Philip Hall and Briana Gess: NSAF Emerging Elites of the Week


This is the third Fall 2013 edition of our new NSAF weekly feature on the Emerging Elites of the Week.  The New Balance Nationals Indoor and Outdoor meets have become known for the ever-expanding and improving competition in the divisions of the same name.  Similarly, the NSAF seeks to give weekly recognition to track and field and cross-country athletes reaching new and exciting competitive levels with their recent performances.

Today, we honor young and up-and-coming harriers from North Carolina and New Jersey who ran big PRs last weekend and are suddenly known on a much wider scale than before.

Male – Philip Hall, Terry Sanford HS Class of 2015, Fayetteville NC

1st, 15:08.5 (5k), adidas Challenge, WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary NC

Few young distance runners had as diverse a resume as did Philip Hall last spring.  For 800 and 1,600, he ran 1:52.84 and 4:13.03 – both coming in a 4A state meet double in mid-May that put a tremendous cap on his 10th-grade season.  Looking at times like that, you think “middle distance runner.”  But then you notice that he 9:13.72 for 3,200 last spring, too, and 15:47 for 5k XC the fall before, also hitting 16:00 for 10th at 4A state.  Then you start saying, “Wow, this guy has some range.  What might he do the next few years?”

The answers have started to come this fall, as that range at the top end has become even broader.  Hall was 5th in a loaded Providence Invite in August, but he wasn’t particularly pleased with his execution, even though he hit a PR 15:35.  He won the Jungle Run a week later, then built on a great summer with a three-week break from racing for more training and more learning to race.  What emerged last weekend at the adidas Challenge at WakeMed Soccer Park was not only a talented junior with more fitness, but also a more intelligent racer.  Those improved skills resulted in a rather eye-popping 15:08.5 victory on the same course where next week’s Great American XC Festival and November’s NXN Southeast will commence.

Philip Hall is now a runner who can win state titles at 800 or 5,000, or anything in-between, and is well on his well to becoming a national force, too.

A few of Philip’s thoughts:

On his summer preparation and the first part of his season, pre-Adidas:  My coach and I knew, after the track season I had, that it was going to take a lot of hard work and dedication this summer in order to drop my cross country PR and compete with some of the best athletes in the country.  We focused on consistency and building a better base for this year.  I took my summer training to a whole new level as far as consistency and determination with running every day. My mileage was pretty consistent, ranging anywhere from 50-65 in the early months, and 65-80 in the latter.
Coming into the Providence Invite, I think I was very confident with my fitness, but did not have the proper race strategy in mind to truly win the race. When the gun went off, I just tried to separate myself from the lead pack early on. The cost of this was that they reeled me back in.  Since then I changed my entire focus and now I am more focused on racing to win instead of going for a certain time.  You have to run to compete in competitive fields, not run for time.  Time will come if you are in the right race.  We took three weeks off after August 31st to focus on training hard for the upcoming Adidas meet.

On the way the Adidas Challenge unfolded for him:  I knew there was a slight chance I could win the race – if I ran the race I felt I should have run at Providence.  However, I definitely did not believe it would happen the way it did.  Coming into the Challenge, my PR was 15:30.  So I did not visualize myself as a huge threat to take it.  The top guy in the field, Wyatt Maxey, had a PR of 15:10. 
We got out fairly slow down the 600m hill at WakeMed.  I actually got out in about 12th-13th position early on and just gradually moved myself up to about 5th-6th by the mile mark.  We came through the mile itself around 4:45.  After that, we traveled up the big hill the first time with Tanis Baldwin from East Henderson leading the race.  The pace had picked up a tad, but I felt under control with where I was. 
We came through 2 miles around 9:55 and, at this point, I was fairly ready for the pace to pick up.  I did not expect for us to drop the amount of time we did that last mile.  I expected anywhere between 15:15-20, but over the last mile or so the pace became really quick and I just tried to hang with the lead group until there was a break.  After that, I pushed the pace a little and just tried to hold off Wyatt (a close friend of mine) over the last 70 meters or so.  He has an amazing kick.

On whether he sees himself more as a middle- or long-distance runner:  I've never really seen myself as a true long distance guy, but I don't see the 800 as my best event, either. I really enjoy the 1600m/mile and feel that is my best event on a good day.  I love running in general, though, and just want to compete and put my best foot forward in any event I have to run in.

On how he sees the upcoming Great American Race of Champions, now that he’s one of the guys to beat:  Wow, I never really thought of myself as a favorite.  I know there are some guys out there who are really excited for that race, as am I.  I just want to go into the race with the same attitude I had walking into Adidas.  The race is definitely going to be competitive.  I just have to trust God, my parents, my coach, and myself in saying that I am ready to compete in such a prestigious race.

On his teammates at Terry Sanford and his ultimate goals for this fall:  I love my team.  They are the best group of guys I have ever met, and I am so thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to spend the last three years of my life around these guys.  We enjoy the sport more than anything, and we have that mindset heading into this fall.  We would love to compete for a top spot at the state meet, and we are just going to have that mindset heading forward. 
We have a couple guys who haven't had their breakout race yet, but I feel like that is just around the corner.  We also have a really talented freshmen runner who also plays soccer, so he has not competed yet. This will help us out a lot heading forward. 
Individually, I would like to win a state title in cross country for my team.  But I am just focused on one race at a time, and trying to stay healthy.  I also would love to qualify for the Foot Locker Finals; that is the biggest goal for me, individually.  However, the team is first up until then.

Female – Briana Gess, Haddonfield HS Class of 2017, Haddonfield NJ

1st, 10:54.97 (3200m), Cherokee Challenge, Marlton NJ

A lot of folks may have heard the name Briana Gess for the first time last weekend, but for those who follow the youth talent preparing for the prep ranks in the Garden State, she’s pretty well known.  In fact, at the meet last weekend where she made her breakout prep debut – the Cherokee Challenge – she’s been a household name.  The 2,400-meter middle school race Challenge is a big part of the event and Gess shredded it for three years.  She won it from 2010 to 2012 in 8:16, 7:58 and a record 7:38 last fall, according to a story by Reuben Frank at 

Those were far from the only credentials Gess brought to the table last Saturday.  On the track this past spring as an 8th-grader, she ripped PRs of 2:12.45 for 800 and 4:57.12 for 1,600.  And back in March, she went sub-5:00 during the New Balance Nationals Indoor Emerging Elite mile, with a 4:59.72 in 4th.  Still, given all that, what Gess did at the Challenge was impressive.  Her 10:54.97 beat Downington West PA’s Aislinn Devlin – a great runner herself – by 23 seconds as both topped the freshman race standard set by Tatnall DE all-time great Haley Pierce back in 2008.  In fact, the all-time list for that 9th-grade race is littered with NJ greats like Ajee Wilson, Chelsea Ley and Caroline Kellner.

But Gess also had the fastest time of the day, no small feat since Unionville PA star Courtney Smith captured the senior race in 10:56.66.  In fact, the Haddonfield frosh ran the 3rd-best time in meet history overall, trailing only the great Jillian Smith (10:41 in 2008) and Megan Lacy (10:53 in 2010).  Yes, the Challenge has a rich history – and Gess just became an even bigger part of it.

A few thoughts from Briana:

On her start in cross-country:  When I was very young, I spent almost every weekend in a stroller at a road race.  As soon as I could walk, all I wanted to do was run.  Finally, I just refused to stay in the stroller, and since then, running has just become a huge part of my life.

On making the transition from the middle-school ranks of the Challenge to the high school races:  It was awesome being able to race against the high school athletes.  There is so much energy at these kind of meets and it was really cool to finally be a part of it.  I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself before I run, but my teammates were so encouraging that I couldn't help but feel excited to race.

On her expectations coming in and if she was surprised with the results:  I honestly didn't have any expectations, place-wise, because I heard there were going to be a lot of teams from out of state this year.  But I was hoping to break 11 minutes and I'm happy to have done that.  Although I had the fastest time, I think that if all the classes had run together, a number of girls could have had the fastest time of the day.

On some of her goals for herself and her team this fall:  As a freshman, I don't really know what to expect, so I don't really have any goals other than to try and get better every race.  I feel like my coaches, Mr. Baker and Mr. Busarello, have really prepared me well for this season.  As for our team goals, we are looking to place high in sectionals, group states, and hopefully even qualify for Meet of Champs.  These goals are going to be fun to try and achieve because I love the girls on our team, and they always make going to practice the best part of my day.

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