Photo by Smotherman Images - Claudia Lane is already out front and way ahead of the pack in this image.

                                                   

       The 2017 Foot Locker National Championship for girls provided a confirmation of greatness, as Claudia Lane of Malibu became just the sixth female harrier to claim two titles and just the forth female to score in back to back years.  She joined Erin Keogh (1985 & 86), Melody Fairchild (1989 & '90) & Erin Sullivan (1997 & '98), as well as Jordan Hasay (2005 & '08) & Anna Rohrer (2012 & '14) in a very select list in the long thirty-nine year history of the race that is a true test of champions.  For many, who witnessed the event it was not just the accomplishment but the way that she did it.  Lane did not run a cautious race but like a true competitor she challenged the field to stay with her.

     It was only after about twenty seconds into the race, that Lane had a slight lead & with forty seconds gone the Malibu flash already had opened up a distinct five-meter lead over the field.  She ran by herself down the hill and made the turn and headed up the slight uphill that parallels the tennis courts at Balboa Park.  It was a bold move, especially as there had been rumors that she had been nagged by a sore throat most of the week, which probably were the result of the fires that had raged in the Los Angeles area for the better part of the week.  Although the weather seemed fine and the air quality alright in San Diego area, the area was extremely dry and there was a red flag warning for a severe threat of fire.  No matter the quality the course was certainly dry and dust was being kicked up by Lane & the field.  Still it was Lane, who forged ahead by herself as the rest of the field remained respectfully well back headed by Katelynne Hart of Illinois.   

     Hart of course was more the titular leader, as she was barely ahead of a throng of runners that essentially included the entire field but prominent near the lead were Olivia Thies of Michigan & Marlee Starliper of Pennsylvania.   The race was already looking like it was for second with Lane reaching the 800 Meter mark in 2:34 well ahead of any potential challenger.  Of course even the fifteenth runner Alyssa Hendrix was only 2:42 and the twentieth, Tierney Wolfgran clocked 2:43, so the bulk of the field did have some sort of contact.  Lane rolled through the 1000 Meter mark in about four minutes flat a she relentlessly pushed the pace.  Looking straight ahead she passed the mile mark in a brisk 5:17, which left her isolated from the chase pack.  Marlee Starliper came to the mark in 5:30 and had a second lead over a group that included Olivia Theis, Minnesotan Emily Covert, Katelynne Hart and Katherine Thronson of Washington who all were clocked with versions of 5:31.  Baring something unforeseen the race was only for second at this point but then that had been the pattern in all of Claudia’s races this season.  Of course this was a loaded field full of State champions, who are not used to being left well behind the leader, who in most cases was themselves.  

      By the time Claudia had reached the one & a half mile mark in 8:00.7 she had opened even a wider gap, which also served to stretch out the challengers, for Marlee Starliper was now alone in second at 8:13 with Theis trailing a second behind her.   Hart was a distinct fourth with a line of runners chasing her led by Jacqueline Gaughan, Emily Covert & Katherine Lee of New York.   With no one making move to even dent the leaders gap the talk now focused on the final time.  Lane was about four seconds ahead of her pace from the previous year, when she ran 17:04 so she still had a shot of becoming one of the few to break seventeen minutes on the fabled Balboa course.  No one had even dipped below the barrier since Aislyn Cuffe had dashed over the Morley Field course in 2010 in 16:53.  

       Lane was certainly in reach of the barrier & possibly that mark, when she swept past the two-mile mark in 10:57 but it was also obvious that things were certainly developing behind the champion.  Olivia Theis had quietly moved into second place and clocked 11:12 yet was barely ahead of Hart.  Marlee Starliper followed closely in 10:14 but was showing signs of strain yet she gamely held on & still held a solid margin over Gaughan.  Now joining the conversation freshman Tierney Wolfgram of Minnesota had inserted herself into the equation.   Behind them the field was strung out and there were as always numerous mini-battles between various runners who were vying for each valuable spot that might earn them the title of All American in this race.

         Claudia Lane still looked strong as she began the climb up Upas Hill again at around the 13:47 but   Upas Hill has a reputation that has been earned through the years and it is not to be taken lightly & certainly the second ascent of the formidable rise is usually a very different encounter than what was faced the first time.  It was at this point that fans began to realize that Lane was no longer expanding on her lead.   Moreover she ran this formidable hill alone, while Hart & Theis began the climb working in tandem at the 14:02 mark.  

       Lane ran well at the end and even appeared to open her stride up as she headed down the stretch but she will have to wait until next year to get under seventeen minutes.  Still her time of 17:03 is one of the best times on the course and next year she can attempt to become the race's first three-time winner.  Claudia certainly made the end of the race interesting but then again Theis and Hart made the end of the race extremely exciting.  Theis had held a slight lead as they entered the stretch but as they began the slight downgrade and they headed for the finish line, Hart launched her   kick.   She edged past Theis, who refused to surrender and fought back but it was Hart who had a slight lead as they crossed the line and were both credited with 15:22.7.  Katherine Lee finished alone in fourth with a time of 15:38 and Jacqueline Gaughan finished fifth in 15:44 and Ana Wallace of Florida took sixth in 15:48.

     Tierney Wolfgram claimed seventh in 17:51 and Sarah Schmitt of Illinois followed with 17:56.  The Midwest dominated the team race, as Emily covert took ninth (17:58) and Adelyn Ackley of Michigan added a tenth place time of 18:00.   The Midwest runners easily secured the team title with a 29 to 48 margin over the Northeast.  Earning third team All American honors were Adouette Vaughan of Texas (11th - 18:02), Abigail Green of Maryland (12th - 18:03, Marlee Starliper  (13th - 18:04), Page Lester of D.C. (14th - 18:06) and Eleanor Lawler of R.I. (15th - 18:11).   Other runners of note were Savannah Shaw of Pittsburgh  (16th - 18:16) and Katherine Thronson (19th - 18:26).   Such is the competition here that, if you are not having a good day you can have placement that is misleading as is the case for Tennessee champion Rebecca Story of Knoxville.   The two-time State champion had placed third in this race last year and was the South Regional champion this year but sadly this Saturday was not her day.  Such are the vagaries of the running experience but she is a champion, who will have better days again.  That is the beauty of Foot Locker, because everyone is a champion and earned their right to be there on their own.   Rebecca had been undefeated this season - but that is running & we all have those days.  She will start another streak and there is one thing that will always make her rather unique even in running: she is a two-time National Foot Locker finalist.   She will always be that plus she stayed twice at the Hotel Del Coronado.