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.