Six Things We Learned This Past Weekend
1. Northern Arizona men’s team is one to watch closely: While everyone is focusing on pre-season favorites like Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, BYU and Colorado, the squad from Northern Arizona University is showing they could be one to surprise this fall. At the Pac-12 Preview Elite Invitational, the Lumberjacks simply dominated the competition, putting six runners in the top 11 and running an impressive 28-second 1-6 split.
NAU finished 14th overall at the NCAA Championships in 2011, while graduating three of their top four and five of seven, including standout Diego Estrada, so expectations heading into this season were low on a national scale. The rise of NAU is in large part to the transferring in of front runner Brian Shrader (formerly at Oregon) and Matt McElroy (formerly of Oklahoma State), along with the signing of freshmen Futsum Zienesellassie and Nathan Weitz.
On Friday, Shrader and Zienesellassie finished 1-2, both in 24:30, while McElroy finished fourth overall in 24:38. Caleb Hoover and Alejandro Montano (who redshirted last fall) ran 4-5 for NAU, finishing 7th and 9th respectively while Weitz finished 11th overall. NAU easily outran runner-up UCLA 23-58.
NAU will get their first major test on October 12, when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to compete in the adidas Wisconsin Invitational, where they will square off against teams like Wisconsin, Portland, Texas and Stanford.
2. Matt Centrowitz is on the verge of greatness: While spending much of the first half of the track season getting in competitive shape, Centrowitz has shown he is the present and future of U.S. middle-distance running. Coming off his fourth place finish at the Olympics, Centrowitz earned a new 1,500m PR of 3:31.96 in Laussane and pulled off a big victory of Bernard Lagat to win this weekend’s Fifth Avenue Mile.
Centrowitz sat back and let the race unfold, waiting for one of his competitors to make a big move. When Lagat made his move, Centrowitz quickly followed, then made his own move to edge Lagat in the final stages of the race, crossing the tape in 3:52.4, half a second ahead of runner-up Lagat.
Centrowitz has shown this year that he’s learning what it takes to come out on top in different racing situations. While he’s still a bit hesitant to lead at most every point in a race, he is showing that he has the races savvy to sit and wait for the most opportune time to make his move. While Leo Manzano (who finished third at the Fifth Avenue Mile) won a medal in London, Centrowitz is the one who’s showing he’s the most promising American miler for the foreseeable future.
3. Brenda Martinez impresses & Anna Pierce is ready for a big 2013: Quietly, Brenda Martinez has made her comeback from a down-and-out contender, back to the top of the podium, outlasting the competition in New York at the Fifth Avenue Mile Saturday. Martinez, who’s shown time and time again that she’s one of the best middle distance runners in the U.S., edged a loaded field to win the road race event in 4:24.2.
Finishing behind Martinez in second was Anna Pierce, who crossed the finish in 4:24.9. Pierce, who had a roller coaster of a 2012 season, finished her 2012 season on a high note, which should carry her over to 2013 on a wave of momentum. Pierce has dealt with inconsistent performances the past two seasons. After proving she was one of the very best 1,500m runners in the world a few seasons ago, she’s struggled to regain that same edge. Her final performances of the 2012 season, including her runner-up effort in New York, show she is on the rise again.
4. Max King is the U.S. trail running king: Trail running is a sport that rarely gets mentioned in competitive track and field circles. That’s changing however, as steeplechase standout Max King has shown to be the best trail runner in the U.S. the past handful of years.
King, who is perhaps the most versatile runner in the world, took on a double challenge this weekend. First up on Saturday, King defended his U.S. Trail 50k Championship title in his hometown of Bend, Oregon, easily besting training partner Ryan Bak 3:27:54-3:33:46 for his second consecutive 50k national title.
Less than 24 hours later, and a quick plane ride to Ogden, Utah, King returned to defend his XTERRA U.S. Trail Run Championship title. Proving for the second time in one weekend that he’s king of the trails, King won 1:22:12-1:23:48 over runner-up J. Marshall Thomson. King’s XTERRA win is his fifth consecutive and earns him a trip to Hawaii in Decemeber, where he’ll look to reign supreme at the XTERRA World Trail Run Championships.
5. The Villanova women’s team is going to be okay: One of the big questions coming into this fall’s collegiate cross country season was how well Villanova would rebound after their third place finish in 2011, then losing their top two runners, NCAA Champion Sheila Reid and sixth place finisher Bogdana Mimic.
At the Main Line Invitational (PA) over the weekend, Villanova showed where their strength will lie this fall, as the Wildcats placed 2-8, while running a 29 second 1-5 split. Led by Nicky Akande and Emily Lipari, who finished 2-3 overall, Villanova showed that while they may lack the front runners they’ve had the past few seasons, their depth should be more than enough to keep them in contention for a top four finish at the NCAA Championships later this fall.
6. The North Central (WA) boys team is one to watch very closely: There are very few teams showing they are trophy contenders at NXN on a yearly basis. One of those teams over the past few years is the boys team from North Central (WA).
On Saturday, North Central took on a stacked field at the Bob Firman Invitational (ID), which is one of the best prep invitationals across the land each fall. Showcasing their incredible depth, as well as young talent up front, North Central easily edged US#10 Arcadia (CA) for the title, 47-127.
Junior Kai Wilcom led the way, finishing a close second to individual race winner Joe Hardy (Jr., Seattle Prep, WA). Both of these talented juniors broke 9 minutes for the 3,200m last spring. Hardy used a strong finish to outlast Wilcom, winning 15:03.01-15:06.35. Ben Saarel (Sr., Park City, UT) finished third in 15:08.26.
Sophomore phenom Tanner Anderson placed fifth for North Central, while senior Keith Williams gave them another top ten finisher in tenth, but it was really North Central’s depth that stole the show. North Central’s #6 runner Isaac Kitzan finished 26th overall, better than every other team’s third runner. North Central’s #7 runner, Vance Collier, finished 53rd overall, better than every other teams’ fifth runner (besides Davis H.S.).
As the season progresses, it’ll be interesting to see how North Central develops. They tend to get strong as the season moves forward, which could mean big things are ahead for this team.