AAA Cross Country Preview
This cross country division is clearly the largest of all
the divisions to run at the State Championships. Last year the boys and girls had over 180
athletes competing. With that amount of athletes
competing it comes down to every single spot counts for something as the team
totals tally up. But before getting into
an idea of how the teams stack up, let's take a quick look at the individuals.
Ravenwood's Annika Sleenhof's 17:22.95 comes out in the top
three best for the state this season and the #1 spot for AAA. And by the way, the top three girls in the
state are all competing in different classes this year and so the talent is
spread out across everywhere! Three of
the AAA girls have sub 18 times this year with Annika's leading off the group
with her time and freshman Sasha Neglia (Dobyns Bennett) the next fastest at
17:39.00 and Erica Fisher (Arlington) at 17:44.25. But another athlete, Ella Baran of Houston
(18:03.13 this season), also has a sub 18 that she ran last season and I would
not count this speedster out of the race here.
Ella seems much more consistent this season and looks strong and steady
during all the races so far.
I watched Sasha run and win the 1600 for the first time
TSSAA middle school track championships last year and she was a blow out winner
and you can tell she has a passion for running.
This young athlete is certainly going to be one to watch, this year and
future years for sure. Skylard Boogerd
(Arlington) is also one to watch. Skylar
won her Region 7AAA meet last week and set her career PR at the same time. That was almost a minute faster than her time
from the last season's region meet. And
with 2:21 track speed for the 800, she looks to be about to set her course best
at the steeplechase this Saturday.
The Region 4-AAA champion this year, Siegel's Victoria
Simmons, is close to her best times this season and really running steady. Emma McClellan (Riverdale), set a decent PR
earlier this season and was the runner up to Victoria at the Region
championship. Her 18:26.66 at the Jesse
Owens was good enough for a sixth place finish there and will be a big boost to
her confidence this weekend as well. And
rounding one more athlete ranked 9th in this division is Halle
Hausman of Science Hill. Halle ran an
18:31, was runner up at the Region 1 AAA meet last week that was almost a
minute faster than what she ran last season.
You can add Halle to the list of athletes coming into Saturday's race
with a lot of well-earned confidence.
I believe if you look at this Steeplechase course as
compared to other decent courses, you can probably add about 30 to 40 seconds
to your best time as a gauge on how to run this course. But I've seen athletes run times just a mere
couple of seconds off their PR from faster courses. So if you're just a few seconds off your PR
Saturday that could just put you closer to the top of the podium than you
expected. And as I said before, with this
many athletes competing, just a step or two in front of a competitor could mean
huge results in the final tally. So
don't slow down!
So based on that assumption, anyone currently ranked in the
top ten of this division (or heck, even deeper than that!) could stand a good
chance of finishing top 5 or better.
Jalyn Jenkins (Mt. Juliet) sits in the number ten spot with an
18:43.72. Let's look at Addi Coggins of
Independence for example. Last year she
ran a 19:11 at the state meet off a season best then of 18:40 - a 30 second
differential from season best to steeplechase course comparison. This year she's got a season best of 18:13.85
and just ran more than a minute faster at the Region tournament the other
day. Could that equate to running state
in a 17 minute time? A heck of a tough
thing to do, but if all the stars are aligned and the planets rotate in unison...
ok, getting a bit out of context here, but you get what I mean - anything can
happen at this race and it almost always does here!
With hundreds of races and already sixteen or so state
championships completed across the nation, there are thirty nine boys that have
broken under the 15 minute mark. That is
a major accomplishment and no doubt a place of rare air for sure! Now for the important part, two Tennessee
runners are on that list. Brodey Hasty (14:32.20)
and Taylor Vroon (14.57.40). Both of
Brentwood High. And surprisingly enough,
the younger of the two is at the very top of that rarified list.
If Brodey Hasty doesn't win Saturday, then that stars and
planet alignment thing I talked about above is probably way out of whack! 14:32.20 is one heck of a fast 5K to run and
Brodey is not slowing down at all. I have
watched Brodey race several times over the past few years. He pushes himself very hard each time he
races. He really reminds me of this one
pretty familiar runner from the upper northwest used to run, with pretty much
full abandonment and little concern for the pain he's going through. You can watch Brodey race and the look on his
face is clear, there's pain. But as you
watch each stride, he doesn't slow down, he just endures it. When the boys AAA race starts Saturday, it
will be the last race of the day. And as
they say, sometimes you save the best for the last. If you want to watch, I mean if you are even
remotely a fan of cross country, come out and watch this young athlete tear up
the Steeplechase course. You don't get
to see this very often, so don't miss out.
Brodey and Taylor just finished with identical 15:26s at
their region meet the other day so it's clear they are ready to compete. So this
isn't just a cake walk race, two of the top runners in the nation, both
teammates, going head to head. Lots of
bragging rights here. They may be so far
ahead, they can coast. Somehow, I doubt
that. But hey, this is going to be
Last year's AAA race had four seniors in the top ten
finishers. The rest of the guys, well,
they are all back and running very strong this year as well. Brodey and Vroon you already know about. Ben Varghese (Daniel Boone) comes back ranked
#3 and having a PR about 20 seconds faster than last year, so he's in
shape! Titus Winders, Henry County,
ranked 4th overall in the division and his 15:11 is over 40 seconds
faster than his PR from last year and he ran his Region 5 race the other day 15
seconds faster than last year. Yep, he's
in shape too. If Titus puts on another
show like he did at the Brooks Twilight early in the season, a fantastic show
at that, then this could be a wild race!
Alex Crigger of Science Hill also set a new PR this year
with his 15:26.00 and ran a huge 30 seconds faster in his Region meet compared
to last season. The #6th spot
in the division is Jackson Vroon (hmmm.... lots from Brentwood here at the top)
running a, yes, PR in 15:26.50. Jackson
has two sub 16's this season to boot.
Scott Thompson (oh oh... Brentwood High) ran a 15:30.10 early October to
set yet another PR for these top guys in this division. These are all the top guys with 15:30's or
And I can run down several more guys in this division,
Christopher Rayder from Houston who was 6th last year at state has
battled back ferociously from an injury and is just getting his times down and
so you know he's a force to watch on Saturday.
I really think Christopher will be the first Memphis area finisher at
the meet, how far up the list he runs remains to be seen, but I do expect it to
be up there.
Closing out the top ten runners for this division is Jacob
Etheridge (Oak Ridge) with a fast 15:53.29 PR set at the Cherokee Classic in
September. Even thought that was very
early in the season, Jacob still is running well and just won the 2-AAA region
the other day. This AAA race should be
an exciting one with the top 35 athletes all posting times this season under
16:30, which is a fairly fast pace indeed!
There are 22 seniors in the top 30 of this division and so a lot of
experience will stepping up to the line Saturday. It also means the character of this division
is going to have some huge changes come next season.
As I said before, if you're a fan of cross country racing -
heck, if you're a fan of running of any kind - you do not want to miss this
division's battle Saturday for sure. It
is sure to be a classic race with this enormously talented group of closely
matched athletes racing to the finish.
I don't expect the boy's team race to be much of a
surprise. The suspense in that race will
be on how low a point total the Brentwood High team can get. We won't see the perfect score though, this
division has way too many athletes that are evenly matched across a wide range
of schools. Wilson Central, coming off a
huge Region meet the other day, is my call for the runner up spot. Nathan Peterson should be leading this team,
especially after coming off a very fast second place finish at the Region 5 AAA
meet the other day.
Who comes after that though might be a tough call. The young Bartlett team could come up and
surprise those of you that haven't been watching the team. They had arguably one of their best team
races to win the Frank Horton earlier.
Lead runner, Luke McNair has steadily improved throughout the
season. With the help of Ben Varghese,
the Daniel Boone team is up there as well.
Oak Ridge is also a good call for the bronze spot, especially if Jacob
Etheridge can provide a good incentive for the rest of the team to
The girl's team battle will be a tight battle again this
year for the top two contenders. Only
the two won't be the same as last season, I do believe the race will be just as
close though. With the front running
capabilities of Sasha Neglia, I'm guessing Dobyns Bennett will be capturing the
title with Annika Sleenhof and her Ravenwood team coming in a very close
second. Or could it be the other way
around? I'm guessing this could be a one
point team battle and gut check at mile three will be the deciding factor in
who comes out on top. Well, now I'm
thinking Ravenwood will be the title holder this season. No... maybe not... or maybe so.... So many times
coaches will tell athletes that every spot, every point, every step, no matter
how tired you push on, because it all counts.
Believe me, that's not always the case but with this race...well, it is
one hundred percent true... everything counts!
So, a little after 2:45pm this coming Saturday we will see
the last race finishing up and I really believe we will see every one of these
races be classic ones at that! The
athletes across all these divisions is stacked and extremely talented. The team races will be exciting and tense for
sure! The Steeplechase course is one
heck of a spectator friendly course and these races should not be ones that you
want to miss Saturday.
See you on the track...and the Steeplechase course!