Thursday, December 3, 2009

Titles on the line for Illinois and Texas.

This weekend start the Post-Season for high school cross country. This Saturday will be the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland and the 12th will see the long standing Footlocker Nationals. Illinois and Texas will be well represented at both events and should challenge for several titles.
Starting with Nike Cross, the Rosa twins (Joe and Jim) who have been destroying course records all year but will be challenged by the Texas trio of Craig Lutz, Ryan Dohner and Parker Stinson. Illinois and Texas both have 3 teams in the finals. Illinois looks to be stronger overall in the team race led by York, Naperville Neuqua Valley and Loyola. Texas brings Boerne Champion, The Woodlands and Cedar Park. The girls race may be Sarah Andrews to lose at this point as favorite Chelsey Sveinsson has opted to go only to Footlocker. Favetetville-Manlius (New York) will run away with the title on the girls side.
Footlocker, still the most prestigious event on the individual side, looks to be shaping up nicely. I got a chance to go to the Midwest Championships in Kenosha Wisconsin last weekend . Now, before anybody mentions how much slower the times were in the Midwest as compared to the other regions, it was an absolute mud fest. Mud everywhere, large puddles of standing water everywhere, just awful, awful, conditions.
As expected , Megan Goethels (Mo) won the title defeating 4 time Footlocker qualifier Emily Sisson (MO) (pictured below). Megan is returning to FL where she was 3rd place last year and should challenge Chelsey Sveinsoon for the win.

On the boys side the match up between favorite Lukas Verzbicas and Futsum Zeinasellassie never materialized. Futsum was not in the pack as they took off. It was known that Lukas had been nursing a nagging achilles injury. It was never an issue however, as he jumped to a quick lead (pictured below right before mile marker 1) and was never challenged.

He checked his lead towards the end and literally strolled across the line. He looked like he was out for a daily jog and hopefully will be all healed and ready to make his bid to become the first 3 time Footlocker winner (and the first to win as a Sophomore) next weekend. Lukas looked pretty comfortable being interviewed below and should get used to it.

The biggest challenge to Lukas should come from Texas as Craig Lutz looked great at the South regional. If Lukas is hampered by his Achilles look for Lutz, Brian Shrader AZ or Shane Moskowitz (WA) to sneak by.
On the girls side I'll stick with Chelsey. After her injury she rebounded and ran away from a quality field in the South to win.
I'm going to pick Lukas over Lutz and Chelsey over Goethels for Footlocker. At NXN, the Rosa's over Lutz and Sarah Andrews.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Angela Bizzarri surprises!

Unlike last year, I was unable to make the drive to Terre Haute for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. What an odd day I missed at that. Fortunately VS network carried the race live and I took a seat on my couch to take in the action. The commentating left something to be desired but beggars can't be choosers. Surprises and unexpected placings seemed to be the norm for the day. I guess there is a reason they don't mail the trophy in advance and go ahead and run the race.
The women's race couldn't have gone more off the script. At the start of the race, Jenny Barringer (the HEAVY favorite)took off with FSU's Susan Kuijken in close pursuit. Soon after the 2 mile mark, Barringer appeared to slow and then slightly pull up, Kuikjen then darted to the lead. It looked briefly as if Barringer was going to stop. While Kuijken went on to what appeared to be a certain win, Barringer continued to fall back and actually hit the ground a ways after. It wasn't clear at the time if she fainted or passed out, collapsed. She got back up soon after and kept running. Kuijken, however, was starting to lose steam and the chase pack which included Illinois' Angela Bizzarri and Washington's Kendra Schaaf started making up considerable ground. Kuijken continued to struggle while Barringer labored back in the pack. Bizzarri, and then Schaaf went by Kuijken late in the race with Bizzarri holdong on strongest and pulling away for a 19:46 win. While considered a big upset it was the 2nd NCAA title for Bizzarri in 2009, she won the 5000 at the NCAA Outdoor Champs. Bizazarri also placed third at the USATF outdoor championships in the 5000, she just missed the qaulifying time for the World Championship team. She ran a smart race that still probably didn't go according to anyone's plan and it was nice to see Illinois come out with a champion.
The team race was a surprise as well as #2 Villinova upended defending champion U of Washington with ease. Villinova outscored FSU 88-133 with Washington in 3rd (188) just ahead of Texas Tech (191). Certainly,after the domination shown by Washington last year, a surprise, yet not unthinkable. Nova' had run well all year as they climbed to #2 in the rankings as the year went on.
Before this, the men had lined up and raced 10,000 Meters. Stanford was both a favorite for the team, having been ranked #1 all year, and the individual with undefeated Chris Derrick having beaten last years runner-up Sam Chelanga of Liberty at Pre-Nats.The race started the same way it did last year with Chelanga exploding from the start. A good pack tucked in behind him and hoped he would come back to them as he did last year and this year at Pre-Nat's. He didn't. Chelanga continued his blistering pace and extended his lead over the chase pack which, in addition to Derrick, included David McNeill (NAU) and Barnabas Kirui (Miss.). Scanning the pack it was becoming clear that Stanford was way out of the running with Derrick's usual support cast (mainly Elliott Heath) nowhere in sight. BYU held a very early lead but it was clear that the Cowboys of Oklahoma State were running tightly knit close behind. There was no sign of German Fernandez up front, but Colby Lowe was right up there and running strong. Chelanga never faltered and ran away to a course record win of 28:41 to beat last years record of 29:03 by Oregon's Galen Rupp. McNeill pulled away from an exhausted looking Derrick and held on 29:06 to 29:14 for second. Soon after Ryan Vail and Colby Lowe came in for OSU as both were in the top 10. John Kosgei and Girma Mesecho soon followed and the outcome was a done deal. German Fernandez crossed the line in 97th (77th team score) and it was clear that he was not himself this entire season. Some of the past results showed he was off but may have been rounding into shape, although those results were skewed perhaps, as OSU seemed to tempo run to all their victories. After the race, Coach Dave Smith said German had been injured all summer and had just begun to get into training in October. While a great testament to his team ethic to sacrafice his ego, status, for the good of the team and to be part of the team title, one has to wonder if he would have been better off redshirting this season. He was clearly not the German the running community has revered and admired, the defending NCAA 1500 meter champion who also ran a 13:25 5000 this summer. You have to think there were some surprised runners running alongside him back there. In fact, OSU would have still won the title without him in the race at all. Hopefully, if he is not healed and ready, he will redshirt indoors and come back very strong for the outdoor season.
OSU (127)convincingly won the title over Oregon (143) and Alabama (173). Could Oregon have won had Andrew Wheating not redshirted? That's a question to ponder. Stanford fell back to 10th. They looked soundly beaten as Chris Derrick was the lone high point. Chris continues to impress as he moved up from last years 7th as a Frosh to 3rd in his Sophomore campaign. He was the 1st American born runner across the line and also only 19 (Chelanga is 24). He, as well, did Illinois very proud.
A performance worth noting was the 5th place showing by Freshman Allie McLaughlin in 20:01. I knew she was in line for a breakout performance and she didn't disappoint. Fellow Frosh Jordan Hasay ran 18th in 20:23. I think both will share many, many All American honors for the years to come. Also, worth a note out of Colorado was the performance of redshirt Freshman Aric Van Halen. Yes, the name is right. Alex's son, and Eddie's nephew ran as CU's 5th man after redshirting last year. Many people may remember when he first started making his name (albeit a bit differently than cousin Wolfgang!) in California a couple years ago. I wonder if Alex was out there cheering him on?
Down in Texas Nike South got rolling. Texas 4a champ, Boerne did what a lot of people expected and defeated 5a champ The Woodlands 61-81. Boerne was very impressive, as they have been all year, and The Woodlands still surprised when looking back to pre-season. Many people didn't give The Woodlands much chance this year after the departure of legendary coach Dan Green and stars Drew Butler (to Arkansas) and 2008 Gatorade Cross Country runner of the year Reed Connor (to Wisconsin). Coach Juris Green (Dan's son) simply picked up where they left off and The Woodlands did what they usually do, they won. They won District, they won Regionals and they won State. They qualified for their 4th trip to Nike Cross Nationals in a year when most of the early season attention went to Cedar Park. CP was 3rd and will have to wait (along with Loyola, IL) to see if they get an at-large bid. They both very much deserve it. In the boys race Ryan Dohner (Klein Oak) surprised favorite Craig Lutz for the muddy win. Parker Stinson (Cedar Park)also got by Lutz to earn his trip to Portland.
The girls race was without heavy favorite Chelsey Sveinsson but it wasn't as wide open as it may have seemed. Last years runner-up and Texas 5a champ Sarah Andrews of The Woodlands easily defeated Rachel Johnson of Plano, TX.Southlake Carroll took the title over Kingwood (Humble, TX) with Kingwood Park (TX) waiting for a possible at-large bid.
Footlocker awaits next. It looks like the best race should be the Midwest with Lukas Verzbicas slated to race Futsum Zeinasellassie for the MW title. Futsum should be very well rested as it has been 4 weeks since the IN state meet. Hopefully the nagging achilles that bothered Lukas at IL state is cleared up as well. This is one race I have been waiting to see for some time and hope it delivers on the promise.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

National berth #6 for York...IL/TX State finals

Before we get to far into the heart of the blog, the Cross Country championship season so far in 2009, I would like to make a special mention/congratulations to the first American to win the New York City Marathon in 27 years, Meb Keflezighi. Meb dropped a quality field one by one en route to a 2:09.15 win over Robert Cheruiyot. An American had not won New York since Alberto Salazar won in 1982 and this was a major accomplishment in what has been a banner year for American long distance running.
High School action was in full swing the past couple weeks. In Illinois, Loyola served notice to the US that it was for real when it beat York at the Niles West sectional. Loyola's Nico Composto defeated the York duo of Andrew Smith and Jack Driggs for the individual win. Down in Lockport, Neuqua Valley and Lukas Verzbicas cruised to easy wins. Loyola jumped to the top of the National rankings and headed down to Peoria as the favorite and the title of US#1. Not so fast,while the individual race was a foregone conclusion, the team race was a fierce battle. When the announcement came out, Neuqua Valley (99) had toppled the favorites as they defeated Loyola (111) and York (118) for the State title. Verzbicas easily defeated the field with a 21 second win over York's Smith and Driggs. Verzbicas ran on record pace through 2 miles before a sore Achilles slowed him in the final mile. Many were disappointed he didn't break the long standing course record, but his time of 14:07 still ranks him in the all-time top 10 on the course and he has a couple more years to go after it.
Down in Texas, things got rolling quickly. In Region 1, Craig Lutz (Lewisville Marcus) ran away with the title at Mae Simmons Park in a time of 14:37. Lutz now joins Colby Lowe and Bobby Aguirre as the only runners under 14:40 on the course. El Paso dominated the 4A ranks as Jefferson, Austin and Horizon swept the State berths in the Boys division while taking 7 of the top 10 individual spots. In 3a, Clint took the girls title, while 5a didn't fare as well. The Eastwood girls were 5th in a highly competitive team race and with the bulk of the girls back next year they should make another serious run at the State meet.
Region 2 served as a preview to what was to come as The Woodlands boys defeated Cedar Park and Klein Oak for the team title with Parker Stinson (CP) taking individual honors. The girls titles went to The Woodlands College Park and Sarah Andrews (The Woodlands High).
This past weekend the Texas State meet certainly didn't disappoint. Lutz ran away from the field, and a very good field at that, for a 14:45 to 15:08 win over Mark Pinales (Round Rock Stony Point). Parker Stinson won the bronze with a time of 15:11. The Woodlands boys picked up right where they left off when Dan Green retired and handed the program to son Juris, they won. The Woodlands outdistanced Region II foes Klein Oak and Cedar Park for the win. The interesting story was 4a winner Boerne Champion who easily won 4a (30-120 over El Paso Jefferson) and would have beaten The Woodlands based on an integrated race. This showdown looms big as Nike South approaches.
Sarah Andrews (The Woodlands) won the girls title over Rachel Johnson of Plano while Humble Kingwood won the team title over The Woodlands College Park and Southlake Carroll. In the 3a race, the Clint girls missed a medal by the narrowest of margins as 1 point separated the 2,3 and 4 teams. So close.
The post-season has started in the Midwest and what a race at Nike Midwest! York, who after finishing 3rd at the IL state meet stepped up big to win the Nike Midwest title over Neuqua Valley. Loyola, as recently as 2 weeks ago was ranked #1 in the US, was left out. Loyola's chances of an at-large bid however, should be very favorable when considering their 3 wins over York this season. York will be running in their 6th consecutive National meet , the only program to have qualified for every Nike Cross Nationals final. They won in 04 and were runner-ups in 05 and 08. Neuqua Valley won the title in 07 as Illinois has been extremely competitive at this meet.
Lukas Verzbicas and Futsum Zeinasellassie (IN-Footlocker top 10 as a Frosh last year) sat out this race to concentrate on Footlocker Midwest leaving Zach Wills of Ohio to claim an easy win. On the girls side , Magnificat OH edged Illinois State Champs Palatine for the win while individual honors went to Ohio's Hannah Neczypor.
Many great races still lie ahead as we head to Footlocker Regionals and Nike Cross Nationals. I hope to see many of the top stars tangle one on one. Chesley Sveinsson has been resting and training and should be raring to go at the post-season meets.
El Paso is starting to see a resurgence as a cross country power (mostly in 4a vs 5a) as El Paso Jefferson is now the #6 ranked team in the South rankings. Isaac Spencer (Austin) won the 1-4a regional meet and was 7th at the State meet. Jefferson is coached by former El Paso prep star Alfredo Trejo who was top 20 at Footlocker (then Kinney) in 1980.
On the NCAA side of things, Stanford is still the favorite as they cruised to conference and regional wins both times led by individual winner Chris Derrick. Oklahoma State should contend still as German Fernandez seems to round into shape after an early season injury. They ran regional as a team tempo run with all the team coming across together. Colby Lowe is still the key I think as he needs to step up from last years performance. If he does they will be right there in contention with Stanford.
Washington remain the favorite on the women's side with Jenny Barringer (CO) being an overwhelming favorite to win the individual title. Look for prized frosh Jordan Hasay (Oregon) and Allie McLaughlin (Colorado) to have breakthrough races in Terre Haute.
I hope to attend some of the bigger meets coming up here in the next couple weeks and will be sure to blog on them and hopefully share some pics.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mid October ramblings

Before I touch on the XC season thus far, this past weekend was a great one on the roads. Sammy Wanjiru broke Khalid Khannouchi's Chicago course record by 1 second with his 2:05:41. It was the fastest marathon run on US soil. Wanjiru who is only 22 is now 4 and 0 in the major marathons. His 4 wins have all been between 2:05.10 and 2:06.39. Amazing athlete. Props need to be given to this years pacemakers. Patrick Ivuti (2007 Chicago Marathon champ and a pacesetter this year) led the group through the 1/2 marathon in 1:01.59-1:02.00.
Speaking of the 1/2 marathon, American Dathan Ritzenhein continued his amazing 2009 with a Bronze Medal at the World 1/2 Marathon Champs (also on Sunday). Eritrean Zersenay Tadese won his 4th straight title in 59:35 while Kenya's Bernard Kipyego edged out Dathan for the silver 59:59 to 60:00. Another amazing performance in what has been a career year for Dathan Ritzenhein.
In the college XC ranks it is always exciting to see which freshmen step up to the transition. After last years great freshman crop everyone is wondering who will be the ones to break through. We saw great performances in early season victories from Arkansas' Soloman Haile (last years Footlocker champ) and Wisconsin's Reed Connor (last years NXN champ from The Woodlands, TX). Both were upstaged though recently (and soundly beaten in same race!) by Iowa's Jeff Thode. At the Wisconsin Adidas Invite on October 3rd Thode was edged for the win by Georgetown senior Andrew Bumbalough 23:54.0 to 23:54.7. Connor and Haile ran 16th and 17th about 30 seconds back. After winning the IL state meet last year Thode did not run NXN or FL but won the Mideast Meet of Champions. His track season was chronicled well in this blog with a 4:05 1600 and 8:51 3200. Very impressive young man and I hope to see him do very well at the NCAA level.
Jordan Hasay made her college debut that weekend as well and finished 6th at the Dellinger Invite. Jordan ran as the Oregon #2 to Alex Kosinski. Neither the Oregon Men or Women looked as good as expected. My NCAA favorite on the mens side this year is Oklahoma State. In addition to German Fernandez, Ryan Vail (All-American last year) returns for his final season and transfer Girma Mesecho (All American last year as a Frosh at Auburn) is eligible and ready to go. Colby Lowe should step up from last year and help the team win the title. Look for the Chris Derrick led Stanford team to challenge as well. On the women's side, I don't see any team capable of beating last years champ Washington.
On the prep level there is not much reason to take back any early season predictions. Chelsey Sveinsson (TX) dominated the Cowboy Jamboree in OK and while Lukas Verzbicas (IL) has only run once (an early season course record in Lyons, IL) he won the World Duathalon Champs which found him closing the last 2500 meters in 4:11 mile pace! Unreal. According to the Chicago Tribune, Lukas ran ill as well in his defeat of 18 year old Mario Mola, the World Junior Triathalon Champion from Spain.
While most everyone has Zach Wills (OH) as his main competition the Rosa twins from New Jersey are quickly stepping up as his main rivals. Joe has been setting course records and brother Jim has been right behind. Wills beat 2009 FL All-American Futsum Zeinasellaisse (IN) a few weeks back as well.
Down in TX, Region 1 and 2 are really heating up. Cedar Park, The Woodlands and Klein Oak all make Region 2 the toughest Team region in the State, if not the US.
Region 1 has seen some fantastic individual performances. Connor Adams (Flower Mound, TX) beat Craig Lutz early on. Lutz has since bounced back and won Nike South over a high quality field that included Parker Stinson (Cedar Park), Ryan Dohner (Klein Oak) Neal Smith (Southlake Carrol) and Travis Barcaley of Boerne. Also making noise out west is Lubbock Coronado jr Donovan Torres. Torres ran a fantastic 15:20 at Mae Simmons Park at the Lubbock Invite for the easy win. He followed that with a very close 2nd place (14:53-14:55) to Connor Adams at the McNeil Invite.
Look for Lutz, Adams, Torres and Smith to all challenge for individual honors and sub 15 at the Region 1 meet. After those 4 hopefully we can see some talent from El Paso make the State Final. In 4a, Region 1 on the boys side looks to go to the El Paso area as Jefferson is the favorite for the team title and the 1-2 Austin High duo of Isaac Spencer and Ramon Garcia will be very tough to beat. Keep an eye on the Clint girls in 3a and still don't discount El Paso Eastwood in the 5a girls.
On the national level, remember some of the names discussed as they will be names you will hear for some time. Verzbicas, Wills, the Rosa's, Zeinasellaisse, Lutz, Torres, and Elias Geydon (CA) will all be back next year. Maybe we will see a repeat winner on the boys side in 2011.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall is here...XC Time!

Fall is here and that means one thing. Cross Country season is upon us. It was a great summer of Track and Field. All of the Gala League meets were televised as well as others, great World Championships in Berlin. Good times, literally. Two Americans, Dathan Ritzenhein (12:56.27 New AR) and Matt Tegenkamp (12:58.56) , broke 13 minutes in the 5000 in the span of one week. 3 Americans (Evan Jager, German Fernandez and Chris Derrick) all no more than 2 years removed from the American High School system ran sub 13:30, all before they are old enough to drink a beer in a bar.
The United States women have seen a huge resurgence in the middle distances with fantastic 800/1500 meter performances from the likes of Anna Willard, Shannon Rowbury, Jenny Barringer, Christin Wurth-Thomas and Maggie Vessey. Hopefully the trend will continue for years to come as it was quite inspiring to see these ladies hold their own against the world's best.
Now we head in to the time of the year reserved for running on uneven surfaces and terrains. Cross Country. I can't touch much on the College ranks yet as most of the top teams and individuals have yet to race. Texas and Illinois are once again looking very strong in the High School ranks with some of the top individuals and teams.
The Lone Star state brings Chelsey Sveinsson (top female in the US), Sarah Andrews, Parker Stinson, Craig Lutz and Connor Adams. The Woodlands girls and boys teams look very strong and the Cedar Park boys look to challenge for State and National honors.
Illinois fields the top male in the nation (probably for a few years to come!) in Sophomore Lukas Verzbicas as well as some of the top boys teams in the nation in York and Naperville Neuqua Valley. York lost 2 stars in Steve Sulkin (9:01) and Jordan Herbert (9:04) and Neuqua lost Foot Locker All-American Danny Pawola but as most perennial powerhouses they have rebuilt and both should have strong showings at the IL state meet and Nike Cross nationals.
Moving on to some things you couldn't already find out on Dyestat, it looks like there are some good things going on at my alma mater Eastwood (El Paso, TX). The girls team is undefeated 2 meets in and is looking solid from 1-7 with several capable front runners. As long as they start getting the 1-5 time gap down they can make some noise after the District meet. On the boys side Junior Juan Blanco won the Clint/Horizon Invitational with a solid win over 200 plus runners. I think he has the ability to become the best XC runner from the school in many, many years if not THE best. He certainly impressed me with his 4:30 in the 1600 as a Sophomore. Hopefully these kids will stay healthy and go into the Region 1 meet with the knowledge that they can absolutely compete with the best in the Region and State. Coach Mike McLain has certainly been there, earning individual and team Region Championships as a runner for Hanks High School back in the glory days (the 80's) of El Paso High School Cross Country. If anyone can help them realize this goal it is him.
I will certainly touch on the progress and performances of the team this year as I cheer for them from afar.
In an unrelated "How did I miss this from last year?" the defending Arkansas big schools Girls Cross Country champion (who ran away with last years title as a Frosh) is Valerie Reina. Yep, Reubens daughter. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

5000 Meter young guns

Like many people I was extremely impressed by the performances of youngsters Evan Jager and German Fernandez at the USATF Outdoor Nationals in the 5000. 20 year old Evan, in his second serious attempt at the distance, ran 13:22.18 for 3rd. 18 year old German (also his second serious 5000) ran 13:25.46 for fifth. German's mark took down the 2 month old National Junior mark of 13.29.98 (Chris Derrick, Stanford).
I had been following Jager closely as he (and Derrick) came up through the years here in IL. He, no doubt, had and has tremendous potential. I was surprised, as were many, at his decision to go pro after 1 year at Wisconsin. I was doubtful it would work out that early on. I was very, very wrong. I still think his best event may be the mile as his 3:54 at Pre this year indicates. I can say the same about German as well after his wire to wire victory in the NCAA 1500.
I was blown away by how two very young US runners, not running in their specialties ran such fast times. I wondered how they stacked up against some of my old heroes. Growing up in El Paso, TX I was in awe of the old UTEP distance corps. I could go watch them run local meets and they also graced the local road races on occasion. It was not unusual to see Mike Musyoki, James Rotich or Mathews Motshwarateu (RIP) show up to dominate the local 5 or 10k. It was good stuff growing up. The old UTEP teams were undoubtably the most dominant distance runners in NCAA history (sorry Arkansas and Oregon). The 1981 squad set the existing all time low of 17 points. Good luck to any team that thinks they can break that. The Olympic silver medalist at 5000 meters (Suleiman Nyambui) wasn't even the first man on the squad that year. Many people believe these teams had a very unfair advantage over the others as they consistently fielded 7 highly talented Africans (and Rodolfo Gomez) against home grown talent. So I was curious to see how the two American youngsters times fared against the UTEP greats. Surely they had potential to eventually run comparable times but at this early age? Wow. I was wrong and surprised and also very, very excited about the future of US Distance running. Here is the All-Time 5000 meter list from UTEP. Wow.

5000-Meter Run
13:12.2 Suleiman Nyambui 1979
13:24.9 Michael Musyoki 1978
13.34.2 Gidamis Shahanga 1983
13.35.3 Rodolfo Gomez 1978
13:36.4 James Munyala 1976
13:37.1 Kerry Pearce 1968
13:39.03 Zak Barie 1982
13:40.2 Mathews Motshwarateu 1981
13:42.2 James Rotich 1979
13:44.5 Gabriel Kamau 1980

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Midwest Distance Gala

I took a short drive out to Lisle, IL this past weekend to check out the annual Midwest Distance Gala at Benedictine University. It is at an amazing facility for this type of event. Great track, green surroundings, great seating, etc. The announcer was excellent, on top of his game keeping everyone updated on who was who. After listening to Carol Lewis announce Track and Field all season it was a pleasure.
The main reason I wanted to go (other than being a distance buff) was to see Lukas Verzbicas (see previous entry) run in person. Lukas was going head to head in the 2 Mile against Footlocker National XC Champ Solomon Haile of Maryland.
I took a seat close to the finish line and waited for the 2 fastest indoor 5000 meter runners (Prep) in history line up. When the gun went off I had to run to the lower level above the track to take in the action. Lukas went to the front right away (behind the pacesetter who took them though the mile in just over 4:20). He looked very smooth, he is one of the most fluid distance runners I have ever seen run in person. Solomon was running behind him the whole time as the 2 had gapped the field. After the 5th lap Haile went to the front, while Graham Bazzell (also MD) starting cutting the gap.

At the bell (which was reached in 7:52) Lukas stepped around and proceeded to run around Haile like he was standing still. It is an exaggeration but it looked that effortless. Lukas tore away down the backstretch hitting 3000 Meters in 8:20.15 (a Freshman National Record) and cruised home in 8:53.98 (3200 in 8:50, both US #1's and National Freshman Records) for the win. Haile fought off a hard charging Bazzell for second (8:56.08 to 8:56.65).

The boy's mile was billed as a sub 4 attempt after Rhode Island's Star Andrew Springer signed up to race the US leader at 1600 Jeff Thode (who had just run 4:05 at the Illinois State Meet) and Michigan's Michael Atchoo.
The pace was quick from the start. The pacesetter took them out in 2 flat at the 800. There was a few still grouped together. At the bell Springer was alone at 3:01 with Thode still close. The possibility of Sub 4 still existed and wasn't out of the question until about 100 Meters left. Springer crossed the line in 4:02.70 (4:01 1600) with Illinois small school champ Peter Callahan second in 4:05.20 (4:03 1600). Springer collapsed to the ground, Callahan had to be helped to stand.

Thode, who had been known to be gunning for the 4 minute mile all season looked completely wiped out after losing a lot of ground in the last lap and coming home in 4:17.62. I was still very impressed with the Iowa recruits season. He gave it all he had but it wasn't to be for him that day.

The girls mile was fantastic also as the 2 Illinois stars Stephanie Brown and Lizzy Hynes ran away from the field. Brown powered to a 4:50.12 (4:48.2 at 1600) to 4:51.91 win. The boys 800 was another great one as well as Ohio's Danny Neff ran the 4th fastest time in the US this year at 1:50.02.

As I stated in my previous blog, I think Lukas's potential is unlimited. After NON (where he will run the 2 mile) he will go back to preparations for the Triathalon while many great runners he soundly defeated this year will go run and do well for major universities. He is not sure yet if he will run the Cross Country season for his upcoming Sophomore year. His Tri-season won't end until September. I will just try and see this great talent run locally when I can. I'm still amazed when a 16 year old (for the record T & F News says he is 15) can run his 1st outdoor race of the year and run the fastest time in the country and make it look easy. Time will tell.

Next up for Lukas, Nike Outdoor Nationals in the 2 mile. This may be his toughest test yet. Fellow Chicago area runner (and US #2 at 3200, 8:51) Jeff Thode will look to rebound after his performance in the Mile at the MDG. US #3 (8:51 3200 and Footlocker runnerup) Trevor Dunbar of Alaska as well as US #1 Miler Andrew Springer (4:02) should all be pushing the race into sub 8:50 territory.
In another Tx/IL story look for both The Woodlands (TX) and York (IL) to challenge (along with North Spokane, WA) the long standing 4 X Mile relay record (17:06.6, S. Eugene, 1976) this weekend. On the Girls side look for Chelsey Sveinsson (TX) to be the favorite in both the Mile and 2 Mile in the absence of Jordan Hasay. It's gonna be another great Prep Track weekend.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Another year, another Illinois star.

A lot has happened since I last blogged here. Footlocker and NTN came and went. Reed Connor (The Woodlands) and Chelsey Sveinsson (Greenhill Academy) both made Texans proud at Nike Team Nationals. Jordan Hasay won her 2nd Footlocker National Championship over a loaded field while the controversial Soloman Haile (MD) took the boys title.
NCAA action indoors has been exciting to say the least. Oregon's Galen Rupp has silenced his critics as he has dominated his races. The big 3 (Fernandez, Derrick and Puskedra) Freshman have more than lived up to the hype. German has a 3:55 mile to his name already and Chris Derrick was a 2-time All-American at NCAA Indoor. Months into his Freshman year and Chris has 3 (including XC) All-American certificates to his name. It will be very interesting to see how these 3 perform for the US Junior team at the world XC meet in Jordan.
Here in Illinois the future (and present) High School distance running looks great as usual. Lukas Verzbicas (who I mentioned back in an XC blog) just made the nation take notice after his double (2 mile/5K ) win at Nike Indoor Nationals. The Lincoln Way (New Lenox, IL) freshman set a new US High School record in the 5000 meters of 14:18.42 beating the short lived 14:22 US Record that Soloman Haile had just set at NSIC hours before. He smashed the 14:29 Brad Hudson mark (that prior to Haile's 14:22) had stood for 25 years. He also won the 2-mile in 8:57.44 a couple days later. Not bad for a kid who had his XC season end prematurely with an injury.
There is a big debate raging on as people talk about his age. He is a 16 year old Freshman. Fine, I say. It doesn't matter as he set the All-Time HS record in the 5k regardless of grade or age. It doesn't change that fact. His 8:57 2-mile is currently the fastest 2 mile in the nation, indoors or out, by ANY high schooler. Period. Grades 9-12. End of story as far as I'm concerned.
What is really going to be interesting over the next couple years is to see where he puts his focus. Lukas has previously stated his future to be in the Triathlon. In May he will compete for the US at the Pan American Junior Championships. He has stated his goal is to win an olympic gold in the Triathlon. He does seem to be a little more open to just running after his great indoor wins this year however.
It's going to be a disappointment not to see him at the Illinois State Meet this year. He has stated he will concentrate on the Triathlon for the next two years but will run outdoors in 2011 and 2012. If he keeps improving he will join the ranks of many of the all-time great out of Illinois (ie. Virgin, Sitko, Merrick, Graves, Spivey, etc) or some of the greats from the last 10-12 years (i.e. Torres brothers, Sage, Withrow, Jager, Havel. Derrick). At this point he can't even claim to be the fastest 2-miler out of Lincoln Way (the great Dave Merrick went 4:05 and 8:43.2 almost 40 years ago). It will be quite an accomplishment just to break the Lincoln Way records.
I will be watching his progress closely. I think his potential is unlimited. He is running the Shamrock Shuffle this Sunday in Chicago. It will be interesting to see how he mixes it up with some of the big boys in the 8k. He ran 25:31 to finish 11Th overall last year as an 8Th grader. Pretty impressive stuff. I hope after his May Triathlon he "dabbles" in Track at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.