Nike Cross Nationals preview: What to watch

Nike Cross Nationals preview: What to watch

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Nike Cross Nationals preview: What to watch

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Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

(Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

The 12th annual Nike Cross Nationals take place Saturday at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Ore., with qualifiers from eight regional events competing to determine the best in the nation.

With 13,231 finishers, Nike says the event is the largest participatory postseason competition in the nation for high school athletes.

Here are five things to watch:

1. The Fayetteville-Manlius dynasty

The Fayetteville-Manlius girls team from outside Syracuse, N.Y., has won eight of the last nine titles and is a favorite to defend last year’s title. What has separated the program is depth. Senior Kaitlyn Neal won the New York regional race with a time of 17:37 but F-M had runners place seventh, eighth, 10th and 12th for a dominating team victory. Neal is a newcomer to the Nike Cross Nationals after transferring to F-M from nearby Skaneateles, N.Y.

2. The teams from Temecula

In what could turn out to be an East vs. West showdown, the boys and girls teams from Temecula-Great Oak have a chance to do big things. The Temecula girls team, which placed second at last year’s nationals, is led by Destiny Collins and and Evelyn Mandel and could knock off F-M.

The boys teams features the best teammate trio in the nation in Spencer Dodds, Cole Spencer and Isaac Cortes and have enough depth to challenge for the title. The boys teams was a controversial non-selection last year and now returns eager to make a strong showing. Temecula is coming off smashing the California state meet course record last weekend – a mark previously held by 2010 national champion Arcadia.

3. Look out for Minnesota

The state of Minnesota has become a running hotbed in recent years and three boys teams from the Lake Conference, viewed as the toughest high school league in the country, have qualified – Hopkins, Edina, Wayzata (the 2014 national runner-up). While they all did not move on, four of the top five girls teams and the to four boys teams at the Heartland Region qualifier were all from Minnesota.

Regional winner Jaret Carpenter is from Wayzata. Three of the top 10 individual boys runners at the regional were from Hopkins – Jack Henschel, Seth Eliason and Owen Hoeft.

4. Pendergrast and Rainsberger

Judy Pendergrast from Naperville North in Illinois set the course record at the Midwest Regional and used an aggressive early strategy to pull away. It was obvious she would win the race almost from the first few hundred meters. She has employed a similar strategy all season and won all but one of her races (she finished second in the other). The prospects of soggy weather in Portland on Saturday could hinder her strategy.

Meanwhile, Katie Rainsberger from Air Force Academy High in Colorado Springs comes down from altitude in search of her first national title. The Oregon signee and 2014 Gatorade Colorado Runner of the Year is undefeated this season.

5. The double

Six schools will have the prospect of sweeping national titles in the boys and girls events — a feat accomplished by Fayetteville-Manlius last year. Senior Peter Ryan and junior Joe Walters are the lone returning runners for the F-M boys.

The six teams with a chance at a double are: Bozeman (Mont.), Southlake Carroll (Texas), Edina (Minn.), Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.), Temecula (Calif.), American Fork (Utah).

Fred Baer contributed to this report

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