It’s championship season, baby! All eyes turn towards Portland Meadows in Portland, OR for the 9th Nike Cross Country National Championships. The boy’s race has a lot of similar story lines from last year with some minor differences. Since this is the ninth running of NXN, we’ll predict the top nine individual and team finishes.
Just like last year, this one is almost too close to call. One thing we can guarantee is that it’ll be a tough battle between the defending champions US#1 Christian Brothers Academy and US#2 Southlake Carroll. One thing we can’t be sure of is North Central HS, but then again, we love surprises.
1. Christian Brothers Academy
They’ve run too many team records this season to not be number one. They set new team averages at the Great American XC Festival (15:24.04) and the Manhattan Invitational (12:44.6) just to name a few. Even when they rested their top five runners, CBA managed to win their 18th NJ state title with their jayvee team.
Back in September, we profiled CBA and touched on the possibility of them making NXN history this year. No boy’s team had ever successfully defended their NXN team title.
A few months later, it seems like a very real scenario.
While they’ve looked good on paper all season long, you’re only as a good as your last race. For CBA, their last race at the NXN Northeast Regional wasn’t too hot.
While they did win, it wasn’t in the traditional CBA “I will crush you” way. Actually, at about halfway through the race, they weren’t even winning - they were in third.
Even when they finished, something was awry. Their usual minimal spread between their scorers was a gaping 47-seconds. Chock it up to a bad race
If they can make the proper adjustments, they’ll be hard to beat.
NXN NE Regional Championships
2. Southlake Carroll
They enter NXN ranked what they narrowly finished last year. The trio of Joe Sansone, Nate Sullivan, and Connor Hendrickson will be right up front, but they’ll have to close that door on the tail end if they want to make the jump to first.
The Dragons looked great at the NXN South Regional Championship, but with a much deeper field at NXN, how will they fair?
Oh hey, Leo.
Photo: Carroll Cross Country
NXN South Regional Championship
3. North Central
When we talked to the North Central boys back in October, it looked like they were going to make a definitive run for the title. Now in December, they still have a shot, but it’s a bit more questionable.
The big difference between then and now is Taylor (Kai) Wilmot. He lead North Central at the 44th Richland Invitational, but has been out with a tendon injury since then. He didn’t run their NXN Regional Championship, which means they’re either saving him for the big show or will have to carry on without him.
If he’s remotely ready to roll, North Central has a shot.
NXN Northwest Regional Championship
4. American Fork
Even back in September, the boy’s from Utah were ready to go.
Now that Brayden McLelland is healthy, American Fork is a viable threat. They crushed their intrastate rival Davis HS 36 points to 163 at the NXN Southwest Regional.
American Fork also has a solid history of running well at NXN. They finished 8th in 2008, 8th in 2009, and 6th in 2011.
NXN Southwest Regional Championship
These guys stormed onto the national scene in 2010 and haven’t left since (we’re not counting the open race, which they ran in 2006 and 2008). In the last two years, the California Kids have won (2010) and taken fourth (2011) at NXN.
Similar to American Fork, they’re trouncing their in-state competition. Arcadia won the merged California State XC Championships with 56 points over second place California’s score of 139.
The team is young, but not totally inexperienced. Estevan De La Rosa and Mitchell Pratt are the only two who return from the 2011 NXN team and will hopefully provide some advice for the squad that consists of one freshmen, five juniors, and one senior.
Somehow we think that they’ll be back next year with a little more knowledge.
California State Cross Country Championships
|Estevan De La Rosa||JR||2||15:04.9|
One of the greatest high school teams in America returns to their ninth consecutive NXN championship. Their consistency isn’t just great - they are consistently great as well. Lead by senior Scott Milling, their team spread at the Illinois State Meet was 44-seconds and then lowered to 43-seconds at the NXN Midwest championship.
NXN Midwest Regional Championship
7. Cardinal O’Hara
First they were down and now they’re up. They built off their disappointing second place finish at the Pennsylvania State Meet to come back and win the NXN Northeast Regional over rivals West Chester Henderson (see below).
They also have a solid trio consisting of Dan Savage, Kevin James, and Ernie Pitone. When they beat WCH, they had a 17-second spread from their #1 to #5 man. In a field as deep as NXN, they’re going to have to maintain that gap if they want to run to their goals.
NXN NE Regional Championship
The “Stotans” from New York also got some revenge over their intrastate rivals Saratoga High School at the NXN NY Regional Championship. Nick Ryan will assuredly score some low points for FM, but then it’s up to the rest of the sophomore/senior squad to close the door. Sophomore Byrce Millar should be one to watch for the next few years.
NXN NY Regional Championship
9. West Chester Henderson
They’ve had some exhilarating moments in the last few weeks. Winning the state title on a sixth man tiebreaker and then getting an at-large bid for NXN is sure to pump up a team. Even though they didn’t get an auto spot at the NXN Northeast, they are probably the most well-deserved auto-bid.
They’re ranked ninth because after juniors Tony Russell and Reiny Barchet, the Warrior Track Club is going to be a bit behind. If the Warrior Track Club isn’t spot on with their strategy, then their finishing places of 24, 29, and 39 from the regional championships are sure to increase at NXN.
NXN NE Regional Championships
Honorable Mention: St. Xavier (KY), Saratoga, Carlsbad, Carmel
1. Nick Ryan
He’s back, he’s on the attack, and he’s going to take it out hard. Ryan has been on an absolute tear this season with his performances at Manhattan and the NY NXY Regional Championship.
Last year at Van Cortlandt Park, Ryan ran 12:50.20 for the 2.5 mile course. This year, he dropped 45-seconds to run 12:05.7, which was second only to Edward Cheserek.
In 2011, Ryan took it out hard, was reeled back, and finished fifth in 15:31. We know his race strategy, but will anyone go with him? We know he’s fit, so will anyone be able to hang?
2. Bernie Montoya
The Beast Bernie Montoya is also a much different runner. Last year, Montoya finished 12th at NXN and had personal bests of 4:12 and 9:08. Now, he has 4:01.32 for the mile and 8:48.25 for the 3200m to his name.
He’s undefeated and hasn’t really been challenged once this season. Will he be the one to go with Ryan?
3. Jake Leingang
He’s going for the double, again. Leingang and Bismark HS are finally looking to make some noise at NXN. Leingang is also one of many that has not been beaten so far this season. His track credentials of 8:51 for 3200m and 14:27.16 make him even more of a threat compared to when he finished 8th at the 2011 NXN championships.
4. Jacob Burcham
This past Thanksgiving, we were thankful to see Burcham back on the NXN start list. While he competed at NXN in 2010 and finished 16th, he shut down his cross country season early last year in preparation for indoor track. The 4:02 miler only finished behind Montoya at the adidas Golden Stripes Dream Mile and should be in this front pack.
5. Bryan Fernandez
When Fernandez kicked for home the Mt. SAC Invitational, we went “who?” The senior from Dos Pueblos in Goleta, CA has similar track credentials compared to 2011 Montoya.
Fernandez has run 4:18.70 and 9:14.55, but has broke onto the California and national scene in fine fashion. His win at Mt. SAC and recent California Division II state title in 15:09 means he’s serious.
Who says Californians can’t run in the mud at Portland Meadows?
6. Joe Hardy
This one could be a surprise on Saturday. Hardy battled Kai Wilmot earlier this season, but after he was sidelined with an injury, it’s been the Joe Hardy Show in Washington. Hardy has won the Washington state and the NXN Northwest titles. He ran a 8:55/4:09 double at the Washington outdoor state meet (very similar to Nick Ryan’s NYS double of 9:03/4:05).
He’s looked relatively calm in the last few weeks and will definitely improve on his 43rd place finish from last year.
7. Sam Wharton
The Ohioan is also trying to do the double of NXN and Foot Locker. Even he’s had to settle for second at the NXN regional to Alex Riba (below) and Foot Locker Midwest to Jake Leingang, it doesn’t discredit the senior. Last spring, Wharton ran 9:01 and 14:46 on the track. He finished 21st last year at NXN and like most of our predicted top nine, he’ll definitely improve on his finish.
Even though this should be a weekend for celebration, a recent ruling by the Ohio High School Athletic Association will affect Wharton. The OHSAA has ruled that athletes may not accept travel, hotel, or meal stipends or they will forfeit their amateur status.
While Wharton can’t receive any sweet Nike swag, maybe someone will save him some merch?
8. Tony Russell
One half of the West Chester Henderson front-running duo is poised for a big race at NXN. So far this season, Russell has finished 4th at Eastern States, 1st at PA States, and 1st the NXN NE Regional Championships. Russell posted a personal best of 9:31 for 3200 last spring, but now he could be a member of the first-team all-Americans.
Photo: Kyle Brazeil
9. Juan Gonzalez
There may be some unknown California bias here, but we have a feeling about
Honorable Mention: Robert Domanic, Alex Riba, Luis Martinez
Who’s is going to be in the mud?