Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Close calls in Peoria

This past weekend brought us one of the most anticipated XC meets in quite some time. The Illinois State Meet. The 3a Boys race did not disappoint. On the individual side, all eyes were on the match up of Lukas Verzbicas and Jack Driggs. The team race figured to come down to York, Neuqua Valley and New Trier. The main question of the day was, would Lukas get Craig Virgin's long storied course record of 13:50? With Virgin on hand riding in the pace truck, all eyes were on Lukas from the gun. Driggs was the only runner game enough to go with him through the 1/2 mile mark before a 4:28ish mile split started putting a little distance between the two. After crossing 2 miles in roughly 9:10 Lukas had built close to a 100 meter lead. The race was his however he fell just short at 1354. That time will go down as the #3 time ever at Detweiller behind only Virgin and Chris Derrick (13:52).
(below, Verzbicas, Virgin and Derrick, photo credit unknown)

It was a run for the ages but the fun didn't stop there. With York trying to win a 27th team title, #2 runner Ron Hedman was disqualified for physical contact with another runner. It has been speculated that it was everything from shoving to a punch in the face. I don't know for certain. Fortunately York's #6 stepped up and the team narrowly beat surprise team Lake Zurich by a 2 point margin to get a record 27th title for Coach Joe Newton.
The 2a race had some great races as well. Woodstock senior Kayla Beattie set a course record of 16:22 in a 49 second win. The boys from Belvidere North set a 2a record low of 28 points. In fact, if you plug BN's times into the 3a race, BN would have beaten York. Can they beat York head to head? We will find out this weekend.
This Sunday in Terre Haute, IN is the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) Midwest Regional. Lukas is apparently going for the FootLocker, NXN double and will be there with the rest of his Sandburg team. Jack Driggs will bring his York team looking to continue the streak of being the only team to qualify for every NXN National meet since the inception. York will be tested not only by Lake Zurich and Belvidere North, but also the top ranked team this year in the Midwest, Columbus North of Indiana. Don't forget New Trier, Naperville Neuqua Valley and early season favorite Oak Park-River Forest.
The team race should be amazing. Lukas will be favored to win the boys race and his expected competion will come from Driggs and the Ohio stars Zach Wills and Michael Brajdic. Wills was 5th at the NXN National Meet last year and Brajdic just broke Bob Kennedy's Ohio State Meet record. The only name absent appears to be Futsum Zeinasellassie who looks to be going only to FootLocker.
The same weekend the Texas State Meet will get underway with defending NXN Champion Craig Lutz of Marcus the overwhelming favorite. It would take an upset in the magnitude of Don Knott's knocking out Mike Tyson for anyone to beat Lutz in Texas this year. This was solidified by a 55 second victory on a slightly revamped Mae Simmons course. Who did he beat by 55 seconds? Only last years 5th place finisher at the State Meet and The Harrier pre-season All American, Donovan Torres of Lubbock Coronado. Lutz's Marcus team soundly beat favorite Southlake Carroll 33-68 for good measure.
Plano's Rachel Johnson should run away with the girls title as well. In 4a both El Paso Austin and Jefferson should contend for the title. Austin has one of, if not the, best 1-2 combo in the state with Isaac Spencer and Ramon Garcia, while Jefferson brings a little more depth. Both have the potential to medal.
A quiet little blurb recently came out of Texas in the news that Chelsey Sveinsson had returned to racing. She appears to still be a ways off form as she placed 6th in the SPC (private school) Meet. She finished in 19:53, about 3 minutes slower than one would expect from her in a 5k. At that rate, I wouldn't look for her until Track season. Hope she returns stronger than ever.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

York rolls at Sectionals

I got a chance to take in the Skokie (Niles West) Sectional this past Saturday. It was the first meet of the year that I had been able to make it out to, but it was a great one. I expected a great battle between York and Oak Park-River Forest as York's only defeat this season had been at the hands of OPRF. Instead, it was New Trier (Winnetka, IL) who gave York all they could handle. York prevailed 57-62 with OPRF a little ways back in 3rd with 96. It may have been even closer but as it had been all year, Jack Driggs led York with an individual title. Driggs (pictured below at the sectional meet) won in 14:53.

Down in Lockport, Lukas Verzbicas went about his business as well winning that Sectional in 15:09. The time doesn't seem that impressive on paper until you realize that the course record there was previously 15:15 set in the 2007 season by one Chris Derrick. Enough said. Many people are looking to the battle brewing next week downstate in Peoria between Driggs and Verzbicas. Lukas has never lost a cross country race in his high school career and in fact, doesn't appear to have had a strong challenge in a high school race. Even at FL Nationals last year he made it look easy. Go to the FL website and watch the replay sometime. I think that Driggs is going to be up for the task of challenging him. The question of  will Lukas beat Craig Virgin's course record has to be asked along with, will Driggs go with him? It's going to be a great meet on Saturday both individually and with the teams. Look for Neuqua Valley to challenge York and New Trier.
Down in Texas the post season has just started. We saw the Humble Kingwood boys dominate The Woodlands at the district level and the El Paso Eastwood girls team win a 5th consecutive district title. Region 1 should be loaded with some great races. The top individual boy and girl (Craig Lutz and Rachel Johnson) in Texas will both run Saturday at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock. It is very possible that we will see the same school, Southlake Carroll, win both the boys and girls titles. Look for the SLC boys to be challenged by Marcus and Amarillo Tascosa, and the SLC girls to be challenged by Coppell and EP Eastwood. The 4a races should be a great time for El Paso with Isaac Spencer (EP Austin) and Joel Flores (El Paso Jefferson) contending for the individual title with Chuy Alegria of Ft. Worth Boswell. El Paso Jefferson will be a strong favorite for the team title.
On the University level the conference meets have seen some great performances in the way of tempo runs. Stanford won the Pac-10 the same way it has run all year with Chris Derrick, Elliot Heath and Jake Riley coming across the line in a dead heat. Oklahoma State did the same with Girma Mesecho, German Fernandez and Colby Lowe doing the same. Both teams have run like this all year and seem to be on a collision course to meet in Terre Haute, IN in a few weeks. Look for the team spreads to be a little higher as Derrick and Fernandez will undoubtedly be going after Sam Chelanga at the front. Question is for Stanford, will the team follow. To me if both teams run to their full capabilities it is still a toss up.
Jordan Hasay (Oregon) defeated Kathy Kroeger (Stanford) for the girls Pac-10 title. How many times did we see these two go back and forth at past FL Nationals?! Stanford was able to take the team title on both sides.
Speaking of Stanford, the Rosa brothers out of New Jersey have committed to the Cardinals and rumor is that Chelsey Sveinsson (Texas) has as well. It doesn't appear as if we will see Chelsey this cross season unless she runs USATF Juniors. Hope she is healthy soon.
Last but not least, the 2010 edition of the Chicago Marathon was one for the ages. Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya defeated Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia (2:06.24-2:06.42) in a great battle. Truly an amazing race, watch the finish of the race on Flotrack or find it on youtube. There is no doubt that Sammy Wanjiru is a true champion.