Updated: Apr 8
High school coverage on TSR? Craziness, I know.
In this preview, I'll be going through the majority of the contenders (whether it be individuals or teams) and breaking down who has the best chance to come home with the 16th annual NXN title.
Throughout this article, I'll be using Tullyrunners.com as a major reference when comparing each team and individual. For those not familiar with the site, Tully rates individual performances across numerous races each and every weekend to give a comparative gauge of distance running talent across the country. If you would like to know more about high school distance running (Tully also made NXN predictions), I would strongly urge you to check out his website Tullyrunners.com.
One last thing before we get into the actual preview.
With rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, runners should expect mud throughout most of the course. The boys race does have an advantage of racing before the girls, so it will be interesting how much of the race path they chew up on this multiple-looped course.
To start, when going into a high school boys cross country season, there are the clear favorites and subtle dark horses. Countless factors go into creating a team with championship DNA and rarely do you see a team come out of the woodwork and consistently compete at a high level (except if a talented runner (or runners) transfer into that particular school).
So what are the components for this type of team?
In no particular order...
A Fast 3000/3200 Team Average
Over the past eight years, the average 3200 meter time of a championship winning team (which returned five runners from the year prior) has been 9:27.28. This excludes Fayetteville-Manlius who didn’t have five guys complete the 3200 or 3000 meters (converted to 3200). This statistic helps guide our understanding of top contenders from the common pretenders when cross country begins.
The slowest 3200 meter returning average from an NXN champion was Bozeman who averaged 9:46.15. This stat is also important. From a statistical point of view, Bozeman winning NXN was an outlier when it comes to basing everything off of 3200 team averages.
So what does an NXN team need? Well, historically, their team needs to average at least sub-9:50 in the spring to have any shot of winning the Nike team title.
Winning Their State Meet
Every team who has won NXN in the past eight years has won their state meet, and for the most part, very handily. Being able to show up to a state meet and win demonstrates the ability to compete when it counts, no matter the competition. That said, just under half of the teams that make NXN don’t have a shot to win the title unless a miracle happens.
Why? See the above section...
A big reason why the Bozeman team from Montana succeeded was because of their championship experience. A year before they won the title, this team came in 8th with a solid foundation of their team returning.
A rare exception to this rule was in 2017 when Louden Valley took the high school cross country season by storm when they flawlessly won every meet they attended and won NXN by a substantial margin. However, this team also had the luxury of gaining Sam Affolder, an experienced top 10 talent in the country who helped this team progress to the next level of high school distance running.
Looking at the boys teams this year, we see that there are five to six teams capable of winning the title. To start, let's look at Newbury Park who should be the opening-line favorite to win it all. They return four of their top five runners from last year's lineup which finished 6th at the 2018 NXN Championships.
Arguably the best harrier in the country, Nico Young should provide his team with an elite low-stick and give Newbury Park an edge against other teams. Of course, the talent doesn’t stop at Young. Their core of Jace Aschbrenner, Colin Sahlman, Nicholas Goldstein, and Daniel Appleford have proven throughout the season that they are capable of showing up when it matters. Their state meet performance was exceptional and they look to be peaking at the right time.
The one thing that is concerning is that their current #5 scorer is a freshman, so that limited experience will be a key aspect to watch. This is a big meet and their depth will be tested.
In a unique twist of fate, Newbury Park's strongest competitor happens to be in-state with Great Oak providing another strong nationally caliber team.
Great Oak is one of those special teams that make you wonder if they could have two teams qualify if they were allowed. Led by Christopher Verdugo, Great Oak has had all seven of their varsity athletes run a 180 for Tully, which is the equivalent to finishing top 80 at the national meet and scoring around 40 team points. Their lineup is interchangeable at the 5-6-7 spots, which is a huge help if someone has an off day. This team is stacked and shouldn’t place lower than 4th at this meet on Saturday.
Naturally, it’s hard to write a preview and not mention the back-to-back national champs Loudoun Valley. They bring back another team that could win the team title, and if that were to happen, they would be brought into the dynasty discussion.
Their top six are all seniors and they have the most experience going into the race. They have a strong front-runner in Carlos Shultz, but they will be tested at their final two scoring spots. This team has the potential to win it all, but at the very least, they will most likely finish in the top five.
Fayetteville Manlius (FM) might be the most interesting team going into NXN. They won the New York region fairly handily with their top three runners finishing in the top four of the race. The concern, however, is that the spread between their top five at the regional meet was 1:25.
This FM team is very similar to American Fork in 2015 which placed 2nd at NXN. American Fork proved that you are only as good as your #5 runner and FM faces that same dilemma going into the race.
Another program with strong talent is La Salle Academy. This team has a solid group of scorers through five guys with great front-runners. They lack depth in their final two non-scoring positions, but throughout the season they have shown that, when they toe the line, the La Salle Rams can contend with nearly anyone in the country.
One concerning aspect of this team is NXN experience as they haven't qualified since 2014. That year, several respected writers projected them to win the meet, but they ultimately ended up finishing 18th. That said, La Salle has traveled well this year, going to meets like Great American and Manhattan, but as we all know - NXN is a different animal.
Individually, Nico Young and Cole Sprout should arrive as the favorites to win the title. It is hard to pick between the two as Sprout is the top returner and only lost once in an early season race. Nico Young, although having ambitions for the individual title, will have his team in the back of his mind as he tries to score the golden single point. Young will enter Saturday undefeated and has the highest Tully rating of anyone in the country with a score of 202.
To put that in context, 201 was the winning speed rating score last year.
Other individual NXN contenders include Ryan Schoppe, Evan Holland, Josh Methner and Liam Murphy. Schoppe is the winner of the South region, has been undefeated throughout the season, and has posted a monster mark of 14:14 for 5000 meters. It will be interesting to see how he races in Portland considering most of his races were dry and flat.
Methner won the Midwest region and should be very much in contention over the last mile. He has proven throughout the season that he is capable of winning this race and it will be interesting to see him battle with the other stud harriers this weekend.
Liam Murphy arrives after losing his sectional race to another top runner in Jack Jennings (who also received an at-large bid), but bounced back to win the New Jersey Meet of Champions. Murphy actually competed at his Foot Locker regional meet (where he finished 3rd), but also earned an At-Large from the NXN committee. Expect him to be near the top pack at the tail-end of this race.
1. Newbury Park
2. Greak Oak
3. Loudoun Valley
4. Corner Canyon
5. Wheaton Warrenville South
6. Dana Hills
7. La Salle Academy
8. Western Albemarle
9. St. Charles East
10. Christian Brothers Academy
13. Southlake Carroll
14. El Paso Eastwood
15. Dakota Ridge
18. El Paso Eastwood
19. Burnt Hills
20. Mounds View
21. The Woodlands
22. Stevens Point
1. Nico Young
2. Cole Sprout
3. Josh Methner
4. Ryan Schoppe
5. Evan Holland
6. Matt Strangio
7. Liam Murphy
8. Jack Jennings
9. Carson Belnap
10. Jace Aschbrenner
11. Caleb Brown
12. Kevin Antczak
13. Peyton Geehrer
14. Evan Bishop
15. Connor Ohlson
The criteria for a successful girl’s high school cross country team differs dramatically than the boys. There isn’t a set formula to win NXN unless you are Bill Arias and Fayetteville Manlius who have shown that the system they use wins championships. FM has won an outstanding 11 NXN team championships over the past 13 years, losing only to Wayzata in 2013 and the girls from Summit, Oregon last year.
Unlike most of the NXN years, this girl’s race is as interesting as the boys, mainly because it is a toss up as to who will win this year's title. Realistically, there are only three teams who have a chance to take home the title based off of regular season performances, but it will be very close between each of those programs. This will probably be a high scoring race, with the winning team likely to be in the 125 to 145 range.
The girls from Summit enter NXN as the defending champs and are the favorites to win NXN for the second year in a row. It isn't hard to place them as the odds-on favorite seeing that they return their entire top six from that 2018 championship team.
Summit has proven to be one of the deepest teams in the country and they have the experience to win it all. They won’t have to travel far either, as it is less than a two hour drive to Portland.
Led by senior low-stick Fiona Max, the Summit girls bring a lineup that is incredibly strong through seven runners. In fact, they should have all seven of their varsity runners cross the line before most team's #5 scorers.
FM should enter as one of the favorites to win again after winning the Nike New York region against another top team in Saratoga Springs. Led by Claire Walters (who should be competing for a top individual spot and could challenge for one team point), FM looks to have reloaded again following a disappointing 4th place finish (which sounds absurd to say). Not many teams are disappointed after placing 4th at the national meet, but that just proves how this program operates.
FM had a solid regional race and that was with their usual #2 scorer (Phoebe White) having an off day. Look for her to bounce back as a senior who has experience racing in Portland.
The only concern with this FM team is their depth as their #5 runner was well behind their #4 scorer and the total spread between their top five was over two minutes. That gap could spell disaster for FM as they look to have the strongest top four out of any team competing.
Hoping to avenge their loss from the New York regional meet are the girls from Saratoga Springs. It is usually very rare for a team who didn’t win their region to win the NXN title, but Saratoga Springs has the chance to do so.
Losing to FM by only two points, Saratoga Springs should thrive in a larger race as their #5 runner has bested FM’s same scorer throughout the season. They didn’t race well last week, but if they race to their potential, then this is a scary team to toe the line against. Ella Kurto leads the charge while her teammates aren't far behind.
Two dark horse squads that could upset the teams mentioned above are Buchanan from California and North Central from Washington. Buchanan was a surprise winner of the California merge, besting Great Oak. Led by senior front-runner Corrie Smith, Buchanan has gone through the regular season under the radar and they could possibly make a splash at the NXN meet.
Their speed rankings from the California State Championships show that they are capable of contending, but they will need their #5 runner to close the gap on their #4 scorer to have a real chance of winning it all.
North Central faces a similar situation as they have a strong top four, but showed weakness at the 5-6-7 spots. If North Central’s #5 runner (Mia Hill) can run similar to how she raced at the Washington state meet, then this team becomes scary good.
Individually, it is no surprise to see Katelyn Tuohy as the heavy favorite going into NXN. She hasn’t lost a cross country race in two years, has won the past two NXN individual titles, and she has won most of her races handily. She has broken course record after course record, including her own record last year at NXN by seven seconds, posting a time of 16:37.8 for 5000 meters.
Tuohy will most likely be racing the clock to see if she can better her own course record, but with rain projected and muddy conditions expected, anything can happen. Tuohy has handled the conditions out at NXN well and on paper, Tuohy should win easily.
But as the old saying goes, paper doesn’t run.
Behind Tuohy is a strong group of individuals who will attempt to pull off the upset and essentially shock the world. One of her strongest challengers will be Marlee Starliper who earned an at-large bid when she won Footlocker Northeast regional title. The NC State commit seems to be the likely candidate to give Tuohy a run for her money at the front of this race. Undefeated in her senior campaign, Starliper has the second best speed ranking to Tuohy this season.
Claire Walters of FM has raced Tuohy plenty of times over the past two years and each outing has been unsuccessful. That, however, shouldn't take away from the fact that she is one of the best runners in the country. In fact, she might be the second best runner in New York and the second best runner in the country.
Walters has proven that she isn’t scared to go out hard and run with Tuohy as she was only a couple seconds off of the superstar ace at the halfway point through the regional race. Tuohy ended up pulling away in the last half, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Walters challenging Tuohy towards the middle of the NXN Championships on Saturday.
Look for Sydney Thorvaldson to challenge Tuohy early in the race as she has posted an undefeated 2019 campaign and will want to continue that streak. The junior from Wyoming and winner of the Northwest regional has the credentials to be on the podium at NXN. She has posted one of the fastest speed ratings of the season and has the track times to back it up.
Another individual who should mix up at the front of this race is Katelynne Hart. Placing 2nd to Zofia Dudek (who is not competing due to a conflict with the European U20 Championships as she represents Poland), Hart almost won the race and rolls into NXN with a chip on her shoulder. Expect her to be a sure-thing, top 10 runner on Saturday.
2. Saratoga Springs
4. North Central
5. Great Oak
7. Newbury Park
8. Lone Peak
9. Loudoun Valley
13. Naperville North
17. Valor Christian
18. Pine Crest
19. North Hunterdon
21. Southlake Carroll
1. Katelyn Tuohy
2. Marlee Starliper
3. Claire Walters
4. Katelynne Hart
5. Sydney Thorvaldson
6. Taylor Ewert
7. Brooke Rauber
8. Corie Smith
9. Fiona Max
10. Allie Janke
11. Carlie Dorostkar
12. Brynn Brown
13. Kate Peters
14. Alexandra Klos
15. Jenna Schulz