Foot Locker West Regional Story
Days of rain and mud in the Los Angeles did not deter the valiant harriers, who eyed the prize of the Foot Locker National Championships. Fortunately the running gods smiled and produced sunny weather and, what Mother Nature failed to do, race director Doug Todd and his crew did, so the fabled Mt. SAC course was firm and fair on race day Saturday.
The girls’ race went of first and Makena Morley of Montana was on a mission from the start. One has to admire her drive for, although she wanted to become the first gal in some time to become a four-time National Finalist, she did not play it safe. She had a slight lead less than 200 meters into the start, when she hit the area known as the air strip. She led the field around the corral area and by the time she returned for her second trip around Makena held a six second lead over Annie Hill, who in turn held a five meter margin over Bryn Morley, which made it three Montanan’s up front. Another half mile added another second to the lead and the leaders were already moderately strung out. It was hard to tell at the time but the final Top Ten was already sorting itself out.
Makena led the field up the “Switchbacks’ with Hill and Morley following in the pecking order. At that point the legion wound it ’s way out of sight and did not appear until they make the decent and reached the half-way point at the Air Strip. At that point it was a foregone conclusion that Morley was on her wait to victory unless fate lent a hand. Makena next led the assault up fabled “Poop Out” Hill and was followed at a distance by Annie Hill and her sister Bryn. The crowd yelled to Makena: “Good job. You’re looking strong.” Indeed she was. Annie and Bryn followed but half way up the steepest part of the grade it was clear the California State champion Caroline Pietrzyk was making a move.
Once they wound their way out of sight as the headed to the two mile mark and the proceeded ti accept the challenge of the first of the two “Reservoir Hills.” The ensuing distance and hills were all the Californian needed to break up the Montana string and, as they headed for the track Caroline was securely ensconced in second. Also following that move was Elizabeth Lacy of San Mateo.
Makena cruised home in a swift time of 17:33 and won by almost half a minute. Caroline Pietrzyk placed second in 18:01 and was followed into the chute two seconds later by Elizabeth Lacy. Annie Hill placed fourth and her home of Kalispell brought back memories of the great Zoe Nelson, who also hailed from there. Toni Finnane of California, who seemingly always had a firm grip on a top ten position finished fifth in 18:14, while Bryn Morley followed in sixth two seconds after her. Californians claimed the remaining berths for the flight to San Diego with Claire Graves leading the way with a seventh place time of 18:32 and Kendall Derry earned eighth with 18:39. Grace Ling (18:46) and Kimberly Coscia (18:49) nailed down the final tickets.
Jordan Oakes of Holy Names Academy in Seattle was always in the mix during the race but her time of 18:57 forced her to settle for eleventh place, but as such she was the first alternate should someone be unable to attend. Sarah Tsai of South Eugene has dealt with injuries for almost two full years and the 2013Foot Locker qualifier shut her season down after feeling drained, and Nicole Griffiths of Portland the first Oregonian with her twelfth place time of 18:57 and Spokane’s Brittany Aquino shared that clocking. Gillian Meeks of Palo Alto followed in thirteenth with a mark of 18:58 and Wyoming 4A champion Karli Piala came in fifteenth with 19:03. Idaho’s Mikayla Malaspina had an off day and failed to garner a return engagement after her time of 19:09 but of course her name will always will be included in the hallowed list of Foot Locker finalists. This is Foot Locker where only eighty runners each year earn the honor.
The guys’ race certainly had a feeling of déjà vu with six high finishers from last year’s Foot Locker National Championship all returning and looking for a return engagement. They will all be given serious consideration as possible contenders, if not favorites and they all passed Saturday’s test with flying colors. As experienced veterans, they were well aware that the key goal on this day was to qualify and John Dressel, Levi Thomet and the rest all made sure to take care of business first. With Mt. SAC being such a demanding course there was also the concern of racing too hard and not having enough left next week, when the key race of the year is on the line. Certainly it is a lesson that Jordan Hasay & Marie Lawrence had reflected on once they had moved on to college. Had they both had a chance to do over they would have raced less during the regional, so as to save more for the big day. With that in mind no one was about to go nuts and the vets were more than happy to let Californian Austin Tamagno, a junior handle the pacing duties.
Elijah Armstrong, one of the very rare male four-time State Champions, took over during the final third of the race and went on to victory with a time of 15:24. That time, however, was quite fast and in truth since Foot Locker moved the West Regional from Woodward Park in Fresno to Mt. SAC in Walnut, Californians in general have fared much poorer, so we shall see. It is noteworthy, that since Foot Locker moved the West Regional from Woodward park in Fresno to Mt. SAC only Seth Watkins (15:21 in 2000) has run faster. Of course we do not include 2007, when conditions forced the race onto the Air Strip for what amounted to a road race when German Fernandez & Luke Puskedra flew over the non-trail route.
Trevor Reinhart, the California D5) champion, closed late to win a return trip to San Diego with a time of 15:4 and Matthew Maton of Oregon eased home third in 15:36. Interestingly enough Reinhart’s mark would have won every West Regional run here save Watkins and, of course, that on the Air Strip. John Dressel of Spokane made it clear that the main point of the day was to qualify and he sauntered home in 15:37. Both Maton and Dressel ran well within themselves as the defending champion Maton and the three time qualifier Dressel are experienced veterans. Also earning a return trip was Conner Mantz of Utah, who ran 15:39. Conner shared: “The race went considerably well for how the injury is coming. I'm grateful to make it back to nationals.” Like John Dressel, Mantz is a relatively rare three-time male qualifier. Austin Tamagno of Brea Linda earned his first trip to running’s Mecca with a mark of 15:43 and
Levi Thomet of Alaska, a three-time State champion, was the last of the core returnees and he followed in seventh with a time of 15:52. Under the advice of his coach Marcus Dunbar, Levi ran under restraint as well. Josh Collins, who upset Mantz in the Utah State meet, claimed eighth with 15:54. Garek Bielacyzyc of Utah placed ninth with a mark of 15:56, while Californian Colin Burke clocked 15:59 to finish off the qualifiers. Miler Edmonds of Washington came in eleventh with a time of 16:02 and Branden Randall of California finished twelfth in 16:04.
Once again we have a stellar group of individuals, who will now turn their focus to San Diego. Although the race is the thing for sure everyone will be treated to a magical weekend and get the Cinderella treatment and in truth they have all earned it. Each person has earned their individual honors and it is as Elijah Armstrong commented: “The race went awesome, being able to compete against some of the top runners in the nation such as: Matthew, Austin, John, Conner, and countless others! Is always a huge honor, and it makes for a great tune up before nationals! This should be a magical weekend with great races on a classic course. What more can one ask?! Good luck to all.