2018 GAXC, set for Oct. 6, will include new collegiate races

by Steve Underwood

The NSAF’s 2018 Great American Cross Country Festival – set for Saturday, October 6 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. – will for the first time since 2012 include Men’s and Women’s Open University/Collegiate divisions to go along with another great day of prep XC racing.

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The Men’s Open University/Collegiate race will be contested over 8,000 meters, while the Women’s Open University/Collegiate race is 5,000 meters. These races will take place co-currently with the respective Cedric Walker HBCU Challenge Men’s and Women’s races, but will be scored separately.

Meanwhile, the Festival’s slate will include the usual 13 prep 5,000m varsity and JV races, highlighted by the Nike Boys Race of Champions and Nike Girls Race of Champions – featuring many of the nation’s top squads. Once again, the GAXC will serve as the Official NXN Southeast Pre-Regional Meet. This is our third GAXC with presenting sponsor Nike, which also sponsored the event for several years back in the 2000s. The GAXC Festival started in 1999, was purchased by the NSAF in 2002, and has been hosted at WakeMed Soccer Park since 2009.

In past years, schools like Brigham Young, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, N.C. State, Michigan, Northern Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio State, Texas A&M, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Villanova and Virginia competed in the GAXC collegiate races. Champions and top finishers included Shalane Flanagan, Josh McDougal, Shannon Rowbury and Nick Willis. Many top smaller schools in NCAA D-II, NCAA D-III, NAIA and Junior College divisions have also competed here.

As for the prep divisions, tremendous team and individual performances can be expected again in 2018. Last year saw Loudoun Valley HS (VA) claim the Nike Boys Race of Champions with the 2nd-fastest average time in meet history, then go on to win the NXN Southeast and National titles. A year after Brodey Hasty set the course record of 14:32.2, Dalton Hengst claimed the ’17 individual Nike ROC title at 14:57.1.

Coming close to a meet record herself, Kelsey Chmiel of Saratoga HS (NY) took the Nike Girls ROC in 16:50.3 (#2 in GAXC history to Aisling Cuffe’s 16:40.9 in 2010), while Blacksburg HS (VA) took its 3rd straight team crown.

Last year’s Cedric Walker HBCU Challenge saw Trey Simons of Morehouse defending his individual title, while the North Carolina A&T State men edged Morehouse for their 4th straight crown. Hampton University utilized the 1-2-3 finish of Eusila Chepkemei (meet record 17:27.3), Faith Keitany and Janet Okeago to their 2nd consecutive women’s title and 5th overall. The NSAF launched the Challenge in 2009 and it was named for Mr. Walker – an NSAF Board Member – after his passing in 2013.

The 2017 GAXC was also notable for our guests from Kingwood HS in Texas. The NSAF invited the school’s varsity teams to Cary after learning of their displacement from their school following Hurricane Harvey in September. As a non-profit foundation, the NSAF can provide travel grants to teams in special circumstances. The presence of world-class athletes – like Nike's World Championship silver medalist and Olympian Courtney Frerichs and sub-4:00 miler Craig Engels signing autographs, and 2-time World Champs gold medalist Quanera Hayes as a guest starter for the HBCU races – also made the day special.


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