The cross country season is always covered with races that happen during the week or on weekends. So if you're a fan of the sport, it's usually easy to get out to watch one of many races. This weekend in the Memphis area, we have the 28th running of the Frank Horton Invitational. By far, this is the most popular race for local teams. And it's not only because the host, Christian Brothers High, does a great job with the meet but also because pretty much every team in the area makes it a point to run this race. And really, why wouldn't you be running this race? Local talent and a sprinkling of out of town talent always makes this race a must run event if you are into this great sport!
And this year, we have a little twist to the meet. We all know Shelby Farms just re-opened with a completely new look (pretty awesome look by the way). So why not redesign the 5K cross country course as well. Change sometimes is tough to take, but that is exactly what has happened. I can give you my opinion of the course, but it has some challenges, some flats, and a really nice look for a cross country course. But after the race, I suppose we'll have to talk to the athletes to see just how nice the new course can be. It can be a fast course. In all truth, this weekend is likely going to be a very good test of just how good the new course will run.
So I'll move on to take a look at some of the talent scheduled to compete. On the boy's side, there are several teams that can navigate this course and have a solid chance of winning the meet. The out of town team coming from West Plains Missouri seems to be a front runner with their top 3 athletes being among the top ten in Missouri rankings. Their top runner, Jacob McCrackin is ranked #1 in Missouri this season so far and his teammate, Ben Stasney, holds the runner up spot as well. They've run 15:16.40 and 15:29.10 so far this season. And their third fastest runner, Ethan Hutchison, is sub 16 as well with a 15:50.0. If their fourth and fifth runners run well, we'll probably see them take home the winners catch.
But three local teams, Collierville, Bartlett and Houston seem very level with the talent across their group of athletes. And actually, if you put together the Virtual Race on this meet, the top four teams are only 16 points apart. Let's add in the fact that Bartlett just came off a very strong run at the TN Classic last weekend. That race was in a virtual torrential downpour and if the forecast holds for Saturday, it'll be like a joy ride in the park for the team after that!! But the top of the listing for this meet is very tightly packed and a good day by just one athlete could be the key to who stands the tallest at the end. Leading off the Bartlett team will be Luke McNair (16:40) and Jackson Williams (17:02), both coming off strong performances at the TN classic last week.
Christopher Rayder looks to be back strong and I would put a big stack on him having a great race Saturday. I saw him run at Brooks, and he looked pretty strong and I understand he ran to a top ten at the Forest Park XC meet in St. Louis the other week. I'm excited to see him let loose again. On the Collierville front line will be Michael Linder (16:34) and Adam VanDeren (16:35) to lead that strong team Saturday to what they hope will be a successful race.
Arlington also has a stack of runners near the top of the entries with Sena Murray (16:35), Ryan Redman (16:39) and Chris Walls (17:13). By the way, Arlington's Redman was the second Memphis local runner right behind Bartlett's Luke McNair at last week's TN Classic.
I believe Collierville looks to be the strongest local team at the moment, especially after their top 5 finish at the Chickasaw Trails a couple of weeks ago. However, this race is going to be extremely tight. There is a heck of a lot of similarly talented athletes, a good amount of experience this early in the season, and no doubt a lot of pride to be the team to say they're the best at this newly designed Frank Horton course!
Now let's look at how the girls look coming into this meet. I may sound like a broken record at times, but I seem to always side with the Houston girls when they're lined up at the start. West Plains are also in the picture here, but I really think both teams are going to have to be ready to step up their game on this new course if either wants the win. But isn't that the norm for cross country - step up your game or get trampled!! That's what's going to happen here, with a slew of top runners, it's going to be fun to watch.
Houston's Ella Baron (18:30) and Arlington's Erica Fisher (18:31) are going head to head here and I'm going to be sure I'm there to watch this. Ella beat Erica at the early season Brooks Twilight by just a second. Erica just came off a win at the TN Classic and Ella to a fifth place finish at the Forest Park Festival in St. Louis. Neither of these girls like to lose, but then who does when you're at that level. No predictions from me, but hopefully both girls get a good night's rest and are ready to race!
Going down some of the other key runners to watch here will be the West Plains team with Mia Harris at the tip of the arrow (19:19), and teammates Kaylee Hatley (19:32), McKenzie Bergman (19:38), and Whitneigh Drown (19:52). These girls have times that are really close together and you know what that means, yep, they are likely to work together closely to improve on their chances of pulling for the lead.
But still, the Houston team is on home turf and with Ella leading them off and the rest of the team just flat out tough to beat, could be an interesting morning. This Houston team has a strong group that are just now getting into the swing of the season. Michelle Myers (20:11), Anna Tankersley (20:19), Brenna Riseling (21:00) and Amelia Baran (21:01) round out that team and although Brenna seems to be the newcomer here, all have run PR's faster than this seasons time to date and so you just know they'll be ready to make a mark Saturday.
Skylar Boogerd (Arlington, 19:23) seems to be in the conversation every single meet as well, after starting out the season strong at the Brooks. Dyer County's Anna Claire Lusk, 20:03, is getting more comfortable running near the front of the pack as is Skylar's teammate, Gracelyn Walls (20:32).
Unlike the end of season State Championship race where the athletes are grouped in their respective school categories, this race (like a lot of XC races) put everyone together. Varsity and JV categories and that's it. Run the 5K. No... Race the 5K and get your time! So a lot of the groups in the lead at these are going to be your bigger schools. Within the race though, there's some other side bar competitions to take a look at. Ok, it's not really an official competition but considering the D2 large schools do not have a sectional qualifier to get into state, it is a good time for these schools to, well, go up against fast competition and get a gut check so to speak. Considering it's the end of September, what better time to be here for this traditional race.
So I'm going to spend a minute doing a quick check on some of these schools. St. Agnes Academy is almost always one of the top D2 girl's teams in the area. It seems just when you think this group has graduated most of their talent, another crop of youngsters step up to the starting line and perform. Maggie Schneider (21:12), Rebecca Calderoni and Abigail Williams lead this group and I'm sure they'll be the first D2 team across the line Saturday and could see a lot of improvement from this growing team after this race! And although I don't believe we'll see the D2 teams make a run for the top of the overall podium, another good team to watch here is the Briarcrest girls. Last season, the Briarcrest girls track team won the West Region meet and that has sparked a bit of a resurgence in the cross country ranks as well. Hannah Fisher leads them off with a resilient and tough group just waiting for their time to break out and perform their best!
When it comes to the boy's side of the D2 class, Christian Brother HS, is certainly one that is clearly at the top of the list. It so happens that the Brothers are also the host of this meet and so I'd expect them to have one of their best races. I'd be disappointed if they didn't, especially with the talent they have. Their leader is Kyle Edwards (16:51) who should get a top ten or better at this race. Zach Brazil (17:08), Thomas Shallow (17:28), Tyler Casey (17:38) and Constatine Campbell (17:50) make up the rest of the top five in this group and considering they are all under the 18 mark, seem to be very strong.
Another perpetual contender is Memphis University School. The first chance I got this season to watch these guys race was at the very wet TN Classic (very wet) and I have to say they were a big surprise for somewhat young or probably more descriptive, inexperienced group when it comes to lots of racing. But I'm not going to call them inexperienced any more, I'm going to call them a mark to watch for in the future. They've lost so much talent over the past couple of years you'd think to write them off, but don't. Hastings McEwan (17:52), a junior, is their top performer this year and although hasn't had a lot of racing experience, has run a 10:35 in the track 3200 that shows he has speed. Another top runner this season is for them is senior Ben Freeman who has a 5K PR of 17:17 that he hasn't matched this season yet, but I would keep an eye on it this year. Behind Ben is another senior in Charlie Gilliland who has some pretty good track speed to help him out in this cross country season.
First race Saturday is the girls Varsity starting at 8:15am, followed by the boys Varsity at 8:45am and the JV combined at 9:15am. The awards are at 10:00am, so you can come out, watch a few good 5K cross country races, enjoy some time at the new Shelby Farms and even have lunch there, then be home by noon! Hey, how can you not want to come out to this and watch! Good luck to all the athletes participating in this and run fast!
See you on the track... and grass!