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Hutchins goes west for Foot Locker Nationals

Tanner Cook • Updated Dec 6, 2018 at 7:56 PM

Sun, surf and the most iconic cross country race in the nation.

That is what Science Hill freshman state champion Jenna Hutchins will be looking at when she goes west to San Diego for the 40th edition of the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships on Saturday.

The top 15 finishers in each gender will be named All-Americans.

The race brings together 40 of the best individual male and female high school runners from around the country from four different regions. Hutchins qualified two weeks ago at Foot Locker South in Charlotte, N.C., by nabbing eighth place in 17:27, which was a new personal best.

THE HISTORIC COURSE

The Morley Field at Balboa Park course is known for being a challenging but fast figure-eight, double-loop track with some of the greatest duels in high school cross country history taking place at the venue. The main feature on the course is a hill that has to be traversed twice just after the one-mile mark and again at 2.25 miles.

There are nine girls in the field that have a season best of 17 minutes or under. Only seven girls have broken that barrier on the Balboa Park course. The course record by Melody Fairchild in 1990 of 16:39.2 still stands today.

The last three-quarters of the course is downhill to flat with a slight uphill finish, so Hutchins should benefit with her 2:24 800- and 5:07 1,600-meter closing speed. 

WHO HUTCHINS WILL FACE

First — from her own region — Hutchins will again run against six qualifiers from the state of Texas. Only one of those six, Allison Wilson (Montgomery, Texas), made All-American at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore. last weekend and two finished outside the top 40. Regional champion London Culbreath (McKinney, Texas) faded badly over the last half of the race and fell toward the end of the race, finishing 49th.

From the Northeast, Sydney Masciarelli (Northbridge, Mass.) ran the fastest time at Van Cortlandt Park in nearly 25 years, torching the hilly Bronx course in 17:12 and beating out last year’s regional champion in Marlee Starliper (Wellsville, Pa.) by five seconds for the overall win.

Only the top five girls from the Northeast ran under 18 minutes.

In the muddy Midwest in Kenosha, Wis., regional champ Emily Covert (Minneapolis, Minn.) will come back for the double after she finished an impressive fourth at Nike last weekend. She leads a contingent of seven girls that ran in Portland. Of those seven, five made All-American.

The West regional ran the toughest course at Mt. SAC in Walnut, Calif. last weekend, which was one week later than everyone else. 

Kristin Fahy (Carlsbad, Calif.) won in 17:52 by five seconds. The defending regional and two-time national champion Claudia Lane (Malibu, Calif.) did not participate.

Katelynne Hart (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) is the highest returning finisher from last year, as she was runner-up in 2017. She was third at the Midwest region meet and 16th at Nike last weekend.

Hutchins was one of only three freshman this year to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals. She will be joining Abby Vanderkooi (Fremont, Mich.) and Riley Stewart (Lone Tree, Colo.), both from the Midwest region. They were the 78th, 79th and 80th freshman female runners to qualify for the national meet. There has not been a freshman champion since Olympian Jordan Hasay (Arroyo Grande, Calif.) in 2005. 

WHAT THE PROJECTIONS SAY

Grace Connolly (Natick, Mass.) comes into the race with the best time on the season, clocking a 16:35 at the Brown Northeast Invitational in September. However, she finished third in her own region.

There are 17 girls in the field on Saturday with one mile or 1,600 personal bests of 4:55 or better, making it one of the deepest girls fields of recent memory. However, of those 17, only five have 3,200-meter personal bests of 10:15 or under. 

With the two-time national champion Lane not returning this year, the race is virtually wide open.

Of the 40 entrants in the girls race, 11 athletes are pulling the double from Nike. This includes six All-Americans.

Based on projections, Hutchins is predicted 27th out of 40 runners. She will need to beat projections by at least 12 places to become an All-American.

FROM THE COACH

“Jenna has had a phenomenal season,” Science Hill girls head coach Evan Meeuwenberg said. “We knew she was going to be good coming into the season, but we could have never predicted what has happened. ... She has been so tough and so determined this season that she deserves to finish in the top 15. No matter what happens on Saturday, we’re all so proud of her. Coaching her has been so much fun.

“I think her strategy going in needs to be the same that it has been all season. She needs to get out well, but not get too carried away since there are going to be so many good runners in the race. Her turnover towards the end of races is really going to help her and we saw that at the two-mile time trial when she passed a girl in the last 100 meters — and when she passed two people on the final stretches of Foot Locker South.”

HOW TO WATCH

The meet will be live streamed beginning at 11 a.m. (EST) with the girls race beginning at 12:15 p.m. and the boys will take the course at 1 p.m.

The live stream can be found at www.footlockercc.com.

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