Updated: Apr 8
A competition that is now on the 41st annual rendition, the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships has been a staple for high school distance runners. We have seen numerous stud runners come out of this meet, establishing legacies that still follow them to this day. Just recently, former champions have included Weini Kelati, Drew Hunter, Grant Fisher, Edward Cheserek, Molly Seidel and many more.
So the question is, who will be the next legendary Foot Locker champion?
Site and Conditions
Hosted in San Diego at Morley Field at Balboa Park, this competition offers the country's top individuals the chance to race for glory. Balboa Park has been the site for some of the classic cross country races in high school distance running and this year should prove no different.
With conditions in the high 50s and sunny (essentially typical December weather in San Diego), the course should again be dry and fast. A reason some athletes prefer Foot Locker to NXN is because of the weather, as well as the unpredictability, of NXN’s course.
There is a greater certainty that San Diego’s weather will be better and less volatile.
Foot Locker hosts four regional sites (Northeast, West, Midwest, South) where 10 athletes qualify for the National Championship (per region). These regional meets are also hosted at the same time as the NXN regional qualifying meets and the Nike Cross National Championships.
What this means is that some superstar high school athletes have been forced into a decision in regards to what meet they will toe the line for, and as a result, we will not be seeing some great harriers like Nico Young or Katelyn Tuohy this weekend along with other individuals.
This has the same effect at NXN where Patrick Anderson chose not to compete at NXN and instead focus on Foot Locker. This is just how the cookie crumbles in high school cross country, but regardless, we will see another very competitive Foot Locker race.
For both the boys and girls preview, we will dive into each region to see which great distance talent qualified for the meet and who has a chance to be crowned the Foot Locker National Champion.
The Foot Locker West regional meet was overshadowed by NXN, but proved to be one of, if not the craziest, race of the weekend. The course was switched to roads since some of the hills turned into a mudslide, leaving athletes with a lack of proper footing to compete at a high level.
In the race won by Mateo Althouse, the spread among the top 10 finishers was just over two seconds which, as you can see, provided an insane finish into a narrow shoot. After the race, it was seen that many of the top athletes took a wrong turn, which could have contributed to the bizarre finish.
What is interesting to note is that a good amount of the West region athletes were competing at NXN (such as NXN champion Nico Young). As a result, Althouse won the region as an unexpected winner and an unexpected qualifier. He essentially ran 30 seconds faster than any race he had the whole year. Thomas Boyden, who placed 3rd, has been the most consistent harrier throughout the season and should be the top West athlete on Saturday.
The West also has Ahmed Ibrahim who has thrown down some fast times and was just seconds off of qualifying for NXN. He rebounded to place inside the top 10 at Foot Locker and should be an All-American threat this weekend.
For the first time in a while, the Northeast region looks loaded with top-tier talent (well, as far as Foot Locker goes). On paper, the Northeast has the deepest pool of talent in the field and should be a threat to win the regional title (top five individuals count as a team).
Patrick Anderson leads the way as the regional winner. The two-time Pennsylvania cross country state champion declined an at-large selection from NXN to focus on Foot Locker and should be a threat to win the race as he is well rested compared to some other individuals who decided to race NXN as well.
Another elite Northeast name is Liam Murphy who placed 3rd at Foot Locker Northeast regional meet and then 8th the other weekend at NXN. He is the second fastest individual on paper in the race, but it will be interesting to see how Murphy performs considering he has raced for five consecutive weeks coming into Saturday.
The Northeast also sends out the only two sophomores in the field with Gavin Sherry and Aidan Puffer. Sherry placed 2nd in the region and is, on paper, a top five talent in the national field. It will be interesting to see if Sherry shines, as he could be the next big thing in boy’s high school distance running.
The Midwest sends back out Josh Methner who placed 6th at this competition last year and just placed 2nd to Nico Young at NXN. Methner arrives as the race-day favorite as he'll be aiming to complete what has been a legendary postseason so far. He has won every race except for NXN which, after watching, looked like a battle for 2nd all along. Expect him to be in the front pack until the race breaks open.
Also coming out of the Midwest region is Jack Spamer who raced poorly at his regional meet, but qualified nonetheless. He placed 17th at NXN and was named an All-American during his time in Portland. This performance was more in-line with his season average and he should be expected to place inside the top 10 of this race on Saturday.
Evan Bishop is another individual who was able to race NXN and will also be toeing the line for Foot Locker. The Wisconsin commit placed 33rd at NXN leaving him outside of the All-American spots. Expect Bishop to have a chip on his shoulder going into Saturday’s race.
Junior Judson Greer arrives in San Diego as a first-time Foot Locker qualifier and the South regional champion. Also competing at NXN, Greer placed 26th in the field. He should look to bounce back for a top 10 performance on Saturday. This balanced field, which is somewhat diluted by NXN, could play favorably into Greer's race.
Another individual from the South region, Graydon Morris (3rd at the South regional meet) has been very consistent over the past few months and should be seen as an All-American caliber runner. He could be a dark horse contender for the title, but a few things would need to go his way in order for that to happen.
John Higinbotham is an interesting story as he has only raced three 5k's this season while also running a few 8k's. How will that translate to an elite field on the national stage?
My dark horse out of this region is Coen Roberts who looks to be peaking at the right time. He placed 2nd in the South region and has raced solid in all four of his races rated by Tullyrunners this year.
1. Josh Methner
2. Patrick Anderson
3. Graydon Morris
4. Liam Murphy
5. Gavin Sherry
6. Jack Jennings
7. Daniel O'Brien
8. Jack Spamer
9. Evan Bishop
10. Judson Greer
11. Daniel O'Brien
12. Carter Solomon
13. Kevin Antczak
14. Bob Liking
15. Coen Roberts
Like the boy’s preview, we will do the same and go region by region to see which top talents are mostly likely to place highly on Saturday. As you will see, this race is more top heavy than they boys, and you will most likely see the favorites perform well.
The West regional meet was just as strange for the girls as it was for the boys. The favorites in the race didn’t live up to expectations while others posted some surprise performances.
Although Mia Barnett has had some up-and-down races throughout the season, she won the West regional meet in one of the best races of her career. It will be interesting to see if she can have the same impact on Saturday.
Grace Ping will arrive to Foot Locker as a former NXN All-American and a former Foot Locker qualifier. She placed 4th at the West regional meet and should be considered a very legitimate All-American threat, especially given her prior experience.
Anna Martin comes in as the most consistent runner out of the West region. She placed 3rd in her qualifying and has been progressing nicely throughout the season. Martin is a strong dark horse pick to be the 1st place finisher from this region on Saturday.
The Northeast will bring us the race-day favorite in Marlee Starliper. The Pennsylvania distance star won her Foot Locker regional race and recently secured a huge 5th place result at NXN after being granted an at-large bid by Nike. Starliper has been nothing short of stellar throughout this cross country season, winning every race except for NXN. She placed 13th at Foot Locker in 2018, but has a strong chance in the eyes of many to bring home the title this year.
Also out of the Northeast region is Sydney Masciarelli who has been one of the most consistent top-talents of not only the 2019 cross country season, but also 2018. Don't forget, we're talking about the 2018 Foot Locker champion here. If you like experience and proven success on the national stage, Masciarelli may be your pick for this weekend.
Placing 2nd in the Northeast region, Masciarelli battled with Starliper in the first half of the race, eventually pulling away with an 18 second cushion over 3rd place. Based off of that result, we can expect Masciarelli to not be afraid to test the waters with the front pack on Saturday.
Another individual, Karrie Baloga, qualified as the only freshman in the entire field. She placed 3rd behind the strong harriers mentioned above and it wouldn’t be a shock to see this freshman be a First-Team All-American.
Out of the Midwest region, Taylor Ewert shows up to San Diego as the biggest wildcard in the entire race. Placing 3rd at her Foot Locker regional meet, the Arkansas commit also qualified for NXN and gave Katelyn Tuohy a legitimate scare at the end of the race, ultimately finishing runner-up by less than a second.
It is hard not to give Ewert the benefit of the doubt and call her the overall favorite, but this NXN race was an outlier compared to her past races. It will be exciting to see if she can replicate her performance and contend with Starliper in the same way that she competed with Tuohy.
Along with Ewert is another strong individual in Zofia Dudek who was unable to compete at NXN due to a conflict with the U20 Euro XC Championships. She will be competing on Saturday, but it will be interesting to see if the extended traveling (and racing) will impact her performance. She has been incredibly solid all year long and should be seen as a real threat to win the national title.
How about Katelynne Hart? She may arguably have the most name recognition in this region after placing 4th at her NXN regional meet and 2nd at her Foot Locker regional meet. The future Michigan Wolverine has a plethora of national meet experience and elite-level times, but struggled a bit at the NXN Championships last weekend, placing 50th overall in a race where she was expected to be inside the top 10. Hart will likely be hunting for redemption on Saturday.
Last but not least, it is hard to talk about the Midwest region without mentioning Abby Vanderkooi. She won the region and has only lost one race this entire season. Her speed rankings have only improved throughout the season, making her one of the best "on the rise runners" in the nation. Can she replicate her regional performance in San Diego this Saturday?
The South brings in a strong contingent of runners led by Jenna Hutchins who won her regional battle against a respectable talent in Ava Dobson. Both of these runners have been underrated talents throughout this field, strengthening this field by choosing Foot Locker instead of NXN.
For Hutchins, her regional victory of Dobson has seemingly put her back on track after a sub-par performance at her state championship which should give her some confidence heading in Saturday.
Ava Dobson, on the other hand, has been very consistent throughout the season and one of our (what seems like many) dark horse picks to end up as an upset winner this weekend. Although some of her results haven’t been up to the caliber of other harriers in this race, Dobson has proven that she is unafraid to hang with the lead-pack, leaving her with some exciting race-day potential.
The only concern we have with Dobson is her limited experience as this is the first time she has qualified for the Foot Locker National Championships. On Saturday, we will see if she is hungry enough to win or just happy to race.
1. Marlee Starliper
2. Zofia Dudek
3. Taylor Ewert
4. Sydney Masciarelli
5. Jenna Hutchins
6. Katelynne Hart
7. Ava Dobson
8. Carly McNatt
9. Abby Vanderkooi
10. Karrie Baloga
11. Annalyssa Crain
12. Kelsey Harrington
13. Tatum David
14. Jenna Goldberg
15. Riley Stewart