Memphis area Cross Country 2016 Preview
Did you know that the steeplechase race on the track was initially added to the track competition as a way to mimic a cross country race. The barrier and water jumps are designed to be like old school cross country courses that athletes jumped over downed tree trunks and ran through creeks. Most current XC courses have fewer obstacles but you can count on terrain being a factor and hills thrown in to make you, well, cringe sometimes. And maybe that's also why decent cross country runners who have some solid distance speed on the track have been known to try the steeplechase at some point in their running careers. That race requires strength, speed, stamina and of course, a strong drive to succeed - something that is pretty common among cross country athletes for sure. So... on to the preview for the Memphis area cross country runners and state preview to come later.
Let's start first with the Division 1 athletes:
Among the D1 athletes to highlight in the male group is certainly going to be Christopher Rayder, the Houston High senior. His 15:29.88 that he posted at the Jesse Owens classic puts him in the top 3 overall in the state and the fastest runner in the Memphis area for sure. Last year he was 6th at the steeple chase state course with a 16:10.86 which is fast on that course. He actually ran a 16:35 on the same course earlier at the TN Classic and so that state run shows a huge improvement at the end of the season. With a track time in the 3200 of 9:32.77 last state meet, and being the only sub-16 runner in the area, we are likely to see more superb performances from this talented athlete again this year!
Sena Murray and Chris Walls, both of Arlington would be the logical next two in line behind Christopher. Sena's 16:01.62 is certainly an incentive to see a sub 16 from this young man. He's got a 1:58 for the track 800, so you know he has the leg speed to drop to that time this season. Chris doesn't have that same track speed, but it seems the longer the distance he runs, the easier it is for him to keep his pace strong. With a 16:12 ran at the AAU National XC championships, you know the bigger the stage, the faster he's going to run and so will be one to watch as well. And actually, Chris beat Sena at their Region 7AAA meet. We'll talk about D2 later, but Kyle Edwards of CBHS comes in as the fourth fastest in the area.
With the Arlington team, you add in Ryan Redman with his 16:47, Skyler Henson (17:09) and Luke Kerns (17:28) and a slew of other athletes on this team and you can see their depth and strength that puts them at one of the top teams in the area, if not the best D1 in the area.
Adam Vanderen of Collierville is another senior that can run a fast 5K. 16:09 last season puts him among the top returners in the area without a doubt. And after posting times in the spring of 4:32 in the 1600 and 9:44 in the 3200, his leg speed is one of his talents and that experience is going to propel him this season to post some solid times for sure.
Germantown athlete, Joshua Topham ran a 16:50 at the Region 8 championship to put him in fourth place at the meet. Joshua's sister was one of the top runners in the area a couple of years ago at Cordova and so maybe there's some sibling rivalry that might give him incentive to get into a fast season this year!
Foster Hudsmith, the senior athlete from White State comes from a very talented running family and with his 16:27.41 posted at the local Frank Horton race he comes in at the top again! He posted some PR's during his early cross country seasons but has run a lot more consistent last year. The rumor is that Foster is running very strong this season, has a very specific schedule to follow and I'm guessing wants to have bragging rights when everyone's gathered around the family dinner table this year! He was the runner up to Christopher Rayder in last season's Region 8 AAA meet. His teammate, Sam Klyce (17:13) has run a 2:04 in the 800 and so with both these guys being seniors, they may just be motivated to work together and see some great improvements to send the off on a high note their last high school season!
Chance Rone, the young athlete from Bolton, has a PR of 16:33.35 that he set at Jesse Owens last season. Chance also had a pretty successful track season last spring, posting a solid 10:17 in the 3200 that certainly is going to help his 5K time drop this season. Couple that with the recent fast Hoka Postal 3200 Saturday evening at the CBHS, he is going to be among those athletes to keep an eye on as far as how much he will improve.
Ella Baran (17:57.89) and Michelle Myers (18:15.57) return to the grass to give Houston two of the top five best D1 athletes across the state. They clearly make up the best in the Memphis area this season and since they have the benefit of being on the same team - i.e., train & race together - it's likely going to be a duel between them as to who comes out on top in the area this season.
As is the case occasionally in these running sports, Ella had a rough time of it at the cross country state championships with her collapse near the end. But that was a rare thing that can happen and she made up for it tenfold during the track season where she posted some superb PR's. A 2:20 in the 800, 5:00.60 in the 1600 and getting the runner up spot at the state track championships in the 3200 with an 11:02.01 that was very close to breaking under 11. Ella was also the only girl in the area with a sub 18 post last season.
Michelle Myers, another standout athlete from Houston's girls' team, should have another fantastic season. As a senior, she may even have a touch more incentive to tackle the top spot in the area. With her coming inside the top ten among all divisions this season across the state, she certainly is poised to have more break out performances this season. She seems to be one of those athletes that doesn't do so well in the shorter distances, but once you start adding the miles, she gets better and better. Compare her 11:12.24 for the 3200 and 5:31 for the 1600 and then the 18:15 for the XC 5K, it clearly shows she gets better as you throw the miles at her. And I would guess a better place at the state championships is well within her sight this season!
Arlington's Skylar Boogerd (18:39.88) is likely the one to give the two top Houston girls a run this season. Skylar runs a 2:21 track 800 and so she is someone to watch if it comes down to the wire at any race. Skylar is likely the favorite to repeat as the Region 7AAA meet at the end of the season too. And I can safely say I'd give her a big yes when it comes to asking the question if she can improve on her 8th place finish at state last season.
And if Skylar's teammate, Erica Fisher (18:45.40) team up to work each other during a race, we could see some really fast times get posted and some exciting races. Although Arlington and Houston do not race against each other in the state qualifying Regional meet, they will go against each other at the State level and could be a tight finish for both teams.
Now looking at the Division II returners
Christian Brothers brings back probably the deepest and talented CC team this season and fresh off a very successful 2015 season. Kyle Edwards ran 16:24.33 last September at Chickasaw Trails and is the clear leader in this D2 class. Kyle has a 2:01 (800) and 4:28 (1600) track times that clearly puts him in the fast leg speed category that is a huge advantage during the last 600 or 700 meters in a cross country race, especially at the steeple chase course in November. Kyle won West Region 1600 this past track season and so went into the summer on a very high note. You'll have to keep an eye on Kyle at the state meet, it seems each year he has run, his place improves dramatically.
Ray Wynne, one of the better athletes coming out of SBA in quite a while, could be a thorn in CBHS's side this cross country season among the individual ranks. If he can better his 16:25 from last year's Frank Horton in some of the bigger meets this season, he could be a factor come early November. There's been a lot of coaching turnover at SBA in a lot of their sports lately. We've seen it affect the track program over the past few years and now the other running sport has been added to that unfortunate trend. There is talent on the SBA team, not enough to scare the other D2 teams but possibly enough to turn a couple heads. With former coach Stoddard stepping down to spend time on her business, the new coach will be tasked with achieving success despite the unrest the coaching changes across the board can cause. We hope the results are good.
And speaking of consistency, Matthew Roberts comes in at 16:47.04 and as the second fastest D2 runner in the area. When you factor in his track times, especially the 3200, he consistently is chipping away seconds from his time and moving up the ranks. His 5k time is just a few seconds ahead of teammate, Zach Hammack (16:49.47). These two guys could be the key to keeping CBHS near the top of the podium when it comes to that one little race in the woods near Nashville in November.
A top five runner for D2 in the Memphis area is Briarcrest's James Basse. James is likely one to keep a very close eye on this season. This junior has some superb track speed and needs to be on your radar to watch this season. He's on the edge of the 10 min mark for the track 3200 with his 10:01.70 and an 800 at 2:05 shows he has leg speed to give. Last track season James had some difficulty recovering from hard workouts and found out he had that difficult to detect among distance runners problem - low iron. Considering how well he ran the past few years, and figuring out that iron problem, he is going to be one of those athletes that could really pop out a strong season. Heck, he's already proved that with his performance in that top heat at the Hoka race Saturday. And what's even more impressive, he absolutely knows he's got more run in him and is confident he'll improve. So yes, watch this senior athlete lead his team this season, it'll be fun!
Girls D2 rundown
Nora Tillmanns of Hutchison (20:22.10) is the top returner for the D2 Memphis area girls this season. Nora is a top 10 finalist at the State cross country meet last year where she ran her fastest time on the steeplechase course. Last season she also improved her place at the state meet by over 20 spots and so is one to watch this season as she prepares to improve at state again. She hasn't raced a lot in her short couple of years running but that might be about to change with the level of talent this young girl shows.
Following close behind Nora is a group of talented girls all within striking distance. Maggie Kilmer (ECS) is very close to breaking the 20 minute mark and with a 12:31 in the track 3200, is likely to do that this season. Another ECS girl, Holly Huffman (20:47.38) should give Maggie a training partner and push each other to excel this season and possibly bring the ECS team to a podium level performance this season.
St. Agnes's Maggie Schneider (20:43.11) is a senior on the SAA team that is actually fairly inexperienced in the running sports as she's basically just started out last season. That in itself is probably why you should watch how this fresh athlete attacks the season. She's run under 13 in the 3200 and is a fast learner and likely will be running much better times this year. Actually, I'd keep a close eye on the whole St. Agnes group. Kate Spencer is a 21 plus runner for the XC 5K distance but seems to be just dabbling in her abilities and so could also get out to a fast season.
Abigail Williams is another SAA athlete to watch. This sophomore can run under 2:30 in the 800 and is steadily improving as she gains the endurance for the 5K length, something she's not used to but certainly has the potential. And something not typically on a distance runners' resume, she's even fiddled a bit with the high jump in her middle school years! So yep, you just don't know what this girl is capable of until she does it!
Briarcrest's Hannah Fisher (21:00.71) is another top girl to watch very closely in the D2 ranks. This sophomore may just be a surprise this year as she gains experience and works on her leg speed. Hannah ran a 12:30 in the 3200 to finish off last track season and it appeared she was just starting to understand how to get all the cylinders working together. Last cross country season, Hannah ran the TN Classic and then ran the same course at the state meet to about a forty second improvement. That's a hard course to improve your time and so take that and her track season and it appears Hannah is ready to make a nice move up the rankings this season.
If you're wondering why she's left out, Briarcrest Junior athlete Meghan Underwood is the top ranked Memphis area D2 athlete but is sitting out cross country varsity competition to comply with the TSSAA transfer rules. It's unfortunate, but it's a good rule in most cases and it just means she'll be that much hungrier when track season rolls around.
A short and sweet look at a team preview:
As is always the case, the sport of cross country puts a lot of attention on the team competition. And although it's always tough to predict how all five athletes on a team will perform from the start to the finish of the season, here's a quick guess on how the teams will look. Overall, I believe the best boys teams this season will be CBHS and Arlington. So that makes CBHS the top boys in the D2 and Arlington the same for the D1. You probably should also consider Collierville as a strong group and always keep Houston in mind, especially if someone new joins their ranks.
St. George's seems to be a pretty good choice to follow CBHS. MUS always seems to show up near the podium but I think this year they are a bit too young to make a mark, but keep an eye on how they develop by the end of the season. SBA has a couple of fast athletes at their lead and usually is a school big enough to find a couple of athletes that can contend, so they might be in the mix if they can get their fourth and fifth runners to speed up a bit.
On the girl's side, I think Houston will continue to keep their dominance with the depth they've been able to keep year to year. Arlington has a couple fast girls at the front and as it always does, just comes down to how strong their last two teammates can be to dictate the final podium spot.
Over to the Division 2 girls, St. Agnes is always in the mix for a top team in the area but I think this year Evangelical Christian School seems to have a bit more speed and depth and could be the top D2 girl's team this year. It'll be a tight race, but seems like they may have the edge. But like tossing a coin, this is a 50/50 guess on who might have the strongest team. Then it becomes pretty wide open after these two teams, but Briarcrest may have recently got the cross country bug and a lot of these girls are pushing themselves to get into the mix. After watching the Hoka One Postal Saturday and how the Briarcrest athletes support each other, I'm putting an edge on this team to slowly creep up as a challenger to watch this season and beyond.
Something I thought I'd add to the end of these articles is a bit of an editorial commentary. So here goes. Being a coach for as many years as I've been, I've noticed that consistency in training - and especially in the running arena - is a huge factor in creating success - or when inconsistent, then failure seems to follow... it's also a pet peeve of mine when I see that the running sports in the state are given a back seat when it comes to quality coaching. Not always is the Track or XC coach given the scrutiny of another sport when hiring the leader in that sport. Any XC and T&F coach worth their talent will tell you that coaching the running sports is a pretty tough challenge. It is not a coaching job that is easy by any measure. And that's because the sport is a fundamental component of every other sport around! How many times have you heard a football commentator say the athlete has 'track speed'? Or what about the excitement around a soccer or football player hurdling another athlete in full stride. Or comparing a volleyball player's leap with a high jumper clearing the bar. Anyways, let's hope more athletic directors and Principals realize the benefits of having a good XC and Track coach at their school. Cross country is the endurance and strength of the running sports and track is the speed. Let's get coaches in there that understand how to get the best out of these great athletes we have across the state!
See you on the track... and the grass!