The nation’s top prep and collegiate freshman runners gathered at San Diego’s Mission Bay Park last Saturday, for a day of flat and fast racing at the U.S. Cross-Country Nationals. The spectator-friendly Mission Bay Park offered runners a European-style course, mostly consisting of grass terrain with slight mounds to overcome. But only the top-six finishers from each junior race will be able to experience a true European course as they make their way to Scotland for the World XC championships.

The men’s 8k junior race offered fans the most closely competed and exciting race of the day. For the first 3k, the lead pack still was considerably large and consisted of the top pre-race favorites. By the 6k mark Iona College’s Ryan Sheridan made a quick move to take over the lead, which was responded abruptly by prep star German Fernandez out of Riverbank, California. The two promptly separated themselves from the rest of the field, which was beginning to string out. Over the next 2k the two ran together until Sheridan made a small gap with 400 meters to go. Fernandez battled back and caught Sheridan with 30 meters to go, beating him by one second; crossing the line in 24:18 and 24:19.

University of Virginia freshman Emil Heineking was the next to cross the finish line in 24:34, followed closely by North Carolina State’s Bobby Moldovan in 24:38 to finish fourth. The final two U.S. team spots went to Kevin Williams from Lakewood, Colo. who finished fifth in 24:39 and the sixth place finisher Benjamin Johnson of Albuquerque, who managed a 24:41.

The junior women’s 6k race saw another impressive performance by defending champion Jordan Hasay out of Arroyo Grande, Calif. Hasay took a more conservative approach then her previous championship races. At last year’s championship in Boulder she took it out hard and fatigued early in the thin air. At last December’s Foot Locker National’s she bolted early from the pack, which ultimately cost her the championship. This year, she held tight to the main pack for the first 4k, until finally separating herself easily on the last lap of the 2k loop. No one gave a real challenge to her as she finished in 20:32, compared to the second place time of 20:45 by Stanford’s Alex Gits.

Emily Reese of Dunwoody, Ga. finished well-back in third with a time of 21:26, she held off Marissa Treece of Notre Dame, who finished in 21:33. Rounding up the last to spots on the team were Duke University’s Emily Schwitzer and Lauren Saylor of Clovis, Calif. Both sprinted head-to-head the last 100 meters before Schwitzer beat out Saylor to finish fifth in 21:34, as Saylor came in at 21:35.

By Landon Bright- 2/19/08