Ashley Erba and Jake Leingang are already looking ahead to the 2012 cross country season and used victories Thursday in the 5,000 meters at New Balance Outdoor Nationals to move into their summer training with reinforced confidence.
For Erba, a junior from Warsaw Community (Warsaw, Ind.), the performance she delivered in Greensboro, N.C. amounted to a breakout. She asserted herself after the first mile and then sped away from defending champion Wesley Frazier (Raleigh, N.C.) to win in a meet record 16:18.21. That elevated her to No. 8 all-time and US#2 this season.
"It was pretty darn good," Erba said. "It feels great. It was exciting for me."
It was an impressive showing for Indiana's 3,200 meters and cross country champion. Erba was racing 5,000 meters on the track for the first time and she had never run faster than 18 minutes on a 5K cross country course.
"After we went through the mile in 5:20 that's when I decided it was time to move it out," Erba said. Her pre-race plan called for 5:15 miles(78-79 seconds per lap).
Erba had a feeling that the 5,000-meter distance was a better fit for her than the 3,200, where she has a best of 10:24.94. On Thursday she went through the 3,200 in 10:31.5.
"I've always known the longer stuff would be better (for me)," Erba said. "Coming here we looked at the 5,000 and thought it might be a really good thing for me."
Her performance could be a sign of things to come next fall.
"This (race) is almost a bridge between track and cross country," Erba said. "Now it's like, if I can do this on a track, then going into cross country it's very exciting."
Leingang's victory was a bit more predictable. The junior from Bismarck, N.D. has proven himself time and again as one of the top runners in the class of 2013. He was fourth at Foot Locker last December. He ran 8:59.66 for two miles indoors at the Brooks PR meet for second. And he ran a state record 8:51.23 for fourth place in the Arcadia 3,200 in early April.
In his first 5,000 on the track, Leingang showed no hesitation in taking the lead and pursuing an aggressive pace. He went through 3,000 in 8:39.3 and finished in 14:27.16. He was in pursuit of Edward Cheserek's meet record set last year but missed it by less than two seconds.
"(The record) was motivation but I couldn't go any faster," Leingang said.
Leingang is looking forward to next week's Nike Elite Camp in Oregon, and a chance to compete on the Hayward Field track in a high school mile race in front of the Olympic Trials crowd.
But it's Thursday's performance, and his first national championship title, that will stick with him through his summer as he prepares for his senior cross country season.
"This sets up a good training cycle," Leingang said. "I know where I’m at in a 5K coming into cross and have never done that before. So coming in (to summer) I can increase my training and get better."
Another top junior, Jacob Thomson of Holy Cross (Louisville, Ky.), finished second in 14:34.78. Thomson was 19th at foot Locker, ran 8:58.12 at Arcadia early this spring, and could be headed for a huge senior year as well.
Eleven of the top 12 times in the boys 5,000 this spring came in Thursday's race. Eleven also broke 15 minutes, including six juniors. National leader Thomas Graham of Cary, N.C. (14:11.66) opted to run Friday's two-mile instead.
In the girls race, the top four finishers were juniors. Danielle Anderson of Eagan, Wis. placed second in 16:43.65, Frazier was third in 16:51.04 and Minnesota champion Maria Hauger was fourth in 16:53.07.
In the boys decathlon, Kris Horn of Pembroke, Mass. took a commanding lead with 3,766 points through five events. He posted the top performances in the 100 (10.91) and long jump (22-0.25).
In the girls heptathlon, Aaron Howell of Farmington, Mich. has the first day lead with 3,087 points. She holds a 61-point lead over Jennifer Cannon of Bristol, Tenn.
Also, in the girls freshman two-mile, a new event at NBN, Abby Rentschler of Saline, Mich. charged to the front and ran virtually unchallenged to the victory in US#6 10:45.80. Anoush Shehadeh of Larchmont, N.Y. was second in US#8 10:49.19.
In the boys freshman two-mile Marco Pompilj of New York City ran 9:36.81 for the win.