NXN Girls Individual Preview: Baxter Eyes History
It’s already been quite the fall for NXN defending champion Sarah Baxter (Jr., CA). The California native broke the legendary Mt. SAC Invitational course record by a ridiculous 16 seconds, winning the three-mile race in 16:00. She followed that up with a 16:40 5k victory at the California State Cross Country Championships, where she won by 30 seconds.
In 2011, Baxter won NXN by four seconds. Since then she has seemingly taken another big leap forward with her running talent is now the very heavy favorite to win the 2012 edition of Nike Cross Nationals. While Baxter is the favorite, she’s also the one the many other talented runners will be targeting.
The most talked about athlete in the field other than Baxter is New York standout Mary Cain (Jr., NY). Cain made waves in the sport earlier this fall, as she switched coaches to be mentored by the legendary Alberto Salazar. Cain’s switch in coaching, along with her 13-second win at the New York NXN Regional puts her in prime contention. The 4:11.01 1,500 U.S. junior record holder, who placed sixth in the IAAF World Junior Championships in the same event this past summer, has the speed to compete in Portland, but her 14:03.9 (2.5 mile) Manhattan College Invitational victory shows she has the strength, too.
While Cain is the favorite to knock off the favorite Baxter, the second and third returnees from NXN 2011 certainly won’t be backing down. Washington state standouts Amy-Eloise Neale (Sr., WA) and Katie Knight (Sr., WA) have run nearly stride for stride throughout much of their high school careers. The former University of Washington Huskies finished 14th (Neale) and 16th (Knight) as freshmen in 2009, 3rd (Neale) and 8th (Knight) in 2010 and 3rd (Knight) and 5th (Neale) in 2011.
Neale has the edge heading into Nike Cross Nationals this time around, winning the Washington State Cross Country Championships, as well as edging Knight 17:29-17:40 at NXN Northwest, but you can be certain both will be up front challenging for two more top three finishes yet again.
Following closely on Neale’s and Knight’s heals is fellow Washington runner Alexa Efraimson (So., WA). She is leading her Camas XC Club to Portland Meadows, while eyeing a top five finish. She finished only two seconds off Knight at NXN Northwest and has been keying off the two seniors all fall.
The number six returnee to NXN this weekend is Hagen Reedy (Sr., CA). The California prep finished seventh in 2011, but is running strong enough to where she should challenge for top three. While she finished 30 seconds behind Baxter at last weekend’s California State Cross Country Championships, she finished 29 seconds ahead of third place. Do not discount Reedy.
While the favorites and top returnees headline the individual girls race, there are a handful of other runners who could challenge for top five finishes.
The NXN South Regional Champion Karis Jochen (Sr., TX) is running very well this season. She finished 31st at NXN in 2011, but is looking for a much higher finish this time around. She won NXN South by 13 seconds.
Slightly overshadowed by Cain, NXN New York Regional runner-up Bella Burda (So.,NY) beat the rest of the talented field and could be within striking distance of a top five finish on Saturday.
NXN Heartland standouts Maria Hauger (Sr., MN) and Alli Cash (Sr., KS) should be near the front, too. Hauger won NXN Heartland by an impressive 17 seconds, showing her strength and ability to adapt to the 5k distance after running 4k all fall. Cash on the other hand had an eye-opening junior track season and put up some impressive times all fall. She finished five seconds back to Hauger earlier in the season at the Roy Griak Invitational (MN). If she can be within that timeframe again at NXN, a big finish may lie ahead.
Not to be outdone, North Carolina star Wesley Frazier (Sr., NC) won the NXN Southeast Regional in 17:17, crossing the finish eight seconds up on the competition. Her consistent performances in both track and cross country prove her to be a viable top five threat.
The girls individual race is going to be a battle. Can anyone upset Baxter? Can Cain pull off the victory? Who will be the surprise performer of the meet? Those are questions that are begging to be answered and will be at Nike Cross Nationals.