Arcadia, Wharton Pull Off Upsets at NXN 2012
With the boom of the cannon, the boys race at Nike Cross Nationals got off to a fast start, despite the challenging conditions of slippery and sticky mud, as well as 6-8 inch deep puddles. Heading into the race, Lincroft XC Club (NJ) was considered the favorite by most, but they had plenty of accomplished competition with American Fork XC Club (UT), North Spokane XC Club (WA), Arcadia XC Club (CA) and Carroll XC Club (TX).
From the gun, Carroll jumped out front to control the team race, grabbing the lead through the 1k split with 227 points. Such a large total showed the depth of the field and how packed up all the runners were, but Carroll's fast start put them in good position to stay out of harms way with the difficult course conditions.
Carroll's lead slipped through their fingers over the next 1,000m, as American Fork grabbed the lead with 107 points, while North Spokane moved up the field to take over second place, 152-170 over Carroll.
Moving through mile two, American Fork kept the lead, as their pack charged through the course together, working off of each other's energy and pulling each other along. At the 3k mark the squad had a 37 point lead, as Lincroft started to make their move, putting themselves in second position with 162 points, six points ahead of third place North Spokane.
Tackling the short hills and hay bails, the 4k split proved most intriguing as American Fork kept their lead with 128 points, but Arcadia was making a big move, while Lincroft was still running well. Arcadia and Lincroft were second and third at this point with 154 and 164 points. It was anyone's race and like most major races it all came down to the final kick.
With a furious kick to the finish, Arcadia pulled off the upset and the win, making up the difference of 26 points American Fork had heading into the final kilometer, while putting another 14 points on them, winning for the second time in three years by a 108-122 margin. What an amazing finish by the state champions from California.
Meanwhile, American Fork outlasted the rest of the field, finishing second. Following the lead of top man Brayden Mclelland, who finished 19th overall in 17:25 and Connor McMillan in 17:42, American Fork ran a 58 second 1-5 split to show why they were one of the key favorites heading into the race.
Coming in third was North Spokane with 146 points. Running without top man Kai Wilmot for much of the end of the season, including their state and NXN regional meets, the squad stepped up and carried over those emotional victories to run exceptionally well in Portland. With Wilmot back in the line-up, finishing 14 seconds back from their first finisher on the day Tanner Anderson. With Wilmot and Anderson both running under 18 minutes (17:42 and 17:56), the squad ran one of the best splits on the day with a 1-5 of 42 seconds.
Lincroft finished a disappointing fourth. The heavy favorites all season long, the defending champions finished with 167 points and a sub-60 split of 58 seconds. It wasn't that the team ran poorly, in fact the ran rather strong race, but it just wasn't enough to pull off the first back-to-back victory in NXN history. Billy Bragg and John Boyle once again led the squad, finishing with times of 17:44 and 17:45, 11th and 12th overall in the team scoring.
Rounding out the top six, Philadelphia XC Club (PA) kept close with their 50 second split, finishing with 223 points, while Elmhurst XC Club (IL) ran to another top ten finish with their 231 points.
Five of the top six teams at NXN 2012 brought a wealth of experience to the race. First place Arcadia finished fourth in 2011, while winning the title in 2010. Runner-up American Frork placed eighth in both 2009 and 2010, while finishing sixth in 2011. North Spokane had five top seven finishes already to their credit before placing third, with seventh place finishes in 2008 and 2011, sixth place finishes in 2007 and 2010, while winning the title in 2008. Fourth place Lincroft finished fifth in 2010 and won in 2011, while sixth place Elmhurst is the only team in NXN history to qualify all nine years.
Right from the gun, Jake Leingang (ND) jumped to the lead to take over the pacing duties for the first 800 meters of the race. Leingang, who's been running strong all fall, showed his cards early, wanting to push the pace and tire his competition out. Such an early quick pace quickly challenged the senior from North Dakota, as rival Nick Ryan (NY) took over the lead and continued to push the pace through the 1k.
The blazing early pace slowed considerably in the second kilometer, as Ryan continued to lead a large pack. Much was the same up to the half-way point, but all of a sudden Ryan started to fall off the pace, pushing Northwest Regional winner Joe Hardy (WA) to the front, as well as Connor Olson (MN).
At the 3k, Olson, Sam Wharton (OH) and Estevan De La Rosa (CA) took control, each taking their turn pushing the pace. As the pack continued to drop, eventually it was just those three passing the 4k. Olson led, but Wharton and De La Rosa were still looking strong.
Into the final 800m, Wharton started to pull away, putting in a surge that pushed the rest of the field away and sent him to the biggest victory of his prep career. Wharton, who finished 21st overall in 2011, crossed the line in 17:06, three seconds ahead of runner-up De La Rosa. De La Rosa ran an exceptional race and gave his Arcadia team one point at the top of their team score, a great way to start the scoring.
Finishing strong, Luis Martinez (NM) put in an impressive kick to finish third in 17:17, while Hardy maintained his early pace to finish fourth overall in 17:19. Rounding out the top five was South Regional champion Robert Dominac (TX) in 17:22.
Afterward, a jubilant Wharton said, "I waited for the pack to pass me but they just never came."
Rocking a head band and with a broad smile, Wharton gave NXN his best shot and came out on top. His toughness shined through and gave the senior a result he'll never forget.
Heading into Saturday's race, the four big favorites to win the top prize were Nick Ryan (NY), Bernie Montoya (AZ), Jake Leingang (ND) and Jacob Burcham (WV). While Ryan and Leingang each took turns pushing the pace at various points in the race, all four didn't quite live up to their pre-race hype. Ryan finished a respectable 15th, while Montoya finished 22nd, Leingang finished 59th and Burcham finished 84th. Luckily, all four seniors will bounce back and you can bet all four are eyeing the spring already and putting up some impressive marks on the track.