Friday, November 28, 2008

Welcome to Terre Haute!

I decided this year to make the drive down to Terre Haute, IN to see the NCAA D1 Championships in Cross Country. I must say it was worth the long drive. I encountered a variety of weather conditions (snow, rain,sun) on the way down but things were as good as could be hoped for in Terre Haute.It was cold but precipitation free.

The women's race started about 15 minutes after I got set and in place. Seeing the wave take off towards me sent shivers down my spine. I have not been so excited to be a spectator at ANY type of event in recent memory. The course is laid out very well for fans. The course loops for both the men and women and if you feel like doing some running yourself you can catch several good vantage points.
Sally Kipyego of Texas Tech won her 3rd consecutive title running away from Susan Kuijken of Florida State. Tasmin Fanning (VaTech) and Brie Felnagle (UNC)were the top 2 American finishers in 3rd and 4th. Freshman Christine Babcock of Washington (also the team Champs) ran very well as the 1st frosh across the line. Washington won, followed by Oregon and Florida State. El Paso XC followers should note the 46th place finish by former Montwood High star Christina Munoz. Here is a photo (poor at that, I know) of the top 25 women.

The womens race was over before you knew it. 6k goes by real quick at that pace! As soon as I saw the majority of the women cross the line, the men were getting ready to roll.
As a huge fan of HS Track and XC I was very eager to see the greats of the class of 08 (Fernandez, Derrick, Puskedra, Lowe, Mesecho, etc) run for the first time. I thought they would do well but not as well as they did! First, as far as German goes, he was not even close to the lead pack at the first viewpoint. The lead pack being the pack chasing Galen Rupp and Sam Chelanga. About 3k I noticed he was gaining on the pack, but more importantly, he looked very smooth and under control. Rupp was starting to pull even with Chelanga, who took off like a bat out of hell to start the race. See Video.

Puskedra and Derrick were sitting comfortably in the lead chase pack as well. I saw the same positioning for a while and went to about the 8k mark. German had moved into about 3rd-4th place and still looked very smooth and controlled. I ran back towards the finish area to get a space. The crowd was going nuts as Galen and Chelanga came into the homestretch. Galen started pulling away and looked very strong. He took the win with a course record. Sr's Andrew Ledwith (Iona) and David Kinsella (Portland) took the 3 and 4 spots. Puskedra was tearing in right with them with Chris Derrick right behind him. I was so happy to see the Chicago Area star do so well at his 1st NCAA meet that I failed to notice that German did not come in. I spent the next couple minutes watching many XC/Track stars come across the finish line. I then moved towards a group of OSU people and heard them saying German was on the bus and feeling very down and upset. As the day rolled on we found out he had been injured (soon after I saw him last) with an apparent Achilles injury. Here's hoping he makes a full recovery as nobody has energized the young distance running scene like he has. 

As far as winner Galen Rupp goes, I was more than impressed. Galen gets a lot of flack for such things as his training with Alberto Salazar, rather than Vin Lananna, amongst other reasons. What I saw was a true XC Champion. He stayed cool when Chelanga tried to run away with the race early. He stayed poised throughout and then pulled even. He saved his energy and brought home his 1st NCAA XC Championship. He seemed happier actually with Oregon's team win. He was having a blast with his teammates down towards the awards area and they all seemed very happy to be with each other. Watching the Oregon team celebrate was like watching a former HS All-American parade (Galen Rupp, Luke Puskedra, Shadrac Kiptoo-Biwott, Matt Centrowitz JR, Diego Mercado, Kenny Klotz) and Galen's fellow 2008 Olympian Andrew Wheating.Pretty fast bunch of kids. Oregon defeated Iona and Stanford for the team title.
I look forward to making the trek down again next year and I'll try to not forget my camera! I do apologize for the cellphone pics and videos.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bobby Aguirre-TX High School Cross Country Great

As we head to the Texas State Cross Country Championships this weekend, I find myself wanting to give due to one of the all-time greats in TX Cross Country history, Bobby Aguirre of El Paso Riverside. Bobby had the misfortune of having a tremendous 4 year career in an era that doesn't have a lot of info online. If you visit the UIL website the archives start in 1984. Bobby's last championship was 1983. I'd like to add a little online history for this great runner. People often look back at Reuben Reina, Alan Culpepper, Brad Hauser and Colby Lowe as they should, but few accomplished in a 4 year span what Aguirre did.
Aguirre won the Dist 2-5a Title 4 years in a row. He won the Region 1 title 3 years in a row, after a 2nd place finish his Freshman year. His Region 1 Record at Mae Simmons Park stood for 24 years until Colby Lowe broke it last year. He was a 2 time State Champion (1981,1983) a 2nd place finisher in 1982 and finished 4th as a Freshman in 1980. The most impressive race to me was winning his Sophomore year over the great Carlos Quinones (Killeen). Quinones was a tremendous talent who finished his career with Track Pr's of 1:50, 4:08 and 9:10. Carlos was the 1981 State Champ in the 800 and the 1982 State Champ in the 3200. He had range. Bobby was coming off a 4th place finish as a Freshman (to Quinones' 3rd) . There is a story (reliable sources tell me it is true) that Bobby had a shirt made that said State Champ on it. Quinones approached him and asked him, "When were you State Champ?" Bobby replied, "I will be today" Quinones asked him, "What race are you in?" Bobby replied, "The one you're in!" Arrogant? A little, but he backed it up as he won the meet in 15:10. Quinones was 3rd.
His Junior year he finished 2nd to the great Jon Warren of Houston Cypress Creek. Bobby said he played the race wrong tactically , but losing to Warren was nothing to be ashamed of. Jon Warren later ran a sub-4 mile and was an Olympic Trials qualifier in the Marathon.
His senior year, 1983, Aguirre absolutely dominated the race. At the top of the first hill, he was dead last. He told us (my team at the meet) he was going to do this. He wanted to pass each and every runner. I was shocked when he went by me. He wasn't last long and took the lead at the 1st mile, he then backed off to save for the end. At the 2 mile mark he raced by Tony Martinez (SA Churchill) and Augie Flores (SA Burbank) and ran that last mile 25 seconds faster than anyone else as he defeated Martinez by that margin!! Tony (who later ran for Rice) was no jogger, he had a 9:02 3200 to his name.
Bobby never went to any of the post-season meets but I think he could have really made a name for himself at Kinney (now known as Footlocker). After losing to Aguirre at State, Martinez went to the Kinney Nationals finishing just a little outside 30 seconds of winner Matt Guisto. Bobby had so much left after winning that last State Title I think he could have beaten Martinez by the same margin at least.
His Track credentials were not on the same level as XC. He did finish 2nd in the 1983 State Meet in the 3200 (9:13) and he did not run Track in 1984 (Senior year). Real life responsibilities came way to young for Aguirre and he was never really heard from again after winning the 83 XC crown. Reuben Reina started his 3200/1600 meter title streak that Spring, but I think he would have had a real fight on his hands with Bobby. For the record,Tony Martinez took 2nd in that years 3200.
The runners who , over the years, had the same type of career as Aguirre usually went on to successful college careers and some even beyond college. It is worth noting that future Olympians Reuben Reina and Alan Culpepper (who both won USATF XC Championships) never ran as fast on the old Georgetown course as Aguirre. Reina's senior year he set a Footlocker (then known as Kinney) course record that stands to this day.
Bobby never had the opportunity to run in college. Some real heavy life changes at a very young age prevented that. I know of these, but certainly feel it is not my place to discuss them on a public forum. A lot of this information came firsthand as I was lucky enough to room with him at the 1983 Regional and State meets. I personally think he would have been great at the NCAA level, possibly moving up to the longer races in Track and running the 8 and 10K's in Cross Country. I hope at least 1 Texas Cross Country fan read's this and comes away knowing of a great runner they didn't know of before.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

More XC Action- Close Races in IL

One of the most anticipated XC State meets for XC fans each year is the Illinois State Meet. IL has a very deep and talented history in the sport. This years Meet was no different.4 (!) teams (#3 Naperville North, #5 Elmhurst York, #11 Geneva and #14 Neuqua Valley, the defending State and National Champs) ranked in the top 20 Nationally went head to head ,yes, 4 teams ranked in the top 20 Nation-wide. After 3 miles the Kyle Gibson led Naperville North team edged the Steve Sulkin led York team by the slimmest of margins 84-85. Geneva and Neuqua Valley followed in 3rd and 4th. It must be something to be ranked # 14 in the nation (and defending Nike Team Nationals Champ)and not crack the top 3 in your State Final, but that is the price you pay for competing in a state that has a very stong distance history. I actually feel that even though York lost the meet they can still take the National title. In a race diluted with more elite front-runners the duo of Steve Sulkin and Jordan Hebert both have top 10 potential. We'll see.
The individual race was just as close with Jeff Thode surprising all the pre-meet favorites. Here is the top 10.
1-Jeff Thode-Hoffman Estates (Conant)-14:18
2-Steve Sulkin-Elmhurst (York)-14:19
3-Jordan Hebert-Elmhurst (York)-14:21
4-Kyle Gibson-Naperville (North)-14:23
5-Danny Pawola-Naperville (Neuqua Valley)-14:32
6-Nico Composto-Wilmette (Loyola Acad.)-14:32
7-Zach Dahleen-Orland Park (Sandburg)-14:33
8-Andrew Larsen-Aurora (Marmion Acad.)-14:34
9-David McWilliams-Naperville (North)-14:35
10-Gerardo Perez-Lake Zurich-14:38

Very impressive races in Peoria IL as usual.

A little further down the way, Regional action was getting underway in another perennial XC hotbed, Texas. Region II saw The Woodlands (US # 8, South #1) win yet another team and individual crown. Reed Connor won the race in 14:30 to lead his team to yet another Regional title. You can refer to the entry below for more info on them.The Woodlands Girls team also pulled the same feat off with individual winner Sarah Andrews leading The Woodlands to the Team Title. My eyes were focused on Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock for the Region 1 meet. Super Soph. Craig Lutz (Lewisville Marcus) beat veteran CJ Brown (Southlake Carroll) 14:59-15:13. Lutz joins Colby Lowe (Southlake Carroll) and Bobby Aguirre (El Paso Riverside) as Region 1 Champs as sophomores. Will he win State as a Soph as they did? I'm sure Reed Connor will try to keep him from that.