NBNI Previews: 5,000-meter rematch looms for elite girls distance trio

Wesley Frazier (1), Haley Pierce (2) and Erin Finn (3) finished first, seventh, and second in this NBON 5k race John Dye/ESPNHS

NBNI Index

Three of the country’s top female distance runners are part of Friday’s New Balance Nationals Indoor 5,000 meters field and even if they aren’t peaking for this event, a race featuring senior Haley Pierce and juniors Erin Finn and Wesley Frazier promises to be a good show.

At the Brooks PR Invitational on Feb. 26 in Seattle, that trio went 2-3-4 behind Foot Locker champion Molly Seidel in a loaded two-mile. Their shared history, however, goes back to last June, when all three were a huge part of a dramatic outdoor national 5k.

But first, this winter: Pierce, a Georgetown signee from The Tatnall School (Wilmington, Del.), will seek her first national title to conclude a productive indoor season that included a US#7 4:48.59 mile victory at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, a US#2 9:40.46 in the Yale Classic, and a US#2 10:14.54 in the two-mile. That followed her runner-up finish at NXN Finals in December, leading her team to third place.

“This winter we’ve been fortunate with the weather,” Pierce said. “We’ve been building up base, doing a lot of strength work.”

With her focus on the upcoming outdoor season, Pierce can afford to come to New York and take a low-pressure approach to the meet. She is also in Saturday’s 4x1 mile relay with her Tatnall teammates and will no doubt want to run well for her team, which has a chance to break the national record.

Finn, the 2011 Foot Locker runner-up and hard-charging junior from West Bloomfield (West Bloomfield, Mich.), is also focused on getting ready for a big outdoor season. After extending her cross country season into January so she could run the Edinburgh Cross Country Challenge in Scotland, Finn took some time off before ramping up her miles.

“Only recently have I added some fartleks and tempo runs,” Finn explained. “Indoor track isn’t really big in Michigan, so I am racing indoors to test where my body is on only a little training. I had a high mileage week last week, so I am just trying to make sure I am rested for the (NBNI) 5K. I am excited though! Hopefully I can go out and make it a gutsy race.”

Finn’s penchant for taking the lead has made her a marked target in national races (more on that in a moment), but her willingness to push the pace has helped produce fast times.

Frazier, meanwhile, said the weekend schedule dictated that she enter the 5,000 even though she’d probably have rather entered the mile or two-mile.

“It’s strictly a matter of timing for me this year,” said the junior from Ravenscroft (Raleigh, N.C.). “I have a lot of school stuff due on Monday and the rest of the week is loaded, so I need to get back (home) and Sunday running in New York was just not an option.”

That said, the 2011 New Balance Nationals Outdoor 5,000 champion will do her best to mix it up.

“I would like to run on pace and maintain my form with no breakdown,” Frazier said. “And then a win would be a nice bonus.”

So three girls with a lot of talent and nothing to lose will gain more elite race experience in a field that also includes North Shore (Glen’s Head, N.Y.) standout Brianna Nerud (who was 5th in the Brooks 2M), Bishop Eustace (Pennsauken, N.J.) senior Holly Bischof and senior Alexis Panisse of Benjamin Cardozo (Bayside, N.Y.), among others.

Long time since last June

It seems so long ago that Frazier, Finn and Pierce took the starting line at the 5,000 meters at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championship on June 18 in Greensboro, N.C.

The meet was a coming-out party for Frazier, who made the short drive from her home and ran an impressive triple in a warm, muggy conditions over three days. She surged away from Finn to win the 5,000 Thursday in a national sophomore class record of 16:24.83 (No. 8 all-time), placed third in the two-mile on Friday, then won the mile in stunning fashion on Saturday.

Finn led much of that race, but in a moment of lost concentration stepped on the rail and nearly fell. She still managed to finish second with PR and would set another best the next day in the deuce.

Pierce – considered the pre-race favorite for the 5k after a spring where she won the Penn Relays 3k – faded badly that night, running more than three minutes for her final two laps and finishing seventh.

Since that meet, fortunes changed. In the fall, Pierce and Finn were fixtures in the national rankings.

Pierce entered the cross country season gradually, coming off an injury. She won Great American and then found herself locked in an in-state rivalry with Julie Macedo. The two of them ran so fiercely at the New Castle County Championships on Nov. 5 that they ran each other into the ground. Pierce ultimately recovered and led Tatnall to the medal stand at NXN, with only Sarah Baxter finishing ahead of her.

Finn ran 17:16 and 17:22 three days apart in mid-September and moved to US#1. Her Michigan and Midwest dominance seemed to slip at bit with a narrow state meet win and a distant third at Foot Locker Midwest. But Finn pressed the pace impressively at the Foot Locker Finals in San Diego, storming to a big lead before Seidel ultimately reeled her in and won.

Finn also led in the race at Scotland and again at the Brooks PR Invite two-mile, and she didn’t win those races either. Still, Foot Locker (and the Brooks race) represented career-best efforts to date.

“I guess that my racing style has always been pretty aggressive,” Finn said. “It’s probably not the smartest racing tactic. I am going to start to play around with other things. Nevertheless, I like to keep an honest pace and make sure that a two-mile race is really two miles – not a one and half mile jog with an 800 sprint.”

Frazier entered cross country season with great expectations that were probably misplaced. The two-time Foot Locker finalist didn’t run with the Ravenscroft team, preferring to stay focused on track workouts.

“For me, cross country is much more team-oriented and not being on a team makes it a little more difficult for me to get immersed in the season,” she said. “Second, I’m very interested becoming a better track runner and most of my training, even during (cross country) season, is oriented to things that, hopefully, will make me better on the track, especially the shorter distances – 800, mile, two-mile.”

Frazier did run at the Foot Locker South regional, but didn’t have a good day, finishing 39th. She had made the previous two Foot Locker Finals. She has run well this winter, though, and at Brooks ran within four seconds of her winning time at the 2011 edition of the race.

Of her 10:21.07 in Seattle, Frazier said she was “80 percent satisfied, 20 percent disgusted,” but considered it a learning experience.

For all three, the race is a test but not the final destination. They are all looking forward to what lies beyond.