Footlocker West Preview

Thurs. 12/4/08

by Leo Collins

On Saturday morning most of the top individual high school runners in the west will toe the line for the 30th Western Regional in the Kinney/Footlocker series. The race, which will be held on the famed Mt. SAC course in Walnut, California, offers an all expenses paid trip to sunny San Diego & the opulence of the historic Hotel Del California & the shot to engrave your name on the long list of national champions. Three decades ago the world of our sport was very different for, when Ellen Lyons of Idaho & Barasa Thomas of California claimed the first national championship and made history. There were few fans at the sight to watch and very few scholarships available for runners, who hoped to continue their career in college. Both the first regional at Crystal Springs, as well as the national race at Balboa Park, did have a disproportionate amount of coaches, who realized this was an excellent opportunity to evaluate the talents of young runners around the na tion. The visibility in general led a vast expansion of scholarships and a world of far great opportunities for young harriers.

Since that morning there have been thirty years of history and tradition with great runners vying for the chance to compare their times (for the most part as there were a few years in Florida on and off) at Balboa Park. The litany of runners, who raced just in the west is a veritable who’s who of distance running: Vickie Cook, Jay Marden, Eric Reynolds, Matt Giusto,, Mark Mastalir, Kira Jorgensen, Marc Davis, Sarah Schwald, Bryan Dameworth, Louie Quintana, Deena Drossin, Milena Glusac, Meb Kelflezighi, Julia Stamps, Kim Mortensen, Ian Dobson, Sara Bei (Hall), Ryan Hall, Amber Trotter, Chris Solinsky, Marie Lawrence & Galen Rupp just to name a few. Add the national race & Bob Kennedy, Melody Fairchild, Ruben Reina, Suzy Favor (Hamilton), Todd Williams, Jorge Torres, Carrie Tollefson, Adam Goucher & Erin Keough appear in memory as if enshrined. It’s an inspiring list to say the least.

During that span of time there have been some changes with the qualifier moving first to Woodward Park in Fresno and then to the current Mt. SAC. Jimmy Carter was President back then and Bob Latham, one of the two first race directors, is on the US Long-distance running committee. One unfortunate change is that young runners have been put in the position to deal with the pressures from officials from other organizations to decide where to run this Saturday. I noted that two weeks ago after the meet outside of Boise and the topic will be dealt with again later because this is not a positive thing.

It is Thursday morning now & finally a preview for the race can be written. This is the case, because a handful of individuals pontificated about what high school teams and then what individuals, would be invited to their new contrivance. Not only is the pressure placed on the young unfairly but a committee decision is not the way of establishing a true national championship. One assumes that Lyons & Thomas had made their travel plans long before this last minute date. Happily we are finally past this point and we can reflect on the individuals, who will be on hand Saturday to take part in this historic event and share its legend.

First and foremost there is Jordan Hasay, who has towered over California running for the previous four years as few before her. Her shadow has also been cast over the entire west for she has won the event the last three years. Her accomplishments in cross country and track, including last summer’s high school record in the 1,500 meters, while at the Olympic Trials, are impressive. Jordan has already won on the Mt. SAC course earlier this year with the fastest time and she also claimed her 4th California State title (a distinct only shared with Sara Bei. Also as a former winner of the national championship it is simple: no girl can legitimately claim to be national champ unless she defeats Jordan Hasay.

That will be a tall order but, if anyone can accomplish the feat from the West, it would appear that Alex Dunne has the best chance. She is a vastly improved runner over the one, who placed 28th at Walnut last year. Last summer she placed 3rd in the World Junior Mountain Running Championship. This fall she won the Clovis & Orange County Invitationals & placed 2nd at Woodbridge & Mt. SAC. Last weekend she claimed the California title in division I. Her time of 17:27 would be excellent under any conditions but it is stunning, when one realizes that she ran two-thirds of the race with one shoe! One can only wonder was there a swoosh at the bottom of the shoe, that she symbolically tossed before settling on a trip to Walnut?

Jessica Tonn is another very capable runner. She won at Conley & placed 4th at Mt. SAC. She had an off-day in the old Great American race, where she placed 6th but, of course that field was loaded with talents like former Footlocker champion Kathy Kroeger & current title-holder Ashley Brasovan. Alex placed third here last year and then was 20th at Balboa.. Oregon’s Taylor Wallace earned a trip to San Diego last by taking 7th and then finished 33rd at national. She appears to have recovered from a summer injury as evidenced by her smashing title in the Oregon - Washington Border Clash after having claimed her 2nd straight State title. Alyssa Andrews of Gig Harbor, Washington is another runner with impressive credentials. She is the State champion & earned victory at South Whidbey. She also defeated all the Californians she faced at Stanford, save one, and then defeated the best from Oregon, Washington, Idaho & Alaska two weeks ago outside of Boise and set a course record on the Eagle Lake State Park to boot. She also enjoys a good hill & should feel the course to her liking.

Other runners of note are Sammy Silva of California, who had the 4th best time at State, and also finished 8th at Mt. SAC, Shayla Kipp of Utah who won the Firman Invitational & was 2nd in her state meet. Andrea Nelson of Washington is a two-time State champion, Jacque Taylor of California had the 6th best time overall in the State meet with 17:40 & was also 5th at Mt. SAC. Macinze Overy of Utah won her division at State and placed 13th in the Southwest. Megan Morgan of Torrey Pines had the 11th best time at State & was 1st in the Southern California Invite and 4th at Stanford. Kelsey Smith scored in the Nevada Twilight.

Alaska’s Trevor Dunbar is a three-time State champion, who has to be considered at or very close to the top of the male runners in the nation. He has already logged a fair number of frequent-flier miles, as he traveled to Mt. SAC to claim the title there with a 14:41 & he also flew in to Oregon to run at Adidas, where he obliterated the course record & humbled the best runners in Oregon, as well as a fair number from Washington. At Mt. SAC Dunbar defeated California’s Chris Schwartz, who had been the surprise of last year’s regional with his 7th place finish. At the national meet he earned 37th. Schwartz pressed the pace on the hills at Mt. SAC this year & may race a bit more conservatively on the Walnut course at regional. Aside from 2nd in that meet he also finished first at Clovis as well as the Foothill-Bakersfield meet. He finished 7th in his Division III at State.

Mac Fleet is another prime contender after his winning time at State last weekend. His time of 15:08 was 4th best of the day. Brian Tibaduiza of Nevada is a two-time State champion. This year he also won the Nevada Twilight. Zach Torrez is the next of the California stars, who must be considered. He had the 6th best time at State (15:10) and also came home third at Mt. SAC. Idaho’s Eric Fitzpatrick is a two-time State champion, who also placed 11th in the Northwest. Eric was 4th in his division at Sunfair. Jonathan Nelson of Utah placed first at State for the second straight year and was victorious at the prestigious Firman Invitational. His 2nd place finish in the Southwest Regional meet did not hurt his stock either.

One surprise Footlocker entry was turned in by Drew O’ Donoghue-McDonald. When we chatted with him after his third place finish in the Border Clash and he had intended to go to Portland. Then again his brother Max qualified for Footlocker a couple of years ago and can relate to him the ultimate experience of Footlocker. Drew placed 7th at the Eagle Island Meet and was 7th at the Washington 3A division. He was also 11th at Stanford but claimed Seattle’s Metro championship. Shane Moskowitz of Washington was impressive in winning the South Whidbey Invitational & then placed 2nd at State following that up with a 2nd at the Border Clash. Julian Blake-Cowan was 2nd in his division at Sunfair & was 4th in the 3A division at State. He also earned 3rd at the old Danner Meet & came in 6th at Border Clash. Drew Jordan was the Oregon 6A champion & finished 12 at the NW region. He finished 12th at Boise & also won the State of Jefferson meet. Cody Helbling of Idaho was 2nd in the 5A division & won Silverwood. Josh Elliott of Oregon, like Jordan Drew O M, is only a junior who has come on late in the season. He was 2nd at Adidas, won Oregon 5A and then was 15 at Boise. Nathan Mathabane has run independently all season, so he does not have a great deal of experience on the hills but he was 15th at Boise. He has been gearing toward this meet all season & he will love the finish on the Mt. SAC track.

Remember also, that Mt. SAC is a challenging course, that should be respected as much as your opponent. To squander energy early can make the final hills an ordeal. The point on Saturday is to qualify for nationals, so that you have a chance to race in San Diego. The trip you earn will have been worth every bit of sacrifice over the period of your young running careers. .

There will be one thing for sure on Saturday: ten male & female high school runners will add their names to the rich tradition that is Footlocker. In doing so they will earn, what even Olympians have called, the experience of a life-time. It should be obvious that you can not simply buy tradition. It is something that can only be earned through a long-term investment of time and not a brief dose of money. Hats off to Footlocker for their continued support in something that means so much to so many and has meant a great deal for over a long period of time. Good luck to all runners and never forget that you will have shared in something very special.