TSSAA D1-AAA Cross Country Preview 2016

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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 fun. 

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 better.

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 perform. 

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!

Coach Ted