Annie-Kay Combs and Samantha Marin compete for the runner-up Blacksburg girls in last year's ROC. Photo by Cheryl Treworgy/Prettysporty.com
The addition, during the final days of registration, of some outstanding teams and individuals to the New Balance Race of Champions fields have boosted the strength, depth, star-power and historic presence for the Great American Cross Country Festival
The 16th annual event, at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Saturday, has teams and individuals from 16 states in 13 races – highlighted by the ROC battles.
The girls’ ROC now features a matchup between 9-time champion Saratoga Springs, NY and Blacksburg, VA – the 2013 team runner-up by a single point. The Blue Streaks, under coaches Linda and Art Kranick, won the ROC from 2000-2005, then 2009-2011 before finishing 2nd and 4th in 2012 and 2013. Among a trio of sites that do national rankings (DyeStat.com, Milesplit.com and Highschoolrunner.com), they are ranked as high as 3rd nationally.
Blacksburg is ranked as high as #7 and in two Southeast regional rankings stands #1. They also crushed the field at the Sept. 20 Adidas Classic on this same WakeMed course. Coach James DeMarco returned 6 of 7 runners from the squad that finished a point behind Assumption, KY last year. Blacksburg was also 2nd in 2009. Defending champ Assumption returns to Cary, too – they are as high as 4th in the Southeast. US#18 La Salle, RI and #24 Green Hope, NC (both Milesplit) are also nationally ranked contenders in the field, while Oakton, VA is regionally top-5 ranked.
With great performances in the aforementioned Adidas Classic in this same WakeMed course, Libby Davidson of E.C. Glass, VA and Ryen Frazier of Ravenscroft, N.C. emerge as two significant favorites for the girls’ ROC individual title. Davidson won the Classic with a 17:16, making her #8 all-time on the course. Last spring, she was the New Balance Nationals Outdoor freshman 2-mile champ and as a soph has improved even further this fall. Frazier was 4th here last fall, then in the spring won the NBNO mile with a 4:46. In the Adidas meet, she ran the college/open race and led until the final 400, on pace for at last a very low-17. Despite a hard fade that included some walking, she still clocked 17:37.
But Davidson and Frazier are not the only strong returnees or contenders with star power. La Salle’s Eliza Rego was 3rd here in 2013. Six other top-15 finishers from last year return, led by Lisa Pieterse of Carolina Forest, SC (8th) and Elly Henes of Green Hope, NC (10th).
Perhaps the most significant individual entry for either gender, however, is from an athlete who will make his Great American debut: Andrew Hunter, a junior at Loudoun County, VA. Hunter exploded on the national scene last April with a national soph class record 3k at the Penn Relays, then followed up with an outstanding runner-up finish in the NBNO 2-mile in June. So far this fall, he’s unbeaten in Virginia. He certainly has a great chance to become the 8th runner to break 15:00 on WakeMed.
Hunter will certainly present a big challenge to area favorite Philip Hall, the South View, NC standout (transfer from Terry Sanford HS), who was 6th here last year and looked like the favorite before Hunter entered. Hall is unbeaten, though, and his experience on this course may play in his favor. Some of the other boys’ top individual contenders are Stephen Garrett of Tatnall, DE (10th in 2013), Reilly Friedman of Galloway School, GA (15th) and Aidan Tooker of Saratoga (26th in ’13, but was 5th at NY Fed Champs and ran 9:09 for 3,200 last spring).
Team-wise, in the boys’ ROC, the favorite remains La Salle, RI. They are ranked as high as #6 in the country and are coming off their first major test of the year, a tough loss to Christian Brothers, NJ where they were missing one of their best runners – Jack Salisbury – due to illness. With or without him, they’ll be very tough to beat. Brentwood TN (defending champs, but with heavy graduation losses) and Daniel Boone TN – both regionally ranked – will likely be the biggest team challengers to La Salle.