As the 7th annual NXN (previously NTN) meet approaches, I cannot help but think of two young ladies and one young man I have seen run numerous times. I live in Oregon and see many cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track meets every year. The 3 runners are ones I have seen at least a couple times, and I am sure if I attended meets in New York, California, or anywhere else in between, I would come up with a different list. Oddly enough, the 3 talented runners are from Washington not my home state. I think they are representative of many of the runners who will be competing at NXN.
This year, my husband and I were hoping to see Katie Knight, and we did not. It wasn't because we didn't try. None of the meets fit in our schedule, and we got on the Nike campus at the end of her race. Katie listens to her coach. At the Portland Track Festival in June, her coach told her to make her move. She did. There were a lot of voices out there, but she heard her coach. Another reason why I picked her is that she knows and respects her competitors. After the race, my husband was interviewing her. She was talking about Amy-Eloise Neale outkicking her in a previous race, and she praised Amy's kick even though Katie was the victor in this race. Amy won state while Katie won the other two. You know they will both be working for the win.
That leads me to Amy-Eloise Neale. My husband put two meets on his list just to see her run. At times, there is a competitor. Other times, the battle is between Amy and the clock. At the Hole-in-the-Wall, Amy battled herself and shattered the course record. As much as I like Amy as a competitor, I like Amy as a sportman more. After her race at the Portland Track Festival, I saw Amy approach Catrina McAlister of California and ask her if she would like to join a group of the girls from Washington in the cool down. I have seen the same on the indoor track at the University of Washington. It doesn't matter whether Amy won the race or not. She has invited both runners she defeated and runners who beat her to join her in a cool down.
Lastly, my third runner is Korey Krotzer. After the PAC 10 Championship, we went to the Westside Classic. It was raining nearly the entire meet and was extremely muddy. I wasn't too happy to be out in the mud and cold rain, but I found something to enjoy in one of the boys' races. The group running the meet kept the course in reasonably good shape by laying down sand and asking spectators not to walk on it. The end of the race has a nice downward incline followed by a fairly short straight away to the finish. I was taking pictures at the top of the incline and believed that Nate Brennand would win. Korey took what I thought was an obvious victory by finding that extra gear to hunt down and overcome Nate. What I saw in that effort was that Korey never gave up and just believed in himself.
Many of the young ladies and gentlemen who are preparing for NXN are coachable as well as true competitors and sportsmen. I have enjoyed watching these three NXN competitors, and each is an underclassman. I have something to look forward to next year's cross country season after this race is over.
I am going to start with the girls' race. Each year, a team from New York state has won. First, it was Saratoga. Then, it was Hilton. Since the third year, Fayetteville-Manlius has won the team title. They will be in the gold uniform. Last year's top finisher, Rebecca Mehra from California, will also be in gold. The top four teams from last year are all back and I expect each to be in the mix. I anticipate that the FM girls will take out the pace in hopes of defending their title. Saratoga (Kinetic) finished as runners up to FM at their regional, and I expect that they will give chase to return the title to Saratoga. Saugus (Newhall) is a fine team and will attempt to return to California with the trophy. Fort Collins should also be considered to do well as will the teams which won each of the regions.
Individually, three of the top ten from last year return. Besides Mehra, Rachel Johnson of Texas and Haley Pierce of Delaware return. Johnson is the runner up in the TX 2A division, won the NXN South regional, and took third at the Foot Locker South regional. Pierce is the Delaware state champion and won the NXN Southeast regional. Others to watch are several of the regional champions. Allison Woodward of Wisconsin won the Roy Griak, the WI Division 2, the NXN Heartland regional, and the Foot Locker Midwest regional. Kayla Beattie of Indiana won the NXN Midwest regional. She was the runner up at Great American to Aisling Cuffe who ranked as the top high school girl this year. The top 3 NXN NW runners–Katie Knight, Amy-Eloise Neale, and Anna Marie Maag–are runners to watch. Knight won the Firman and finished as the runner-up to Neale in the WA 3A division. Neale won several races including Sunfair and finished in the top 10 at Stanford. Also a top 10 finisher at Stanford is three-time OR 6A champion Maag. Erin Hooker of Colorado is the top finisher from the NXN Southwest and was runner up in the CO 5A division to Kelsey Lakowske who was a top 5 finisher at Foot Locker last year. The FM girls and Brittany Winslow of New York should be up front early and through most of the race.
In the guys' race, last year's championship team Boerne finished 7th in their regional and did not return. Last year's runner-up, South Spokane, did not compete in the regional as a team. The third place team, The Woodlands, is returning due to receiving a wildcard invite. Four of the five top individuals return including last year's winner Craig Lutz from Texas. The only top 5 finisher who is not returning is out due to injury, but his twin will be there.
Given that there are so many returnees, the inclination is to look at them; however, the Foot Locker National champion Lukas Verzbicas of Indiana will attempt the double. Verzbicas missed taking down Craig Virgin's Indiana record. This year, Indiana is loaded with talent. Although I believe Verzbicas is the top runner in the competition, I am not sure this course will suit him. This year's race is loaded with talent. Lutz ran a great race to win, so he is capable of running well on this course. There are two Californians who should do well. Elias Geydon was last year's runner-up and has won the Mt. Carmel and Mt. SAC invitationals as well as the CA Division 2. Ammar Moussa was 4th last year and has won the Woodbridge, Stanford, Clovis, Mt. SAC, and CA Division 1. Moussa and Geydon did not compete against each other, but their times were relatively close. Others to consider are NW Regional winner Kenji Bierig who also won the Washington 4A division and the OR-WA BorderClash. Jim Rosa from New Jersey has had a brilliant season with wins at Eastern States and Meet of Champions as well his the NXN NE regional. Heartland winner, Tony Smoragiewicz, from South Dakota proves that he loves running in the cold by finishing 3rd in the Foot Locker Midwest regional which Verzbicas won. Two others from the NXN Midwest region to consider are Jack Driggs of Illnois and Zach Wills of Ohio. Driggs is a member of the York team which has done well in the past and a Foot Locker finalist. Wills is a three-time small school state champion and a Foot Locker finalist. Wills placed 5th last year.
Arcadia has a very nice 1-2 which is hard to miss in the results. North Spokane out of the NW region has been running well all year. Out of the Southwest region, American Fork from Utah ran impressive times as a team and will attempt to prove their number one ranking. The York (Elmhurst) teams have represented the Midwest well in the past and should do well again this year. The South has three quality teams with Marcus (Highland), Carroll, and the Woodlands. The placement of those 3 Texas teams were different at state and the regional, so this race could provide bragging rights for their state. The FM guys will attempt to help sweep the team the title. Christian Brothers Academy (Lindcroft) from the NE region should be in the mix also.
Each year I have gone to this race, I am continually surprised by the performance of these young men and women. I cannot predict who or what team will win, but I can predict that the athletes will exhibit many of the qualities of Katie, Amy, and Korey.