Girls Foot Locker 2016
With cool temperatures for this year in San Diego and a firm dry course at Balboa Park conditions were set for a fast race. Nevada Moreno of North Carolina had finished third the previous year and the South Regional champion was the favorite in the eyes of many fans, yet there were others who had fervent supporters including the Northeast champion Alyssa Aldrich and the Midwest champion Anne Forsyth of Michigan. While all three runners were formidable the wild card in the race was Claudia Lane of California, who had dominated the West Regional field with an impressive time of 17:20 to win by thirty-five seconds. Lane was certainly not lacking in confidence either for the California State champion, who had the fastest time of all divisions at the State meet at Woodward Park (third fastest time all-time behind Sarah Baxter & Julia Stamps), turned down the free pass extended by the Mud Bowl to qualify like a true champion at Foot Locker.
Then again it was the 38th running of Cross Country's true National Championship for high school runners: a race that two-time Olympian Molly Huddle had noted to be her first true running goal, so it is logical that the best be on hand to accept all comers. The start certainly left no doubt at the earnestness of the main challengers and almost as anticipated Lane and Aldrich assumed the lead. The pair ran together at the front of a large pack that ran down the hill towards the turn with the museums in the distance being reached in a time of 1:19.
Lane held a slight lead as the field headed up the hill by the tennis courts and tower the chase pack through an 800 meter split of 2:35, which was a brisk pace for the challenging course, which has long been the test of champions. Ann Forsyth had assumed second place at that point and, as the field rounded the pool on the out of side, there was still a fair-sized group following that included Aldrich & Virginian Heather Holt. The one notable exception missing was Nevada Moreno, who remained true to her prerace conviction to run within herself in the early stages of the race.
Claudia Lane, however, had a very different strategy and she moved confidently into the lead with a smooth and economic stride, which was fast enough to separate from the rest of the field with the exception of Forsyth. She headed across the road and continued to lead at the mile, which was traversed in 5:18. Forsyth remained in second with an open gap from the pack that now included Nevada Moreno six seconds back. Aldrich was with her at the time but the leader had a very focused & calm look on her face as she headed up Upas Hill for the first time and it was almost deceiving for her pace was still fast.
The race really took shape , when Lane went down the steep Upas Hill decent and Moreno moved into a secure second place with Forsyth in control of third. Though Lane did not appear to be slowing Moreno steadily chipped into the lead, as they passed the half way mark and then raced by the Eucalyptus trees by the original hill. Lane led at two miles with a time of 11:55 and Moreno had closed the gap to follow five seconds later. It was now clearly a two person race with Rebecca Story of Tennessee taking over a distant third. Forsyth ran with her along with India Johnson of Ohio in about fifth.
The outcome of the race was still very much i doubt as Lane continued to lead yet Moreno was steadily gaining ground. Lane kept looking behind & fans had to wonder if it was nerves or whether she was finally feeling the pace. Moreno was a very hard runner to read as well, for it was hard to read her face as to whether she was extremely focused or she was hurting due to the swift pace. Still the South runner continued to close the gap and when they crossed the road at the 13:45 mark race had been joined. Going up Upas and on the plateau it appeared that Moreno might have the upper hand but the descent down Upas, begun around the 15:09 mark proved to be a stunning change of perspective. The first time Lane had gone down Upas she did not seem all that fluid, yet this second time she was a completely different visage. The Californian stormed down the hill to retake a clear lead and apparently it was her plane to switch gears with 600 meters or so to go.
She crossed the road at 15:52 and reached the three mile mark at 16:33. Moreno regrouped briefly but could not match the Californian comet, who raced to the finish in 17:04. Still the South champion ran a fine time of 17:08 in taking second. Third went to Rebecca Story in 17:35 with Ohioan India Johnson earning fourth ten seconds later. Anne Forsyth ran a fine race placing fifth in 17:46 as Kearan Nelson of Washington & Nicole Fagan of Georgia ran versions of 17:48 to finish sixth & seventh respectively. Hayley Jackson of Maryland followed in eighth with a time of 17:49 and Grace Connelly of Ma. ran 17:50 to take ninth. Maria Coffin of Maryland claimed tenth in 17:50 with Jacquelyn Gaughan of new Hampshire rounding out the top eleven.
Amanda Beach of Florida contributed a twelfth place effort for the victorious South team, which defeated the Northeast 39 to 51. Alyssa Aldrich was thirteenth with 17:55 to earn All-American honors. In the end it was an exciting race and a fitting addition to the almost four decades of America's great championship that is a contested on a field that has long tested and confirmed champions.