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Northwest Region
Boise ID November 10, 2007

Rankings are out - face to face is in.

Coaches laud the change as nearly all the top teams
in the Northwest will be on the starting line in Boise.

by Dave Devine
assistant DyeStat news editor and DyeStat Northwest regional editor

For the last three years, if a team from the Northwest region hoped to score an invitation to the Nike Team Nationals in Portland, OR, the only sure way to secure a berth was to be ranked in the top two after the final state meet had been contested. Some teams managed to receive at-large bids with a third- or even fourth-place ranking in the region, but the key determinant was always position on a list. And because rankings are subjective, and the list-makers fallible, in addition to the elation experienced by the invited teams, the outcome was often fodder for debate and grounds for disappointment.

Spokane and Portland have been well represented

Even within that selection system, the Northwest had accounted itself well in the first three incarnations of the Nike Team Nationals. With 17 teams in 3 years, the region has been one of the most prolific feeders of the championship races at Portland Meadows. The city of Spokane WA alone has contributed four top-5 finishes by Mead and Ferris boys, who have been in the finals all 3 years. In addition, the city of Portland OR provided four teams in the first two years of the event, three of those squads with runners from perennial power Jesuit High. Those repeat selections understandably gave rise to grumblings about a Washington/Oregon preference among the selection committee, specifically an unspoken stipulation that a Portland team be invited each year, given the location of the meet and the proximity of the schools to the Nike campus. Then came 2006, when no Oregon team was invited, and Montana finally broke through, with the Billings Senior girls representing the Northwest on the muddy racetrack.

This year, all of that has changed. Throw away the formcharts. Tear up the rankings. Forget about your merged scoring and your speed ratings and your extrapolated outcomes from six different state meets. Teams hoping to toe the line at Portland Meadows on December 1st have to lace up the spikes and earn that berth by beating the best teams the region has to offer. Two boys’ automatic invitations and two girl’s auto invites are on the line this Saturday at the first-ever NTN Northwest Regional in Boise, Idaho.

"It's by far the more fair way."

Clint May, coach of the Bozeman XC Club (whose runners ran for Bozeman MT during the regular season), is pleased with the development. He saw his boys’ team narrowly miss a bid last year when they thought they’d earned it with their fine runner-up showing at the post-season Rocky Mountain Championship meet.

“It’s by far the more fair way to select teams,” May said on Tuesday evening.

Coach Tom Rothenberger, mentor of the Portland Harriers (whose runners competed as Jesuit OR during the season), echoes those sentiments.

“From a purist cross country standpoint, it’s a great thing.”

Coach May, whose Bozeman girls are ranked #2 in the latest DyeStat Regional poll, and Coach Rothenberger, whose Jesuit girls have been season-long #1 and whose boys currently sit at #5, both recognize the risk associated with the new format—each of their girls’ squads would have been guaranteed bids to NTN under the previous system, given their current standings—but both feel their runners have more to gain by racing the regional meet.

Teams need the pressure cooker of regional qualifier

“Some teams [under the former system] never went in the pressure cooker,” May says. “If they were a good state team, they might not have had to race anyone until NTN. I want our girls to race their way in. If we can perform under that kind of pressure then we deserve to go.”

Rothenberger offered another benefit of the regional system, with its qualifier outside the state of Oregon. Having had three Portland-based teams compete, and with the NTN team hotel only a short drive from many of his athletes’ homes, “it’s hard for our kids to understand how special it is to be invited.” Traveling to Boise and struggling for a bid to nationals against teams from around the Northwest, Rothenberger believes, will help his runners understand how much the opportunity has meant to far-flung teams like Fairbanks XC (West Valley AK) and Billings XC Club (Billings Senior MT).

Portland and Bozeman girls are favored

If everything works out, the two coaches’ runners will be battling mid-race for one of those bids. The Portland Harriers and the Bozeman XC Club are two of the favorites to triumph in Boise, although the schools providing runners to those clubs (Jesuit OR and Bozeman MT) have yet to meet one another this season. Bozeman won the Montana state AA race handily, and at the Oregon state meet last weekend, Jesuit dispatched a St. Mary’s Academy team ranked NW#3 at the time, in the girls 6A race. A potential threat emerged in the 5A race, however, when Crater set an all-time Oregon record for low score with their 16-point virtuoso performance over Crescent Valley. The girls from Crater, newly ranked NW#3 after going unranked all season, will be competing at the NW Regional as Crater RC, and could surprise with their late-autumn surge.

The Boise Striders, all of whom competed for Idaho 5A state champ and NW#5 Boise ID during the regular season, and West Anchorage RC, with runners from Alaska 4A state champion and NW#6 West Anchorage, have both had long layoffs after earlier state meets (Alaska’s back in September), but the Boise Striders will be running in front of a home crowd on a familiar course, and West Anchorage RC benefits from the mystique surrounding Alaskan teams that come down to the Lower 48 and wreak havoc on teams in the Northwest. The Gig Girls XC Club, with runners from recent Washington 4A state champ and NW#7 Gig Harbor WA, have looked better with each passing week and are still smarting after being overlooked in last year’s NTN invites. Count on them to be ready under the tutelage of Coach Patty Ley.

Other clubs derived from teams currently ranked in the DyeStat regional top-10 include: Lake Samm XC Club (Eastlake WA) and Snohomish RC (Snohomish WA).

Big rematches loom in boys championship race

The Boys Championship race will be equally compelling, but for different reasons. Many of the clubs racing here have faced each other while competing for their respective schools during the regular season.

After the Oregon state meet, Stark Street AC (with runners from 6A champion and NW#2 Central Catholic) emerged as a strong contender to the championship. Their 32-point blistering of the field included turning back the NW#5 Jesuit boys, who will face them again in Boise as the Portland Harriers. Crater OR, ranked NW#1 since back-to-back September victories at Bob Firman ID and Stanford CA, slips to #3 this week after narrowly defeating an unranked team from Hermiston for the OR 5A title. Both teams will be on the line in Boise, as Crater RC and Hermiston RC.

Perhaps no club will be more eager to even the score against the Crater squad than North Central XC, whose runners sealed up a Washington 3A title last weekend competing for North Central WA. It was North Central that Crater narrowly defeated for the Bob Firman Invite title and the #1 regional ranking. Now both teams will meet again on the same course for a slightly larger prize: a bid to Nike Team Nationals. Also figuring into the mix should be perennial power Mead XC (with a squad in every NTN so far, they’ll be looking to keep that streak alive), and the Kodiak Harriers club (Kodiak AK), eager to show the rest of the country that last year’s fine Northwest campaign wasn’t a fluke. Other clubs from schools currently in the DyeStat regional top-10 include Maple Valley RC (Tahoma WA) and Central Valley XC Club (Central Valley WA).

Coach Rothenberger, who’ll be busy with runners in multiple races, figures his Portland Harrier boys have as good a chance as any.

“The boys’ race looks competitive, but fairly wide open,” he said. “If you put five guys under 16:30, I think you can be in the hunt. It’s very interesting, because in some ways this is the end, but also the possibility of a beginning.”

Coach May of Bozeman is equally energized by that possibility. “I’m really excited,” he said. “Things are about to get very interesting.”

With almost every ranked team in the Northwest placing clubs on the line in Boise, they certainly are.

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