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Post Season Preview
By: Ryun Anderson
webmaster@mocorunning.com
2015-11-26


Happy Thanksgiving to all! For most, this weekend is one of celebration, feasting, and rest. With the official cross country season having come to an end and indoor track still a week away, most runners across the county will use this week to rest and focus on family. However, for some runners, Thanksgiving weekend is synonymous with one word - "nationals."

This year, Montgomery County will be represented by at least thirteen schools at the two regional qualifying national meets: the Nike Cross Southeast Regional in North Carolina and the Footlocker Northeast Regional in New York.

The Nike Cross Nationals began in 2004 as the Nike Team Nationals race, and in 2008 switched to the current Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) race. Since its inauguration, only three Montgomery County athletes have ever advanced out of the regional championships in North Carolina to the national championships in Oregon (the birthplace of Nike): Whitman's Andrew Palmer twice in 2008 and 2009, Wootton's Jessie Rubin in 2009 and B-CC's Nora McUmber (who won the regional race) in 2013.

Montgomery County came tantalizingly close to sending a boys team to the national championships back in 2010. The Walter Johnson boys, fresh off their third consecutive state title, came into the Southeast Regional meet on a roll, only to tie for second and miss nationals on a sixth-runner tiebreaker.

This season, the Good Counsel boys enter the weekend on a similar roll, having wrapped up a three-peat of their own in the MD-DC Private Schools Championship two weeks ago. The team hasn't lost a race since the Glory Days Invitational on October 10th, when they finished third (six points ahead of Severna Park).

That meet provided what could be an excellent preview of the Southeast meet. Dulaney and Lake Braddock duked it out for the title (Dulaney won by one point) and Good Counsel edged Severna Park, overtaking the unofficial status as the #2 boys team in Maryland. Head Coach Tom Arnold agrees: "At this time, Lake Braddock and Dulaney look stronger than the second tier of teams," he said. He also believes that Good Counsel will be right in the battle for the third place spot, which leaves the door open for an at-large bid for the national race.

"Since our current senior class arrived as freshmen, we could see the potential for very strong boys' squads in both 2014 and 2015," said Coach Arnold. "We began a conversation about this year's Nike Southeast back in 2013. We projected and assigned goal 5k times and target VO2max levels for each guy if we were to have a chance at qualifying for nationals. So, while we have focused each week on whatever our next race has been, we have been laboring within a broader context."

While the Good Counsel boys head into the regional meet at full strength, the girls team will be without their top runner, Claudia Wendt. After top five finishes at Oatlands and the Howard County Invitational, an injury shut her down for nearly a month. She returned to finish third in the MD-DC Private School Championships, but Coach Arnold says she will not race at the Southeast regional so that she can more rapidly fully recover from her injury.

The Walter Johnson girls - most likely Maryland's best team - have been on a similar roll throughout the championship season. The season did not start well for the Lady Wildcats, who dealt with health issues and lost an early season dual meet against B-CC, who eventually won the division. However, they picked up momentum in early October, destroying the field at the Georgetown Prep Classic before handily sweeping the county, region, and state titles.

Whether or not Walter Johnson is strong enough to compete with the top schools from Virginia and North Carolina in the Southeast region remains to be seen. The top finish by a Montgomery County girls team at the Nike Southeast regional was Churchill's sixth place finish in 2007. B-CC's team in 2013, led by Nora McUmber's winning performance, finished seventh overall. This year's Walter Johnson team has a chance to beat that mark and become the highest-placing Montgomery County team in the meet history.

Three of Maryland's fastest girls, Maria Coffin, Hayley Jackson, and Brit Lang, are racing at the Footlocker Northeast regional, meaning that WJ star sophomore Abby Green could be Maryland's fastest girl at the NXN meet. She will have competition from Paint Branch senior Bethlehem Taye, who is running unattached as most of the other members of the team run in the freshman/sophomore race. After finishing 19 seconds behind Green at the county championships, she nearly caught Green at the finish line at the state championships. Another close race could be in order as Green, Taye, and WJ's Emily Murphy fight for one of the five individual qualifying spots for NXN.

It took some careful consideration, but ultimately Richard Montgomery coach Davy Rogers decided to take his top two boys, Rohann Asfaw and Joachim El- Masry, to the Southeast regional. "We have heard how fast the NXN course is and thought that it would be fun to race it," said Coach Rogers. "Also, I think the type of racing they will get [at Nike Southeast] more fits their style than that in New York. I think they will be able to get a better race down in North Carolina."

Asfaw has been the top Montgomery County public school runner for the duration of the season, with Jack Wavering and Eric Walz being the only Maryland runners to have beaten him this season. But while Asfaw's success was widely predicted, it was sophomore Joachim El-Masry whose sudden ascension to the top of the Montgomery County ranks that took fans and athletes alike by surprise.

"I wouldn't say I was surprised that he was as good as he was - I think it just happened really quickly," Coach Rogers remarked. "He was in Egypt for most of the summer and was not able to do much running for safety reasons. [He] had a phenomenal season with very little summer training." Coach Rogers noted the divisional meet against B-CC and Whitman as the day Joachim started to really improve. "I told him to take a chance and run with Rohann as long as he could. That was the day that he found out how good he could be."

While the NXN Southeast Regional offers a fast course and team scoring, the Footlocker Northeast Regional is much different. The history of the Footlocker National Championships (previously named the Kinney Championships) dates back to 1979, making it the oldest-running national cross country race for high schoolers.

The Northeast regional is located at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City, and unlike the Southeast regional course, it features a challenging course with steep hills and many turns. It is also an individual-centered meet, meaning that all athletes are entered as unattached and must qualify for nationals in California by placing in the top ten.

Montgomery County runners have come close to advancing to the National meet in recent years. In 2013, Chase Weaverling finished 11th, a year after William Bertrand finished 12th. Back in 2008, Sherwood great Solomon Haile won the race en route to a national title in San Diego.

This year, both Blake and Poolesville will be taking teams to the Footlocker Regional. The Blake boys had one of the most successful seasons in school history this year, finishing ninth at counties and then tenth at the 3A state championships.

Blake head coach Andrew Brodeur originally decided against scheduling the meet for his runners in the preseason. "It was our county performances that made me rethink it. I had first put the idea to James [Newport] since he has had such a strong season," said Coach Brodeur.

"I am a Footlocker boy myself so I have much more experience with that meet. Since I was originally planning on bringing only a few individuals, Footlocker seemed like the logical choice. [However,] James told the other guys and they became interested so we now have our top seven entered in the race."

The improvement of the entire team from the 1-7 runners is what Coach Brodeur cites as a reason for this team's improvement. "[The senior class] had three coaches in three years when I came to Blake. Those kids were the first to buy in to the training and instill that belief in the other kids." Coach Brodeur also knows that this is new territory for a rising program.

"To my knowledge, this is one of the first times that Blake is sending anyone to the regional meet. When my teams do new meets, I always tell them that they are setting the bar for the kids who run the meet the next year. I just want them to compete hard and to the best of their ability and finish the season with a strong performance."

The other Montgomery County team traveling to New York this weekend, Poolesville, features the outstanding freshman runner Nandini Satsangi. After finishing seventh at the county championships, Satsangi finished third at regionals and then runner-up at the 3A state championships. The last freshman girl to finish in the top two at the 3A state championships was Urbana's Emily Mulhern in 2011. Mulhern, who won that race, also went on to win two more state titles in her career, a path that Satsangi can hope to follow in years to come.

An interesting note this year is the weather forecast for each meet. One thing is clear: it is going to be extraordinarily warm Thanksgiving weekend this year. For the NXN Southeast Regional in Cary, North Carolina, the high temperature Saturday could reach 70 (!!!), meaning that even the earliest race of the day will probably be no colder than 55 degrees.

The forecast for New York City is a bit different. Last year, when I ran this race, it was bitter cold - wind chills in the 20s - so this year's high of 49 can be seen as a huge relief to runners who were expecting to pack extra hats and gloves. However, there is also a chance of morning showers, which could muddy up the dirt hills and further slow down an already challenging course.

Mocorunning will be at the NXN Southeast regional and will provide updates. Good luck to everyone running, and happy Thanksgiving to all!






Article Comments - Add A Comment

NameComment

Twt
2015-11-26 14:15:09

Churchill finished in the top six in the first year of the Nike meet when it was in Alabama ...

gluten free kyle
2015-11-26 15:06:26

If the wj girls team is going to nxr than so am I

theo cambpell
2015-11-26 15:07:15

Wj girls only like hockey players

Ryun
2015-11-26 15:07:27

Ah yes, it appears they did. With all the teams running under nicknames sometimes the Moco teams aren't very clear. Thanks for the correction.

bubby
2015-11-26 17:11:30

^

Wj runner
2015-11-26 22:23:20

Beware of northwest girls

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