Return to big stage of distance stars Futsum, Sarah Baxter tops Arcadia bill

Futsum Zeinasellassie and Sarah Baxter are favorites in the 3200, Arcadia's signature event. John Dye and John Nepolitan/ESPNHS

Arcadia Invitational Coverage

A loaded field for the boys 3,200 meters has become one of the trademarks of the Arcadia Invitational and Saturday’s race is shaping up as another blockbuster.

Nike Cross Nationals champion and Foot Locker runner-up Futsum Zeinasellassie of North Central (Indianapolis) heads a deep field of athletes intent on driving down well below nine minutes.

Last year, 10 made it to the 8-somethings. Two years ago, there were 16. Darren Fahy of La Costa Canyon (San Diego) is the top returner, finishing fourth last year in 8:55.53.

Zeinasellassie will be joined on the starting line by the deepest collection of running talent likely to come together all spring. With one notable exception (Edward Cheserek), most of the biggest names are set to go: NXN 2-3 finishers Daniel Vertiz and Craig Nowak (both of Texas), Dakota stars Tony Smoragiewicz (S.D.) and Jake Leingang (N.D.),8:57 performer Anthony Armstrong (Wash.), Simplot 3200 champ Dallin Farnsworth (Idaho), Michael Clevenger and Leland Later (both Ill.), and top Californians Fahy, C.J. Albertson, Jonah Diaz, among others. Vertiz, by the way, won the deepest 2-mile indoors this winter with an 8:59.15 at the Brooks PR Invite.

For Zeinasellassie, who ran 9:00.93 in his only indoor meet (March 2), the race marks his first time back on the national stage since the end of cross country season.

Meanwhile, Simi Valley, Calif. sophomore Sarah Baxter returns to the track where she broke out last spring by winning the Arcadia 3,200 in 10:14.11. The NXN champion has participated in three meets so far this spring, including a US#13 10:39.28 clocking in the 3,200 on March 29. Baxter will try to defend her title in the 3,200 and face competition from Carrie Verdon (Calif.) and NXN third-place finisher Katie Knight (Wash.). She will also take a leg on Simi’s defending champion 4x1,600 relay team.

The 45th Arcadia Invitational begins on Thursday at 10 a.m. with the Arcadia Multis. On Friday, the relay events are front and center, with the multis concluding. On Saturday evening the invitational portion of the meet heats up the track at Arcadia High School.

Here is a brief overview of what else is on tap this week:

• The boys sprints (100 and 200) look like a showdown between Ronald Darby (Md.), a member of last summer’s U.S. team that competed at the World Youth Championships, and Raymond Bozmans of Fort Collins, Colo., who has run 10.54 and US#1 20.87 so far this year. Darby spent most of indoors healing from injury. California’s top sprinter, Khalfani Muhammad, is also in the picture.

• The boys mile features New Balance Nationals Indoor champion Brad Nye (Utah), Brooks PR meet champion Marcus Dickson (Wash.) and California standout Luis Gutierrez – all with PRs in the 4:07-08 range.

• The boys hurdle races bring together Devon Allen (Ariz.), Dondre Echols (Md.) and Eric Futch (Pa.). Allen is US#2 in the 110 highs (13.62) and 300 intermediates (37.02). Echols, Darby’s teammate at Potomac (Oxon Hill, Md.), was second at New Balance Indoor in the 55 hurdles. Futch has a PR of 36.43 in the 300 hurdles. Standout Jordan Moore from Georgia is in the 110-meter race.

• Field event standouts on the boys side include Ethan Cochran (Calif.), the national leader in the discus with consistent 200-foot throws. The high jump features Rashaan Jones, a 7-0 jumper from Virginia.

• The boys 4x400 should be a good one, with Dunbar (Ohio), Penn Wood (Pa.) taking on So Cal powers Long Beach Poly, Serra, Dorsey and Carson. The distance relays should be ruled by home state powerhouses like Loyola, Arcadia and/or Dana Hills.

• Canadian Tyler Smith, the Brooks PR and Simplot Games champion, leads the field in the 800 meters, where he’ll battle fellow sub-1:50 performer Nick Hartle (Nevada).

• The girls 4x100 relay could be a barnburner, with Wakefield (North Carolina) in attendance to face Long Beach Poly, Chandler (Ariz.) and Serra. Wakefield, which dominated the relays at New Balance Indoors, is also entered in the 4x200 and 4x400.

Harvard-Westlake, which features senior standouts Cami Chapus and Amy Weissenbach, could be especially busy. The national record holders in the DMR return to defend their title and are also entered in the sprint medley. They won both here last year. But Chapus and Weissenbach are also entered in their specialties, the 1,600 and 800 – where they are returning national leaders – and Chapus is in the 3,200 as well. Whatever events they choose will be special.

• That girls mile sees Chapus, the defending Adidas Golden Mile champ, take on Washingtonians Amy-Eloise Neale (defending Arcadia champ) and Maddie Meyers (2010 Arcadia champ), and Reagan Anderson from Delaware.

• Hurdles standout Trinity Wilson of Berkeley, Calif. – the returning national leader and 2011 World Youth Champ – is entered in the 100 hurdles. It will be her first major race since losing at NBNI in the 60H.

Gabrielle Williams of Nevada, who owns the US#1 clearance of 5-11, is entered in the high jump. Jasmine Todd of Chandler (Ariz.) is arguably the top horizontal jumper entered, with 20-foot LJ and 41-foot TJ chops.

• The girls sprints feature quality fields. The 100 includes Aaliyah Brown (Ill.), Chandler teammates Ky Westbrook and Todd, and Jada Martin (Georgia). In the 200, Brown and Martin are joined by Long Beach Poly’s Arianna Washington and Martin Luther King (Ga.) standout Felicia Brown. In the 400, it’s Felicia Brown, Shamier Little (Ill.), Tiana Patillo (N.C.) and Chimere Ezumah of Serra.

• The girls 800, even if Weissenbach doesn’t run, includes California’s Savannah Camacho taking on Neale and Anderson.

• Super soph Ashlie Blake of Nevada is the top girls' thrower, hoping to get her first career 50-footer in the shot.