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2008 Foot Locker - the 30th

National Finals
12/13/08 at Balboa Park, San Diego CA

Collison of Champions ... and History

 Foot Locker Finals Girls Preview and Predictions by SteveU

Who's your choice? 
Ashley Brasovan (photo Pat Davey from Great American), Jordan Hasay, or Kathy Kroeger (photos by photorun.net

We’ve been waiting for it for a year – 372 days to be exact.  Barring catastrophic injury, there was no doubt it would come to pass.  All of the principals did what they were supposed to do this fall, which was basically win everything and do so (at least a few times each) impressively.  Even the two sole occasions where head-to-head confrontations took place went according to script – and basically settled nothing when taken together.

2007 Foot Locker National Champion Ashley Brasovan

2006 Foot Locker National Champion Kathy Kroeger

2005 Foot Locker National Champion Jordan Hasay

Three former winners, all seniors now, all still at or very near career peak form, all with a chance to add a second title to their resume and claim the second half of the first decade of the 21st century as their own.  This kind of collision of champions has never happened and probably never will again.  These queens of prep distance running will meet Saturday at Balboa Park, in the 30th Foot Locker Cross Country Championships as they have been destined to do ever since last December.

Go ahead, make your pick.  Why not?  Everyone else will be doing the same.

Sure there will be other runners, great runners, runners who would be given the chance to win in almost any other year.  Chelsea SveinnsonEmily JonesMegan GoethalsEmily SissonMegan MansicoAlex DunneMelanie Thompson.

Could one of those seven place in the top three?  Sure.  Could one of them win it?  Well, yes …

And one or more of the “big three” could have a really bad day … but don’t bet on it.  It’s kind of like in 2000 when Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb and Ryan Hall met in Orlando for that year’s Foot Locker Finals.  You were pretty much focused on those guys and anyone else moving in on that game kind of messed with your world view.

So what will it take for any of these three to win?  What will they have to do to keep the others from winning?  What’s the buzz on each one?

Jordan Hasay
Few, if any, prep track or XC athletes in the last several years have generated the kind of buzz Hasay has during her career.  The exceptionally recognizable Mission Prep CA senior followed her youth career with the 2005 FL Finals triumph as a freshman and she has continued to find new ways to excel each year – but she has made her biggest mark on the track, long her preferred venue.

Hasay was a buzzsaw running through the California schedule in fall 2006 and 2007, but was 10th and 3rd those two years here at the big dance.  Each spring, though, she came back better than ever, with US Junior XC titles, followed by track seasons that built superlative upon superlative.  Her success reached an amazing peak last summer when she made the final of the Olympic Trials 1500, setting a high school record in the semis.

But track success has not proven to be a guarantor of harrier success, at least not at Morley Field.  Hasay can win Saturday, but the two things she will likely need to do well are make sure she doesn’t deplete the tank in the first half of the race, and make sure that no one gets away from her on the final downhill in the third mile.  If she can make a decisive move before that hill, similar to 2005, or simply put herself in position to use her ever-improving kick at the end, then she can bookend her career with a 2008 Foot Locker title to go with the other one.

Ashley Brasovan
Brasovan’s performance at 2007 Foot Locker South was misleading to many.  The Wellington FL senior had earned a top national ranking earlier in the fall with several great performances, including a Great American win, but getting 6th at McAlpine seemed to indicate she was past her peak.  Of course, the opposite proved to be true.  Just qualifying was the name of the game that day, just to get past the barrier that had twice previously prevented her from getting to San Diego.

Once here, she truly freed the beast.  She ran smartly and naturally, and in the third mile when she had a chance to take over, she did so with tremendous authority.  By the time she reached the bottom of the hill, the race was over.  But the performance did not signify Brasovan taking over the prep distance running world.  Injuries plagued the first half of her track season and while she returned to strong form and won an NON 5K title by the end of the spring, Hasay was at the top in the mile/1600 and 2M/3200 again.

As for this fall, Brasovan has pretty much impressed as she did last year, breaking 17:00 in Florida and – again, like last year – “just qualifying” at FL South, with a nasty mid-race fall this time tempering her performance.  But is there any reason to think she’s not ready to run like she did last year here?  Is there any reason to think that if she’s in position at the crest of the hill in the final mile, that she motor down again, making a move that no one can answer?  No, there really isn’t.

Kathy Kroeger
The 2006 Foot Locker girls final almost seems to belong to another era.  There was no Brasovan and Hasay finished 10th.  Instead, there was Kathy Kroeger, version 1.0, and now-graduated Aurora Scott colliding for the second straight race – the first with Scott breaking the FL South record, the second with Kroeger making a mid-race move that won her the national title.  The tiny, shy, emotional soph from Independence HS in TN could barely be heard in interviews, but it seemed a new reign had begun.

However, that race was the beginning of the end of Kroeger’s “first career.”  A doctor she saw shortly thereafter declared she had to put on weight before she could compete again, and she took the track season off to do so.  Meanwhile, she also grew taller and when she came back the following fall, she was clearly “Kathy Kroeger 2.0” – a different runner.  Would she be as good or better?  Amazingly, she progressed with unexpected speed, taking a strong second to Brasovan last fall at Great American, winning a dramatic Foot Locker South, then placing a very solid second to Brasovan here in San Diego. 

This fall, while Brasovan beat her again in Alabama, it was a closer race and then Kroeger repeated at McAlpine.  Most telling, though, at her state meet, where Kroeger’s 17:09 was just 10 seconds slower than her state record of 2006 – and in warmer conditions, too.  Winning here this years, and completing the circle from 2006, is very possible.  But she doesn’t want to get in a kickdown with Hasay, and can’t let Brasovan gap her on the second downhill.  On the other hand, she has better finishing speed than Brasovan and a move on Hasay before the downhill could put her in position to win.

Indeed, there are scenarios where Hasay, Brasovan or Kroger could win.  But what will happen with everyone else?

From the Midwest comes Goethals and Sisson.  Goethals blazed through the Michigan season, then carried it over to a strong finish and victory over Sisson at FL Midwest.  The Rochester MI jr has no national meet experience, though, and Sisson has plenty – and Emily is looking more like the runner who was 3rd here in 2006 than the girl who was 23rd last year.  The Parkway Central MO junior, running for her third school in three years, was a solid 3rd behind Brasovan and Kroeger at Great American.

From the Northeast comes Jones and Thompson.  The new Foot Locker NE champ, a Bromfield MA senior, Jones has steadily improved every year, from 25th at nationals in 2006 to 11th last year.  She has an unbeaten resume in 2008 that includes a performance at the Manhattan Invite that was faster than the Eastern States Champ … which happened to be Thompson, less than a quarter-second off.  The Voorhees NJ senior was unbeaten, too, with a great sweep of the New Jersey scene, until her unexpected 4th at Foot Locker Northeast.  While New Yorkers Shelby Greany and Aisling Cuffe were outstanding that day, most still feel Thompson is there with Jones as the best runner in the NE.

From the South comes Sveinnson and Marsico.  The former, a soph at Greenhills HS in TX, is one of five NXN/FL doublers competing this weekend, and by far the most impressive, with her shining course record triumph from NXN Finals in Portland last week following her to San Diego.  Marsico, the Glenvar VA sr. unbeaten through her state season, impressively chased Kroeger to the line at FL South, just ahead of the Texan, who was saving something for NXN.

From the West comes Dunne, who has only lost to Hasay and Texan Sarah Andrews (not competing) here.  The San Clemente CA sr was well under 17:00 and 21 ticks behind Hasay at Mt. SAC, then had a time just nine seconds off Hasay’s in winning her D1 state meet – with one shoe.  The head-to-head gap was 10 seconds last week as Dunne was 2nd at Foot Locker West.

All seven of the above athletes are very strong bets to get into the top ten – and each has a shot at the top five if they run well. 

Other possible top ten contenders?  There are numerous possibilities. 
  • A veteran like Greany, Kayla Hale FL or Jessica Tonn NY, who will have 10 Finals appearances between them after this weekend.
  • A fast youngster, like Danielle Menlove UT, or a fast “newcomer” to the wars, like Allie McLaughlin CO.
  • Someone who didn’t run at fast in her region, but has better creds, like Emily Lipari NY, Lindsay Flanagan IL, Chelsea Ley NJ, or Jacque Taylor CA.
  • Someone who didn’t look like a qualifier earlier in the year, but came on strong at the end, like Chelsea Oswald OH or Lauren Smith TX.
So now you’ve been introduced to the Big Three, the other key top ten contenders, and the leading darkhorses.  What’s going to happen in the end?

Hasay and Kroeger will both run better than last year.  Those two, along with Brasovan, will pull away in the middle of the race and set up the drama everyone has been pining for.  But on the course, with Brasovan’s particular talents, it’s all about that final downhill.  It’s a winning formula on this course. 

As for the rest?  Well, see below …

SteveU's Top 20
1. Ashley Brasovan FL
2. Jordan Hasay CA
3. Kathy Kroeger TN
4. Chelsey Sveinsson TX
5. Megan Goethals MI
6. Alex Dunne CA
7. Emily Jones MA
8. Emily Sisson NE
9. Melanie Thompson NJ
10. Megan Marsico VA
11. Allie McLaughlin CO
12. Danielle Menlove UT
13. Shelby Greany NY
14. Emily Lipari NY
15. Kayla Hale FL
16. Lindsey Flanagan IL
17. Chelsea Ley NJ
18. Aisling Cuffe NY
19. Jessica Tonn AZ
20. Ashlie Decker IA