DyeStat’s SteveU, compiler of the Individual Top 25 rankings all season and an annual predictor of national meets, weighs in with his top 20 for Foot Locker Finals and a race analysis.
TOP 20 PREDICTIONS
1. Edward Cheserek NJ
2. Futsum Zeinasellassie IN
3. Darren Fahy CA
4. Ahmed Bile VA
5. Nathan Weitz WA
6. Tony Smoragiewicz SD
7. Craig Nowak TX
8. Daniel Vertiz TX
9. Jake Leingang ND
10 Tim Ball NJ
11. Andrew Gardner WA
12. Josh Brickell GA
13. Thomas Graham NC
14. Dallin Farnsworth ID
15. Dustin Wilson PA
16. Connor Rog CT
17. Sean McGorty VA
18. Dan Lennon NY
19. Matthew McClintock ME
20. Jacob Thomson KY
Analysis: It’s hard to pick anyone else besides US#1 St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) junior Edward Cheserek for the victory. His string of seven course record victories makes that obvious, not to mention his track and XC creds coming into the fall. All that, plus he’s rested, motivated and healthy.
That said, it would be a mistake to think it will be a slam dunk for him. US#2 prime challenger and North Central (Indianapolis) senior Futsum Zeinasellassie has three things going for him:
** Knowledge of the course and meet: It’s Futsum’s 3rd trip to Foot Locker Finals – he was 7th in ’08 and 2nd last year – and Edward’s first.
** Lack of pressure: Almost no one has been talking all year about Futsum being the favorite here or chasing the record. He can relish in the underdog role.
** His own momentum: He just broke the course record at NXN and, with reasonable course conditions at Portland Meadows, didn’t have to beat himself up too bad to do it.
Cheserek will have to decide how bad he wants the course record and what risks he’s willing to take to go after it. Futsum is not generally a torrid starter – and would be wise to stick with his M.O. here – so Ches will likely have to do the work if he wants to go for it, knowing Futsum is lurking behind. The St. Benedict’s star would be wise to do what’s smartest for the win and see if the record comes to him. He could always chase it again next year.
One more thing, if Futsum is close enough to try and make a winning move in the last mile, he shouldn’t wait too long. Cheserek has the clear advantage in the speed department.
That all said, will Cheserek get the record? The prediction here is that he’ll come close – 14:42 – but not quite. Give Futsum 14:50 in second.
So what about the rest of the field?
It’s likely to be a scenario where there’s one race at the front and another race for the other 38 runners. But there will almost certainly be a few others who will break away from the pack, at least pretending to chase the leaders while putting them in a position to bury the pack themselves – or get eaten up by it.
There are arguably eight other runners with a good chance for getting into the top five. Look for La Costa Canyon (Encinitas, Calif.) senior Darren Fahy to be one of those. The unbeaten FL West champ (plus Mt. SAC, Stanford, and D2 State) will – of course – be running in front of his home crowd. More often than not (there have been exceptions), San Diego-area runners have done well here, led by 2005 and 1986 champions AJ Acosta and Marc Davis. Expect Fahy to make a strong move for third in the second half of the race.
Four of the other key contenders can be looked at in pairs: Washington stars Nathan Weitz and Andrew Gardner, and Dakota dynamos Tony Smoragiewicz and Jake Leingang.
Gardner, a Mead (Spokane) junior, was 4th to Weitz’s 31st here last year, but Weitz – a Shadle Park (Spokane) senior – has had the better year this fall. Amazingly, Foot Locker West was the first time they’d raced all fall, but Weitz has a string of late-season narrow defeats at 3A state, BorderClash, and FL West, while Gardner was 2nd at 4A state in a slower time, did not run BorderClash, and was 4th at FL West. Either or both could be in the top five.
Rapid City Central (Rapid City, S.D.) senior Smoragiewicz was the surprise of the meet here in 2010 with 3rd (after 9th at NXN), and went on to an 8:57 3200 in track, then a summer of triathloning that ended up with 3rd at World Juniors in September. When he won NXN Heartland in November, he looked on track, but since was 5th at FL Midwest and 11th at NXN Finals. Leingang was unbeaten in North Dakota, then 2nd at NXN HL. He beat Smoragiewicz for the first time at FL MW (2nd), then again last weekend at NXN (8th).
Suffice it to say, neither was happy in Portland, with Leingang having been in 3rd at one point late before the final kick. Both look for redemption here, and if they have the wheels left, could also be strong top five contenders.
The top three from the South region should also be right there, with two coming back from Portland and the other fresh. Annandale (Annandale, Va.) senior Ahmed Bile is the fresh one. He was outkicked at FL South for the win, but the Virginia AAA champ has had plenty of rest since. His 14th last year was an impressive surprise and expect him to possibly move early for a top five spot, too.
Texans Craig Nowak and Daniel Vertiz have taken turns beating each other in the last month, with Nowak prevailing at 5A state and FL South, while Vertiz topped him at NXN South and NXN Finals. In the latter race, Vertiz was 2nd and Nowak 3rd, but Nowak topped both Vertiz and Bile in Charlotte. Like the Dakota boys, they will be running on fatigued legs, but will still be factors.
Finally, don’t forget FL Northeast 3rd-place finisher Piscataway (N.J.) senior Tim Ball, who was unbeaten in New Jersey (save Cheserek) and was 2nd in the Eastern States race at Manhattan with an outstanding 12:21. If he runs to that level again, he’s a good top five bet, too.
Every year, a few runners perform well behind their regional finish, national ranking, or predicted finish, and don’t be shocked if Peru (Peru, N.Y.) senior and FL NE runner-up Dan Lennon and FL South 4th-place finisher and Peachtree Ridge (Suwanee, Ga.) senior Josh Brickell fit that mold.