwest Region win a few weeks prior. With most of its top runners as non-seniors, look for NC as
the early favorite to start 2008 as the #1 team in the land. Greater Portland XC (Central Catholic HS, OR) finished 13th at
nationals, a few spots away from what was anticipated, with the crew off slightly at the regional meet as well after a
sensational state meet that ranked among the best high school team efforts on the map this year. Four return next year,
tabbing them among the top teams in America for 2008. Tahoma Sehome was dynamite at the regional meet to keep the area
powers honest and earn itself what deservedly should be a Top 25 national ranking.

Can we include The Woodlands TX “B” team in our analysis? If so, then the South Region is even tougher as the deepest program
in the nation has a reserve unit which probably could rank among the top 125 varsity teams in the nation. As for their “A”
team, that group ranks fourth after placing that well at NTN. Coach Dan Green’s backup crew also took seventh in the Open
Race at NTN. Carroll (TX) rode the fine 1-2 attack of FootLocker qualifiers Colby Lowe and CJ Brown to place 15th at NTN,
one spot ahead of fellow South Region qualifier Rogers of Arkansas. Rogers earned its bid via an at-large berth and then
went to Portland and beat three regional #1 teams.

The California Region underperformed most among the nine geographic areas, yet still managed a nice showing by one of its
teams as Los Angeles XC (Loyola HS) claimed eighth after being projected to be 11th. Senior James Kostelnik ran the race of
his life to account to a 20-plus point improvement over the dope sheet and help the group leapfrog two teams that were
projected to finish better. Additionally, a top team from another region struggled at Portland Meadows, allowing Los
Angeles XC to improve its standing yet another spot. This was a magical end to a season for a group that did not even make the state meet a year ago.

On the other hand, California’s clear #1 (Dana Point XC/Dana Hills HS) at the end of the high
school season was third among California teams here, including more than 100 points behind Los Angeles XC and 15 points
behind California at-large entry Murrieta XC. Dana Point was projected to finish a close fourth on paper and was my
personal pick to actually pull the upset based on its recently improving depth and front running. Instead, only two runners
placed in the upper half of the field. The good news is that Dana Point returns a whopping 5 of the 7 next year from a
group that ran among the fastest team times in course history at Mt. SAC. Look for redemption in 2008.

Murrieta, which ran awesome in September and October before suffering its first defeats in November, also had problems coping with the mud.
Usual fast-starter David McCutcheon found such tactics counterproductive in the slop, with one of California’s top
performers eventually finishing 29th here, more than a minute behind the front runners. Its 57-second scoring gap likely
was its largest of the season as well.

The New York Region joined the Heartland and the Southeast as the only regions without a Top 10 finisher at NTN. That said,
the Empire State has shown before and will show again that it can usually hold its own on the boys side (think NTN
runner-up Fay-Man in 2004 and NTN champion Saratoga in 2005). This year the region was identified in August as being one
where top teams were rebuilding.

Regardless, exciting in-state battles played out and Warwick eventually missed a Top 10
national finish by just 14 points while regional champion Clifton Park (Shenendehowa HS runners) placed 14th.

The Southeast Region also had a rough outing here, taking 18th and 22nd in the 22-team field. In the case of #18 Oak Ridge
of Tennessee, it was the first appearance at NTN for one of the stronger programs in that region in recent years. Fairfax
VA (Thomas Jefferson Science Tech)
was 30 points behind Swanson, KS.

Although teams/states in the Southeast Region have
improved in strength during the NTN era, the forward momentum seemed to stall somewhat in 2007 as teams debated whether to
pursue NTN qualifying or FootLocker qualifying, with both meets scheduled on the same weekend. While most leading teams in
remaining regions were squarely focused on the goal on making it to NTN, that same type of clarity/motivation seemed
lacking in the Southeast as a whole. That’s not meant to be a criticism, merely an observation.

The Heartland Region took is lumps in placing 20th (Wayzata, MN) and 21st (Swanson, KS), with only one runner from the two
teams combined landing a spot in the top 25% of the field. The region’s top finisher was freshman Sterling Spencer, who was
38th overall for Swanson. Wayzata returns 5 of its top 6 next year while Swanson returns 5 of its top 7.

How will NTN-FL doublers do in San Diego?

So what’s the FootLocker prognosis for the three male NTN participants heading to San Diego in 2007? Better than in years
past. To follow up on the muddy muck of Portland on one weekend and then take on the nation’s top individuals the following
weekend usually requires a strength runner. An 8:54 two-miler who actually prefers the longer distances, NTN winner Chris Derrick logged a
great aerobic base over the summer in preparation for a potentially extended postseason schedule. Derrick caught an
additional break at this year’s NTN when near freezing temperatures and limited rainfall the week of the meet led to a
harder, firmly packed course in many areas rather than 5,000 meters of slosh that wearies the legs leading into FootLocker.

Colby Lowe pulled off the NTN-to-FootLocker double well last year, taking fourth at NTN and then 10th at FootLocker. A year older
and stronger coupled with a less demanding NTN layout should leave Lowe battling Derrick, California’s German Fernandez,
Utah’s Luke Puskedra and Connecticut’s Donn Cabral for the championship.

Kostelnik missed sunny San Diego, but had "the best experience of my life"
in rainy Portland

On the topic of FootLocker, the year-end meet in San Diego opted not to invite the top two NTN placers among FL West States in changing from its policy of recent years, when the top eight placers at the actual FootLockers West Regional were joined by the top two West Region performers from NTN. Had the prior policy still been in effect, Albuquerque NM’s Ben Johnson and Los Angeles, CA’s James Kostelnik (left) would have earned those berths. Kostelnik, a senior who has decided to attend Duke next year, finished eighth at NTN –just nine seconds out of third. Said Kostelnik in the hotel lobby after Saturday night’s post-race dance: “I have to say that this whole weekend ranks as the best experience of my life.”

For those seeking the famous San Diego sunshine, don’t pack the tanning lotion just yet.
The extended weekend forecast has temperatures in the mid to high 50’s on Friday and Saturday,
with rain on Friday giving way to showers on Saturday.


Perhaps the two biggest personal breakthroughs to occur on the national stage came from Steven Sulkin of Illinois (left) and James Kostelnik of California. Sulkin, usually performing in the shadow of talented teammate Thomas Achtien during the high school season for York, was a surprise fourth overall in the Championship Race. Sulkin, a junior, finished only behind a trio of runners with either prior or upcoming (next weekend) FootLocker Narionals credentials – Chris Derrick of Naperville, IL; Colby Lowe of Carroll, TX; and Ben Johnson on Albuquerque, NM.

Teammate of the Year award goes to … Albuquerque, NM’s Ben Johnson (left). Placing sixth at last year’s FootLocker Nationals and the top returnee for 2007, most West Region athletes in his racing shoes likely would have passed on Nike Team Nationals in order to earn a ticket to San Diego for the individual championship. With FootLocker’s decision not to extend qualifying spots from the NTN meet and both the FootLocker West Regionals and NTN falling on the same date, Johnson chose team commitment over individual glory in making his decision.

“It wasn’t really (a hard decision)” said Johnson, a senior at Albuquerque Academy. “My team means everything to me.”
Johnson ended up placing third individually at NTN in leading his team to the podium with a third-place team finish, the
best from among the three trips to Portland. Johnson finished 66th as a freshman in 2004, when Albuquerque (then competing as Charger XC Club) placed 10th, and finished second to Steve Murdock in 2006 when the team placed seventh.

Academic honors too

As accomplished as each the weekend’s performers have been along cross-country courses this fall, many of these athletes
also maintained exceptional academic records during the year. Among the most notable were: Naperville, IL’s NTN individual
champion Chris Derrick, who reportedly achieved a perfect score in the writing portion of the standardized college entrance
exam and also is a National Merit Scholar semifinalist; Elmhurst, IL’s Brian Spisiak, who is President of the National
Honor Society; Clifton Park, NY’s team boasts two National Honor Society members and its varsity team has a GPA that ranks
in the 94th percentile from the student body; Bergen (Don Bosco Prep, NJ) has all eight team members recognized within the
National Honor Society; and saving the best for last, Fairfax, VA’s team members attend Jefferson Science Tech, which last
week was ranked as the #1 academic school in the nation according to a story that appeared in USA Today.

the myth of Californians and mud

DO NOT believe all the forum posts about Californians being at a disadvantage while trying to compete on the muddy confines
of Portland Meadows each year. If such was the case, how does on explain Newhall’s runner-up national girls finish this
year? Or how about Simi Valley’s identical placing on the boys’ side last year? Or how Golden State teams placing three
boys teams in the top nine last year? Boys and girls combined, California club teams have reached the podium (the top four
teams earn award statues) a total of four times in the four-year history of the meet. Only New York (10 times) has fared
better. Washington and Illinois have also reached the podium four times.

The more accurate statement on the situation would be that some California club teams just haven’t yet mastered the
learning curve on how to best race is such conditions. In 2004, a loaded Simi West (Royal) team had more than a few runners
come out much too fast on the opening kilometer and faded under heavy legs over the last 500 meters. The same mistake
plagued Fountain Valley that year as their girls had 5 of the top 7 positions at the 700-meter mark (with plenty of
daylight) before running out of gas. Since then, master coach Walt Lange from Sacramento (Jesuit HS) has brought a pair of
teams that ran steadier pacing en route to 7th and 4th place showings in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Also in 2006, Simi West was under direct orders not to partake in the Friday morning run-through (more like trudge-through)
of the course in hopes of “saving their legs” for championship day. The move paid off when it placed second in the nation.

Saugus HS coach Rene Paragas contacted coaches of previous California-based NTN teams to get their advice/tips on how to
prepare. Ryan Luce (the high school coach for Simi West runners) said the weeks-prior-to-NTN decision to avoid a run-
through was vital. Paragas, allowed to handle NTN planning details up to and including the day of the state meet by CIF-SS
rules, asked his girls to do the same. The move paid off “royally” with a second-place finish.
Make no mistake, California teams can succeed at NTN, they just need to plan a little better well in advance.

So what happened to California #1 entry Dana Point this year, you ask? They were a serious contender for the title
but had major problems holding together their scoring gap, usually within 35-40 seconds. Here, it was 59 seconds while no
runners were in the top 25. The possible culprit? The team appeared to spend longer than anyone on the course during
Friday’s run-through, seemingly spending more than an hour traversing parts of the muddy layout. Heavy legs heading into a
muddy race is too much to overcome.

Ohio runner Lucas Walters
inspires everyone

Perhaps the most inspiring moment of Thursday night’s Welcoming Ceremonies played out when Nike’s Mike Donnelly acknowledged Medina, OH’s Lucas Walters (right) and praised the 11th-grader for battling and overcoming testicular cancer, a condition which required surgery earlier this year.

Walters, who finished sixth for his team and 134th overall out of 154 runners in the Championship Race, returned to training faster than his doctor predicted and helped his high school team to the Division I state championship.

Donnelly called Walters up onto the main stage of the Stanford Theatre, where the entire audience rose to its feet and showered the youngster with rousing applause. Yes, even this reporter had his lips quiver and his eyes well up.

You’re the man, Lucas!

Elmhurst IL boys - only team to make top 10 all 4 years

Not only did runners from Elmhurst, IL become the only boys team to qualify for Nike Team Nationals in each of the four
years of the event, they also became the first club in either gender to earn four straight Top 10 finishes. Girls teams
from Yankton, SD and Carroll, TX had a chance to match the Top 10 feat after such lofty finishes in each of the previous
three years, but Yankton finished 16th and Carroll 18th over the weekend. Elmhurst runners help comprise the magical
tradition at powerhouse York HS during the high school season, where they’ve amassed an amazing 26 state championships
under legendary coach Joe Newton. Elmhurst, then competing at Kroy (the school name, spelled backwards), won the inaugural
NTN event in 2004.

the DyeStat effect

North Central, WA’s runners were under strict orders not to read DyeStat this fall, perhaps so that they could avoid
getting caught up in their own publicity. The ploy seemed to work for a while as big wins came early as well as a second-
place finish to regional rival Crater, OR at the Bob Firman Invitational in Idaho. The team held together well down the
stretch to place sixth at NTN despite having only seniors. It should be noted that Neuqua Valley, which won the NTN
Championship, reportedly reads DyeStat all the time.

Fastest by class

Los Angeles XC’s Elias Gedyon emerged as the fastest freshmen in the field, with the talented track star assimilating well
in challenges across hill and dale to place 35th overall in 16:57, three places and two seconds ahead of fellow 9th grader
Sterling Spencer of Shawnee, KS. The previous mentioned Chris Derrick and Steve Sulkin, both from Illinois, were the
fastest senior and junior, respectively. Patrick “The Giant” Zacharias of Albuquerque was the fastest sophomore, placing
12th overall. Zacharias’ nickame stems from his height; he towers 6 feet, 5 inches tall.

Brookline grads are famous

It would have been neat to see some of Brookline, MA’s more accomplished alumni turn out to lend support for their alma
mater at the meet. Among the school’s graduates over the years are New England Patriots owner and food products mogul
Robert Kraft, television journalist Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” fame, late-night talk show entertainer Conan O’Brien and
former 5,000-meter Olympian Jonathan Riley.

Hats off to the Hatters

Hats off to Danbury, CT for avenging last week’s painful 1-point loss to Brookline at the Northeast Regional by placing 5th
(to Brookline’s 7th) at NTN. The “hats off” reference is made tongue in cheek; the team’s high school nickname is The
Hatters as Danbury was once known as “Hat City” when it was recognized as national epicenter of the hat industry.

Warwick - tears of joy, or is it the onions?

Warwick XC Club of NY was the only club to have both its boys and girls qualify for NTN in 2007. If there were any tears
being shed by team members and coaches at the conclusion of the meet, it would’ve been hard to know whether those were
tears of joy or merely a natural reaction to knowing they’d be returning home soon. After all, Warwick Valley is known as
the “Onion Capital of the World.” In fact, one quarter of the nation’s onions are harvested on Pine Island, a small hamlet
of Warwick. Usually, however, it is opponents that are left n tears during local action as Warwick Valley has won its last
185 consecutive dual meets.

More from the ‘Did You Know?’ Department.:
  • Rogers XC is from the Arkansas town of the same name, which is where Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart way back in 1962. It still operates as the company’s flagship store to this day
  • Oak Ridge XC of Tennessee is located where the first atomic bomb was born amid the Manhattan Project during World War II.
  • Wayzata XC Club (actually pronounced ‘Why-zetta’) has students that help comprise an athletic department that won the Minnesota State
    All-Sports Trophy for overall athletic excellence and also showcases 21 National Merit SemiFinalists

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