Sunday, December 8, 2013

Washington dominates NXN

The finish chute at Nike Cross Nationals (NXN)
Once again the perks of living here in Oregon were evident. Woke up, had my morning coffee and then a quick 15 ride to Portland Meadows (PM's main function is a horse racing track). My body forgot we left Chicago as the temps were very Midwest like.
I thought the conditions would favor East Coast/MW teams in the circumstances but it turned out the State of WA put on a clinic. Girls up first and I was way more excited to watch this race over the Boys. In October I went down to the Dellinger Invite in Eugene (see entry below) and watched Alexa Efraimson (JR, Camas WA) get gapped by, then kick down and outkick Emma Bates of Boise St. for the win. I knew then and there that Alexa would beat NXN queen Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley,Ca). Emma Bates recently followed up that performance with a runner up performance at the NCAA XC Champs last month. The race followed true to form with Baxter, Efraimson and mile star Elise Cranny (CO) breaking away early.
Girls lead pack early on
The lead changed hands between Baxter and Efraimson several times with Cranny content to tuck in. Heading towards 2.5 miles it looked like Efraimson had been dropped. The announcers, a great crew of Toni Reavis, Rich Gonzalez and Chris Derrick, noted that she may be falling out of contention. Nope. Just as she put the hammer down with a furious kick at Dellinger she once again put the hammer down and powered past Cranny and Baxter as if they were practically standing still. She put a few seconds on them in no time and powered home in a course record 16:50.1.
Alexa Efraimson powers in for a course record. Kara Goucher holds the tape.

Cranny gapped Baxter 16:53-16:57 for second. Baxters last race ended with her first loss ever as a high schooler in XC. First loss ever! Still a mighty impressive career. Efraimson returns next year in what may truly be an exciting SR season. She closes with a national championship and a victory over an elite NCAA field. Imagine the amount of excitement she'd generate already if not for a certain newly minted 17 year pro named Mary Cain.
Huge surprises in the team battle as Wayzata, MN defeated 7 time defending champ Fayetville-Manlius for the win. Back runners were the key as FM was ahead after the first 3. Never underestimate the importance of the back scorers.
The boys were up next. I figured (as did most) it would be a battle between Gig Harbor (WA), CBA (NJ) and Arcadia (Ca). CBA was the winner in 2011 with Arcadia winning in 2010 and 2012. Gig Harbor however, already a national power, added the much needed final piece to the puzzle when Mahmoud Moussa (younger brother of former Arcadia/current CU star Ammar Moussa) transferred from Arcadia to Gig Harbor after a family move.

The boys individual race was a lot more wide open with no big name stars of past NXN's such as Lukas Verzbicas, Edward Cheserek, Chris Derrick or Futsum Zeinasellaisse. A lot of the pre-meet was attention going to CO state champ Cerake Geberkidane. I was standing where Cerake was doing a lot of pre-meet stride outs and if you asked me then I would have picked him as well just due to how fluid he looked as he warmed up in the cold.
Boy's start
The Boys went out and no one seemed to really take the race by the throat for the first half. Lot's of the faves just tucked together feeling each other out.
Boy's lead pack
In the last third of the race, Kai Wilmot (North Central, WA) broke away and started putting some distance on the chase pack. It was obvious he was making his decisive move and not just an attempt to string out the pack. Surprisingly, it worked. He hammered away and put the field away coming in home for a course record 15:00. Kai was definitely not on most peoples radar as a potential winner, however an 8:57 in the 2 mile as a Soph gave the indications the potential was there. He was also a 4 time NXN qualifier! The woman right next to me at the finish was Kai's mother. It was fun to watch her excitement as she watched her son cross the line with a national championship.
Kai Wilmot powers in to a course record. German Fernandez and Centro JR hold the tape.

Boy's team gave another victory to WA as Gig Harbor edged out CBA for the win. In an odd twist Moussa became the first runner to win 2 national team champs, for different schools! I think the win really took CBA by surprise as they were the most somber looking national runner up squad I have ever seen.
The trophies
Gig Harbor (WA) celebrates a team victory
Pretty impressive running the State of WA yesterday I must say. The Girls was one of the most exciting championship races I have ever seen in person. One must keep in mind though for the Boy's especially, despite the cold, the ground was in the best conditions it ever has been for this race. Lukas over Cheserek in 2010 and Derrick over Colby Lowe were still the shining performances.

On a personal note, I was lucky enough to jump in to some USATF XC Champ races. Got my butt kicked as I transition to Masters racing but look forward to a full XC season next year and running some Indoor Race this February. It's why I moved here. Jumping in races with the like of Alan Webb, German Fernandez, and watching Kara Goucher work her way back to fitness was a LOT of fun.
Kara Goucher en route to winning the USATF NW XC Champs last month.
Hats off to the Eastwood Boys for another great season, even if it didn't end as hoped. The Eastwood Girls, fantastic showing at NXN South with a top 10 finish. One thing you notice at the big dance (NXN) there a a LOT of schools that qualify both the Boy's and Girl's squads. Keep on moving on!
Gerry Escapita closed a great XC career with a 3rd place at State in class 4A. Brian Casillas has one of the best seasons an individual EW runner has had with a lot of early season victories. The same goes for Anna Mora of EW.
On to Indoors!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Eastwood starts 2013 strong/Dellinger Invitational

There were lots of good things going on this past weekend in the middle of the XC season for 2013. For starters, Eastwood has picked off where they did last year and are undefeated midway through the season. They have run the table on the local competition and have just returned from repeating their winning performance of last year at the prestigious McNeil Invitational in Round Rock, TX. Brian Casillas (below) has been the leader that he was expected to be. Jose Silva (the other returner from last years South #4 squad) has shined as well. Last year I mentioned the culture change at Eastwood that spread down to their JV. The JV last year was the best team in El Paso other than Eastwood's varsity and those kids have stepped up to the plate. At mid-season they have ranked as high as TX#4. The rest of the state may have seen this as a rebuilding year but people close to the program could have sensed this. The usual challengers await at Region 1 but this year has a lot more uncertainty that keeps this year up for grabs. Defending state champion Southlake Carroll is vulnerable. They ran without Connor Hendrickson  (a 9:10 3200 runner) at Nike South and were well beaten. Lewisville Marcus who many may have pegged the favorite if SLC faltered has yet to run JR Logan Hendrix (5th at Region 1 last year) and without him, same story. So Eastwood is in the same position as the last couple, just need to get to Lubbock first and then pack them in within 40-45 seconds from 1-5. Large gaps between scoring runners will be a killer.
Eastwood's Brian Casillas 
As I am nowhere near El Paso (or Texas) I did the next best thing and went out to the Bill Dellinger Invitational in Eugene, just a bit south of me to see the Oregon men and women run on their home turf. The men's race had UW's Aaron Nelson break the field and put a good distance on the field. Close to 4 miles in, the chase pack which included Oregon ex Trevor Dunbar and current Ducks Parker Stinson and Edward Cheserek, looked out of it. Cheserek the decided he had enough left and dropped the others and went after Nelson before just falling short 23:54 to 23:59. I had to do a double take at the mid pack early in the race when I thought I spotted Alan Webb running comfortably and talking to runners. It turns out Webb is an Assistant Coach at Portland State and was pacing his group through. He picked it up around 5K and ran a hard last 2 miles to finish a very respectable 24:45
The Chase Pack

Alan Webb mid race

The women's race was the highlight however. It was announced at the start that WA high school star Alexa Efraimson was in the race. She went right with the leaders and never strayed from there. Boise State all-american Emma Bates was the only one to keep pace at the end and then even tried to pull away to no avail. Efraimson used her 1500 meter closing speed to lose the gap and win an exciting finish, both ran 16:35. An additional highlight for me was meeting the one and only Bill Dellinger himself. Great way to spend 2 hours on a beautiful Saturday.

High Schooler Alexa Efraimson (WA) kicks down Emma bates

With the one and only Bill Dellinger  (R) and Vin Lanana (L)

I hope to blog more frequently here and look forward to getting out to NXN here. Can't close without mentioning the great starts to the XC college season by A&M's Isaac Spencer (EP Austin) and Houston's super frosh Brian Barazza (EP Franklin).