Foot Locker West Regional Preview

By Leo Collins

As the rain continues to pour down in Portland it is so nice to think about the warm sunny skies, which will be encountered in Pomona this weekend. Happily those conditions will be shared with most of the top high school from the West, as they attempt to qualify for the thirty-second edition of America’s greatest cross country event. The scene once again will be Mt. SAC as Doug Todd and his crew share one of America’s classic cross country courses.

For those, who are able to successfully navigate the hills know as “switch-back”, “poop-out” & “reservoir hill”, they will have earned a dream vacation in San Diego at the Hotel Del Coronado, as well as a race for our national championship. As always the trip must be earned as no-one hand selects the individuals and the qualifiers must prove their mettle. With so many high quality runners this is not an easily achieved accomplishment and it will take more than just talent & training but it is appropriate to take a look at the most likely prospects this coming Saturday.

Leading the way is Molly Grabill of Rancho Bernardo. She is the defending champion of the West and she placed 12th overall at Foot locker last year. Molly has put together a fine season with victories at Mt. Carmel, Danner & Mt. SAC. Her only ‘off’ day was at the California State meet, where she placed sixth. Look for Molly to be in the thick of things come Saturday. Maddie Meyers of The Northwest School in Seattle is another to watch after placing 7th in the West last fall & then following that with 23rd in San Diego. Since that sophomore campaign Maddie has really come into her own and logged a brilliant indoor & outdoor track campaign. She raced through the season undefeated this fall annexing victories at South Whidbey, Bellevue, Tomahawk and the Westside Classic prior to claiming her second State title plus a victory in the Oregon-Washington Border Clash. There are two other returning qualifiers from last year, who are currently entered: Julie Nacouzi, who placed 8th in the West last year & 25th at Balboa, and Alaina Alvarez, who earned 9th in the West & 31st in San Diego. Julie won the Stanford Invitational this fall.

If anyone is in a sense owed a berth it would be Kinsey Gomez of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who was tripped and then fell last year. In doing so she broke her wrist, yet in spite of being dead last after her fall, she somehow managed to charge through the pack to place 11th in the West. She was the first alternate last fall and one has to root for a runner with such grit and determination. This fall she has won at Post Falls & at the Farragut Invitationals and she also claimed her second successive State title. Kate Jamboretz of Boise is another Idaho athlete to watch & she won the Thompson Invitational & was 2nd at both Caldwell & Boise City plus 6th at Firman.

The leading runners from other states include Julia Foster of Nevada. She is undefeated this campaign with victories at Liberty Bell, Albuquerque, Los Alamos and in her State meet. Julia also triumphed in the NTN Southwest Regional in which she clocked 17:39. Katie Gorczyca of Nevada placed third against California competition at Stanford and won a division at MT. SAC. She has also triumphed at Las Vegas & Central Park and is naturally her State’s champion. Like Wade Meddles last fall, a Nevada qualifier will not be a surprise. Leading a large contingent from Utah will be Summer Harper, who is a State champion after placing 2nd at Firman & 5th at the Murray Invitational. Montana will be represented by the Starkey sisters, who have been coached by Jenni Brown, a former Foot Locker qualifier. Aja is but a freshman but won at Central Bank & was 4th at Mountain West. She had an off day at State while her older sister Mesa placed fifth at State. The state of Hawaii will be sending its top two runners to California. Dakota Grossman defeated Elli Brady for the championship and both will be on hand to compete.

Aside from Maddie Meyers the state of Washington is sending a number of fine runners, who we will look at in no particular order. Kendra Weitz placed 5th at State & 8th at Border Clash and was 2nd at Fort Steilacoom. Chandler Olson won at Bellevue & Tomahawk plus KingCo and followed that with a third at State (4A). She took 9th at Border Clash. Chandler placed 22nd in the region last year. Erin Hegarty won the Brooks Hermiston & Wenatchee Invitationals and was 6th at Sunfair. She followed those races with a 4th at State (3A) & a 10th at Border Clash. Priscilla Timmons has had a strong campaign with a victory at the Run A Ree & her 2nd straight New Balance triumph. She earned 4th at Danner and then scored at the Westside Classic. Priscilla took 6th at State in 4A. Baylee Mires is yet another Washingtonian, who is capable of qualifying. She won the Meadlander plus at District. She was 5th at State as well. Ms. Mires placed 12th in the West last year, so she has the talent to earn a trip that will allow her to walk on Imperial Beach in another week.

We can always depend on California to be well represented and this year will be no different. Clare Carroll of Granite Bay finished 6th at Stanford and then won the Bronco. After placing 2nd at Del Oro she zipped home 2nd in California (D1) in a fine 17:24. Catrina McAlister can boast of victories at Woodbridge, Stanford and Clovis and was tenth at State. She knows the Mt. SAC course, which gives her a slight advantage too. Carrie Verdon is another runner to watch after her triumph at State (D3) with blazing 17:15: the 2nd fastest time of the day. Carrie is no stranger to the victory circle either after triumphs at Diablo & Stanford. Hannah Peterson has had a fine season with a 3rd at Mt. Carmel, a 2nd at Clovis & a 4th at Mt. SAC. Other Californians to watch are Grace Orders (3rd – D3), Vanessa Fraser (4th – D4), Lucy McCullough (winner in D5)Brooke Holt (12th – D1 with 17:54 but a winner at Del Oro).

There are, however, a number of unknowns as far as the girls’ race, which certainly could change the complexion of the race. Certainly Sarah Baxter & Alli Billmeyer are two of the finest runners in the nation much less West and they are yet to enter. They are not heading to the Portland Mud Bowl & it is hard to imagine both would not run somewhere. Baxter has had a stunning freshman campaign with victories in divisions of Woodbridge and Mt. SAC. Her time of 16:41 at Mt. SAC broke the freshman record of none other than Jordan Hasay, who was a two-time national champion. She then annexed the Division I championship at Woodward Park in time of 16:57 and won by almost a half a minute, as she overpowered a strong field. Billmeyer placed third in that division & only a second behind Carroll. She won the Bronco Invitational and was 2nd at Mt. Carmel & 3rd at Mt. SAC. Billmeyer placed 14th at the regional in 2009. Another runner, who it would be surprising to pass on Foot Locker, is Rolonda Jumbo of Arizona. She won the Peaks, Page & Conley Invitationals and also secured a State title in Arizona. Rolonda placed 12th at West in 2008.

There is one more young girl, who is a very special story in her own right. On Saturday she was racing for the University team from San Francisco and collapsed just short of the finish. With the team championship on the line, she essentially willed herself to finish in spite of the fact that she was severely dehydrated. If that was not enough Holland Reynold’s coach suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease and his condition has been seriously deteriorating. Her spirit and determination are laudable. Holland is scheduled to race at Mt. SAC this Saturday & I want to see her.

The lone junior guy to qualify in the West last year was Billy Orman of Arizona. His 2010 season resume includes victories in invitational meets at the Desert Classic, Boehle and at Davis plus a State title in 15:03. He used the NTN SW regional as a tune-up for Foot Locker and won the event handily in 15:05. Having been to Foot Locker he knows what it offers and like Julia Foster is passing on the Mud Bowl & challenging the course and runners at Foot Locker. With any reasonable amount of fortune he will return to San Diego & display his juggling as well as racing talents.

Andrew Gardner’s goal all season has been to follow his friend and mentor Shane Moskowitz to Foot Locker. Last February he defeated his rival and earned a trip to the World Junior XC as a member of the US team. He ran 14:35 for three miles in his victory at Wenatchee & also claimed his District title. Andrew was upset at State & placed 2nd in 15:27. Due to an illness he passed on the Border Clash but, if healthy, he will be a force to reckon with at West. Nathan Weitz won his division at Danner with a time of 15:17, which was easily the best time of the day. He followed with a victory at State in 3A and then claimed 2nd at Border Clash. Oregon has two runners to watch including its 6A individual champion Matt Melancon of Sheldon. Matt placed 3rd in the Danner Invitational & then won the Puma Concordia meet. His state winning time in 15:36 was the fastest in a number of years and he also finished 5th at the Border Clash. Andy Bennison is a part of the strong Central Catholic tradition and his victory at the traditional Crystal Springs Invitational near San Francisco illuminates his ability. During the season Andy also placed 2nd at New Balance and 8th at Concordia. He added a 2nd place effort at State in a fine time of 15:38.

Runners to watch from other states include Ben Saarel from Utah & Alex Sorenson from Wyoming. Ben earned third at the Murray Invitational & won his state’s 3A title in 15:56. Alex placed 10th at Murray before scoring his state’s championship in the 4A division. He also placed 9th in the Northwest Regional. Three others, who also of note are David Storey of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who won his district prior to placing 8th at State, and Jordan Thibadeau of Hawaii, who claimed 2nd at State.

On paper it would appear that the California contingent will be led by a trio of runners, and each has amassed an impressive resume. Will Geiken of Los Gatos secured 2nd at Stanford & then was victorious in his division at Mt. SAC. Will won the Coast Sectional and then took 4th in the California State Meet (D2) in 15:16. Matt Carpowich of Torrey Pines has raced well all season with a 2nd at Stanford, third place efforts at Mt. Carmel & Bronco plus a 4th place finish at Mt SAC in 14:40. He ran 15:11 at State to take 9th in Division I. Brandon Pugh of San Juan Hills can boast of victories at Carondelet & at Dana Hills plus a third in Orange County. He followed with a third at Cal’s South Section before placing third in D3 at State (15:28).

Other California boys to watch include Chris Brewer of Rancho Buena Vista (8 D1 – 15:05), Darren Fahy of La Costa Canyon (11 D1 – 15:13), Luis Luna of Piner (6 D1 – 15:32), Alex Eve (15:32) & Will Callan of Thacher (4 D5 – 16:04). My apologies to anyone, who has been inadvertently overlooked. Best wishes to everyone, who is willing to accept the challenge of a classic course, on Saturday. A special mention is deserved for the fourteen runners from Pendleton, who possess a sense of history, and will join in the rich thirty-two year tradition that is the Foot Locker series. My hope is that, however you fare, this race serves as the basis for a greater future in running just as it has been the foundation for so many notable running careers over three decades. Still you are becoming a part of something that is very special and that should not be underestimated.