Great Oak's victorious teams celebrate on the awards stage with Nike/Bowerman TC guest athlete Grant Fisher after their Nike ROC sweep! Photo by Walter Pinion.
Weather cools; performances heat up for GAXC/HBCU harriers
There were nearly 100 reasons to be concerned about the racing conditions for the 2019 Great American Cross Country Festival and Cedric Walker HBCU Challenge during the final countdown to the NSAF’s annual harrier extravaganza – as Raleigh-area temperatures climbed to 99 and 95 degrees the two days immediately preceding the event.
But Saturday, October 5th’s anticipated 20-plus degree temperature drop came through and blazing times were once again the order of a mild day at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. More than 3,400 athletes competed in the day’s 15 races and, along with their coaches, families, friends and fans, enjoyed the festive atmosphere throughout the morning and afternoon. Check out the highlights below for the record-breaking performances and more!
Tuohy, Great Oak boys establish new GAXC standards
With 2-time NXN Nationals champ Katelyn Tuohy (at right) racing WakeMed for the first time, as well as the return of the Great Oak powerhouse from California, the chances of records falling in the Nike Race of Champions battles was strong indeed.
GAXC and HBCU action photos by Walter Pinion.
- Nike ROC Boys: The 2018 NXN National runner-ups from Great Oak HS – led by Chris Verdugo (11th, 15:10.2) and with a tremendous 14-second compression – smoked WakeMed to the tune of a jaw-dropping 15:17 record team average. Even at less than full strength, the Wolfpack became the first team in meet history under 15:20. Most importantly, they defeated the defending national champions from Loudoun Valley – scoring 69 points to the 2-time GAXC titlist Vikings’ 108. Rhode Island powerhouses La Salle Academy and Bishop Hendricken claimed 3rd and 4th.
- The individual course record on the boys’ side was not threatened, but Graham Blanks (Athens Academy (Ga.) senior, at right) still made a dramatic emergence onto the national stage with his 14:45.6 individual triumph – his first career sub-15:00. Loudoun Valley #1 Carlos Shultz (14:55.6) and Lake Wales, Fla. senior Andy Denton (14:57.3) also went under that barrier in the next two spots and a record 32 runners broke 15:30.
- Nike ROC Girls: It seemed a foregone conclusion that the GAXC meet and WakeMed girls’ course records would not withstand a hard effort by the nation’s finest female prep harrier and – sure enough – Katelyn Tuohy (North Rockland, NY senior) smashed those standards with room to spare thanks to her 16:22.8. With a performance more than 40 seconds clear of the efforts from excellent runners like Jenna Hutchins (Science Hill HS, TN, 17:04) and Bethany Graham (John Champe, VA 17:09), Tuohy laid the first groundwork for three-peating in Portland in two months time. Meanwhile, the individual depth of the girls’ race was also at record levels with 12 under 18:00 and 36 under 18:30 for the first time.
- The team battle saw Great Oak complete their sweep with 71 points, decisively beating Loudoun Valley at 125 and Pine Crest HS, FL at 147. Only one other time in meet history had a school taken both Race of Champion titles: Saratoga Springs in 2005. The Wolfpack was led by Tori Gaitan in 18th (18:08.6) and had a 20-second compression with their top five. In the runner-up spot, the Vikings – like their male counterparts – again established themselves as the team to beat in the NXN Southeast.
HBCU Challenge: Return of NCAT men, 1st time for Fay State women
The Cedric Walker HBCU Challenge featured an intriguing mix of the “old” and the new. The “old” included North Carolina A&T State regaining the men’s team title they lost last year and the Aggies’ G’Jasmyne Butler (at right) winning her 2nd straight individual crown. On the other hand, new to the top of the podium was Fayetteville State U. in the women’s team race and Mathew Chesum (lower right) in the men’s individual battle.
- HBCU Women: NCAT senior G’Jasmyne Butler – who came to the Aggies from nearby Leesville Road High School – became the first woman to defend an individual title in Challenge history. She ran 18:55.2, pulling away in the second half of the race in a relatively close battle with Dawnel Collymore (Benedict, 19:03.3), Ashley-Jean Raymond (NC Central, 19:08.5) and Infinnatie Rowe (Morgan State, 19:12.5).
- In the women’s team race, however, it was Fayetteville State’s turn to shine. Led by newcomer Mercy Chemutai (6th, 19:52.6), they edged Maryland-Eastern Shore, 62 to 68, to take their first title here – and move up one spot from their runner-up position here last year. Senior Nelly Kandie, in 11th, led four more Broncos in the top 18 finishers. Defending champion NCAT finished 6th.
- HBCU Men: After claiming each of the four titles between 2013-2017 (the 2015 event was cancelled due to severe storm), NCAT surrendered the team title to Morehouse College in last fall’s race. But this year, the Maroon Tigers faced life without 3-time Challenge champ Trey Simons and the Aggies returned to the top of the podium. They put all five scorers in the top eight, led by the trio of Regan Kimtai (28:32.1), Devon Williams (28:51.1) and Morris Kimble (29:05.6) in 2-3-4.
- Meanwhile, Benedict College’s soph Mathew Chesum made his WakeMed debut a victorious one, winning with lots of room to spare in 27:59.9 – more than 30 seconds up on Kimtai. With teammate Kelvin Kiplagat in 5th, the Tigers put together a runner-up finish with 43 points – ahead of Maryland-Eastern Shore and Morehouse.
HBCU team photos by Chris Coleman.
At left, the champion Fayetteville State U. women; at right, the victorious North Carolina A&T State men.
- Duke won the men’s college race with 25 points, led by runner-up Rory Cavan’s 24:38.5. Individual champ Miles Clikeman (24:30.1) and Richmond finished 2nd with 37.
- The Spiders did win the women’s college team title over Emmanuel College, paced by 2nd place finisher Kate Dickow (17:40.9). NC State redshirt Sara Latour – running unattached – triumphed individually in 17:32.7.
- Jenna Goldberg (Walter Johnson, MD) had the lone girls’ sub-18:00 of the day outside the ROC with her 17:48.7 to win the Seeded Invitational. Durham Academy captured the team title in that race with 129 points, averaging 19:16 – also the best non-ROC standard of the meet.
- Kenny Eheman (Cary Academy) got the meet off to a fast start with a 15:32.7 to win the boys’ Red Invitational, edging Austin Hayden (Cave Spring VA) 15:35.4 – as five runners ran under 15:45. Those were the best boys’ non-ROC times of the day, along with Seeded Invite winner Murphy Smith (Ardrey Kell NC) at 15:35.3. St. Xavier KY had the best team performance of the day outside the big race with its 16:25 average in taking the Seeded Invite with 169 points.
Grant Fisher in the house!
We were thrilled to have Grant Fisher of the Bowerman Track Club as our Nike elite guest athlete. Fisher was a sub-4:00 miler while at Grand Blanc HS in Michigan (Class of 2015) and a 2-time Gatorade National XC Runner of the Year. At Stanford he was a 12-time NCAA All-American, winning the 2017 Outdoor 5,000m title and finishing national runner-up in XC last fall. He has a new 5,000m PR of 13:29.03 after joining the Bowerman TC this past summer.
Fisher signed autographs and posed in photos while handing out Nike swag at a special booth, held the tape for the Nike Race of Champions finishes, and helped hand out awards while posing for more photos. We wish him the best of luck in his professional career!
At right, Grant poses with some of his fans during the GAXC awards. Photo by Walter Pinion.
We love our partners and sponsors
The NSAF is grateful to have had Nike as its title sponsor and partner for the fourth consecutive year and for the GAXC Festival to be the Official NXN Southeast Pre-Regional. Nike provided us with a tremendous amount of outstanding apparel and swag, and we hope you came Friday afternoon or early Saturday to select your favorite items!
And even though the temps cooled down dramatically Saturday, we were very glad to have Gatorade, our Official Sports Fuel Provider, with us all weekend long. Thousands of athletes refreshed and refueled after hard efforts out there on the course.
We hope you also got a chance to try outstanding products from our partners at ElliptiGO, Roll Recovery and Jawku. The first two have been with us for our national class events for several seasons now while Jawku is one of our newest partners.
Finally, we thank The Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, the Town of Cary and the Bone and Joint Surgery Clinic for their support. We hope you enjoyed your visit to the Raleigh/Cary area and that you will join us again in 2020!