So...What's Next?

The preseason Top 50 is in the books. Thank you to everyone that was reading and following the rankings throughout the week! The support we had via Twitter was very much appreciated.

So what's left for the rest of the summer? My goal is to have the Top 15 PA Alumni rankings done within the next week or so. Once that is done, get ready for the Top 25 team rankings! That will start when Flotrack posts their 25th ranked team (I like to compare as we go on). Every new day will be a new team to post. Will Penn return to the list? Is Syracuse the favorite? Does Oregon get hurt in the rankings due to Hunter going pro? I suppose we'll have to see...

Finally, I'll be at the Service Now West Chester Elite Mile on Thursday, August 11th! THE Jarrett "Etrain" Felix may be making an appearance as well. If you're in the area and watching the race, feel free to come say hi!

That's all for now. Feel free to review the Top 50 rankings and be prepared for plenty of material in the coming weeks.


PA HS XC Top 50: #10-1

by Jarrett Felix

10. Ryan James, Senior Cardinal O'Hara (12 AAA)
In the past two years, Ryan James has grabbed two state medals for O’Hara including a 15th place finish as a sophomore and 17th place finish last season (in a faster time of 16:11). During both of those seasons, he also placed in the top 7 at the Foundation Invitational at Hershey, running 16:29 and 16:33. That’s consistent results on the state’s most difficult and most important course. Plus, he placed 15th at Nike Northeast Regionals in 2015, running ahead of big names like Nick Dahl and Jaxson Hoey. He was 26th in the same meet in 2014, second among all sophomores.

Historically, Ryan had been more of a cross country runner than track guy until this year. In 2016, he anchored O’Hara to the state title in the indoor DMR, soloing a huge 1600 PR in the process. He followed that with a 9:26 3200m PR at DELCOs.

Cardinal O’Hara has proven itself as one of the top programs in the state and so they are usually a strong bet to have a deep squad with hard workers and top performances. The right team environment can certainly help bring out the best in a top athlete. So although James loses Rob Morro as a training partner, he still should have plenty of company.

9. Zach Lefever, Senior Ephrata (3 AAA)
Lefever was one of the biggest breakout stars of this past XC season, but a bad break with appendicitis caused him to miss the state championships this past fall. That means he’s perhaps the only person in the history of the list to be ranked in the top 10 preseason rankings despite not racing at states the previous season (technically speaking, there are three guys in the top 10 who didn’t compete at a PA XC State Meet last year).

But Zach likely would have been a big factor in the state final. In his races prior to state he finished in the top 5 each time out and ran a PR of 15:46. He was PA’s 3rd athlete at Paul Short (behind only Matt Kravitz and Griffin Mackey) and within District 3 was only bested by Nate Henderson at Big Spring and LLs. On the track, when he competed in his first state championship of the 2015-2016 season, he had the best race of his career, running 9:19 for 6th in the hot and tactical 3200. That was a PR for him as well. Dude’s fast and dude’s clutch. And I don’t think you can get appendicitis twice.

8. Spencer Smucker, Junior Henderson (1 AAA)
In 2014, Spencer Smucker joined a very short list of freshman to grab a medal at the state championship. In recent years, the list includes Craig Miller (3x state champion) and Vince McNally (13th, 3rd, 5th, 18th and a Footlocker Finalist) so naturally expectations would be high in 2015. Further compounding the pressure on Spence was the graduation of his three stud teammates Alex Knapp, Will Swart and Gordy Barchet, meaning Smucker went from being the team’s #4 to the team’s undisputed #1 almost overnight.
Despite those obstacles, the Henderson sophomore posted career best marks across the board, including a top 10 finish at districts and a top 15 finish at states. On the track, he grew into a leader as the anchor of the team’s indoor state medal winning Distance Medley and showed great speed in the team’s 4x8 rotation.
Now, entering his junior season, Smucker should have an extra level of comfort as a front runner and will enter the 2016 season hungry and confident. The Henderson program has taken their talent and turned it into some pretty special performances, especially in a runner’s junior season. In recent years, Will Kellar went from 17th as a sophomore to 2nd at states his junior season. Tony Russell went from 27th to 1st and a state record. Chris Aldrich also made a jump from borderline medalist to 4th in the state from his second to third years while Reiny Barchet capped off his junior campaign as an All-American.
There will be no guarantees for Smucker this year and he is in a loaded class of runners, but he’s shown sparks of some big potential. If he can stay healthy and find his groove in training, this kid will be tough to stop on the Hershey hills.

7. Griffin Mackey, Senior Sewickley Academy (7 A)
The past two seasons, Mackey has finished 3rd and 1st at the A state championship. He was dominant last year in the A division and rolled to perhaps the most impressive win of the three classifications. He’s a straight killer on the Hershey foundation course as well, in addition to his state win, he also won foundation in 2015 (again by a comfortable margin). Mackey has a great training stable for a small school in Sewickley Academy (back to back WPIAL champs) and showed he was overcoming some injuries from the end of the fall on the track when he placed 2nd and 5th in the WPIAL outdoor 1600 and 3200 respectively. He’s also run 9:20 for 3200 and 4:22 for a full mile during his sophomore season, so the talent is there to do something big this year if he stays healthy.

6. Nick Dahl, Senior Germantown Friends (Independent)
Dahl is one of the best track runners in the state. His two mile progression over his first two seasons was monster for a frosh/soph (and his national places reflected that). Then, this past year, Dahl showcased some truly impressive speed. He ran 1:54 in the open 800 and split under 4:10 on his DMR anchor carry at nationals. Considering he’s also run the equivalent of sub 9 for 3200, Dahl has to be a real threat on the XC trails. He won the XC Independent State title last year and also won the Bowdoin XC Classic in New York, but he rarely was matched up PIAA competition in 2015, making his ranking a little tricky. Dahl finished 16th at Nike Northeast Regionals (right behind Ryan James) and finished 50th in the Manhattan Invitational (just behind LaSalle’s Eddie Goebel) in his few match ups with the PIAA dudes. This will be his senior year and last chance to prove he’s a national caliber runner on the trials just like he is on the track. That extra spark of motivation (plus a very strong team returning from this past track season) might bring things together for a memorable year.

5. Zach Skolnekovich, Senior Quaker Valley (7 AA)
I think Skolnekovich was one of the most impressive performers of state weekend last year. He ran 15:54 to finish 2nd in the AA state meet behind only the legend Dominic Hockenbury and he kicked his way by established kicker Matt Kravitz. He has also finished 12th and 12th the previous two state finals (as a frosh and soph) and ran away with back to back WPIAL titles as a junior and sophomore (after coming in second as a frosh). And this past year, Zach had easily his best track campaign, dropping all the way down to a consistent sub 9:20 two miler, running PRs at 1600 and 800, and finishing 2nd again at the AA state championships. In my mind, Skol has the talent to win the AA state title and turn around with a top 20 finish at Footlocker Northeast.

4. Sam Affolder, Sophomore Carlisle (3 AAA)
A sophomore and a senior, new to the PIAA, will join a strong squad and look to help catapult their team to a state championship. The senior is already an accomplished national runner while the freshman is already one of the best ever in his class. If you are experiencing a little déjà vu, that’s perfectly OK. Like the Hoey brothers in 2015, the Affolders are joining the PIAA landscape after moving from New York. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on these guys, but what I’ve seen from them in a few scattered results suggests we could be looking at two all-time PA greats.
We start with the youngster Sam. As just a freshman, Sam ran 12:44 at the Manhattan Invitational. That would already slot him the top 15 PA runners on the course in the last decade. He ran 14:58 for 3 miles at the McQuaid Invitational (same time Sam Webb ran his senior season and some 50 seconds faster than A state runner up Noah Curtin last season).  He was 12th at NY states and then 8th at NY Federations (a deeper race). He ran 16:12 that weekend on the Bowdoin Park course which, once again, would put him top 15 for PA over the last decade. His track times include a 1:57/4:20 and a jaw dropping 9:16 steeplechase (we don’t run that in PA, but trust me that time is sick).
And did I mention he did all that as just a freshman? If that sort of thing happened in PA, he probably would have been knocking on the door for sub 16 at Hershey as a frosh. That’s crazy to think about. This slot might be too low for him honestly. It’s not crazy to think Sam could potentially even win the state title next year.

3. Nathan Henderson, Senior JP McCaskey (3 AAA)
This will be a big year for District 3. They’ve struggled at the AAA state meet in both the team and individual categories in recent years, rarely cracking the top 5 with their best individuals. They’ve had just 3 top 5 individuals over the last 10 seasons (compared to 3 from the smaller district 10 and 10 from the WPIAL). Team wise, they have had 0 top 5 teams in the last 10 seasons. However, this year District 3 has 4 runners ranked in the top 9 (district 1 has 2) and may have the top ranked team in the state as well (tune in early next month).

The dominant force in District 3 a season ago was Nate Henderson. He crushed every XC course he saw and was only defeated by the Hoeys, Brophy and Wolk prior to Footlocker Regionals. He obliterated the course record on Big Spring and ran a monster 15:53 at Hershey. He was the top junior in the state title field just a year after being the top sophomore. Then on the track, he was PA’s top runner the Penn Relays, nearly upset the field in the indoor 3k, and ran 1:53/4:14/8:24. Wow.

But Henderson will have his hands full with the Affolder brothers coming in from Carlisle to try and break up his run of dominance in District 3. Nate will try to hold his ground with a little extra experience on the PA courses and that extra motivation that comes from his 9th place finish in the outdoor 3200. One thing we know about Nate is that he won’t back down to any other runner in the country on race day.  

2. Josh Hoey, Junior Bishop Shanahan (1 AAA)
Any way you slice it, he’s one of the most accomplished sophomores in state history. Last year he was 3rd at both districts and states (running sub 15:50 in his first ever trip to Hershey) and was the #1 man for DT West at Manhattan and Regionals (both races they won against out of state competition). He is the top returner from the state championship last fall and only bolstered his resume with a big upset win at the Penn Relays and a pair of top 3 finishes in the mile at states. He will lose perhaps his best asset in training partner Jaxson Hoey (graduated this past season and will attend PSU), but his younger brother Jonah will enter the fray and try to pick up the slack. Remember, he is only now making the sophomore to junior jump. Hard to remember at this point. After a top 10 finish at NXN Regionals last year, it looks like the goals will be state and regional championships for this junior heading into 2016.

1. Noah Affolder, Senior Carlisle (3 AAA)
In all of my years of making this list, there has never been a more accomplished number one runner on this list. The closest thing to Affolder in the last decade or so of returners is probably Tony Russell (won states and regionals as a junior). But Affolder amazingly outshines even Russell in resume. Noah won Footlocker Regionals last year (over one of our greatest ever in Jake Brophy), ran 4:07 for the mile and 8:47 for 3200. Right there, you’ve got three things that no PA runner has done in nearly 2 years. He’s run 12:14 for 4k, 14:14 for 3 mile, won his New York State Champs and finished 2nd in the NY Federation Championship (I think this is like meet of champs with the divisions combined after states?). He capped his XC year with a win at regionals and a 15th place finish at Footlocker (4th returner in the country).

He will have to adjust to a variety of new courses, training partners and challenges. But this guy is a unique talent that should be a ton of fun to watch. Can he get the 15:24 course record from Brophy this season? Will he lead Carlisle to the state title? Or will someone else rise to outduel the newcomer?

Only one way to find out. Welcome to the 2016 PA XC Season.

2016 NCAA Top 50 Rankings: #10-1

By: Garrett Zatlin

The rest of the list...

50. Nick Tuck, Senior, Penn
49. Jake Leingang, Senior, Oregon,
48. Michael Williams, Junior, Washington State
47. Brian Barraza, Senior, Houston
46. Joel Hubbard, Senior, Syracuse
45. Chase Weaverling, Junior, Virginia 
44. Jack Bruce, Junior, Arkansas
43. Jaime Perales, Senior, Eastern Kentucky
42. Luke Traynor, Senior, Tulsa
41. Matthew Schwartzer, Rs. Senior, Indiana
40. Andrew Rafla, Rs. Sophomore, Boise State
39. Travis Neuman, Senior, Oregon
38. Darren Fahy, Senior, Georgetown
37. MJ Erb, Senior, Mississippi
36. Frankline Tonui, Senior, Arkansas
35. Ben Flanagan, Senior, Michigan
34. Joel Reichow, Senior, South Dakota State
33. Colby Gilbert, Junior, Washington
32. Michael Vennard, Junior, Boise State
31. Dallin Farnsworth, Sophomore, BYU
30. Philo Germano, Senior, Syracuse
29. Kieran Clements, Rs. Senior, Iona
28. Gilbert Kirui, Junior, Iona
27. Amon Terer, Senior, Campbell
26. Cerake Geberkidane, Junior, Oklahoma State
25. Lawrence Kipkoech, Rs. Sophomore, Campbell
24. Chartt Miller, Junior, Iona
23. George Parsons, Senior, NC State
22. Kyle Eller, Senior, Air Force
21. Morgan McDonald, Junior, Wisconsin
20. Jacob Thomson, Rs. Junior, Kentucky
19. Henry Wynne, Senior, Virginia
18. Dylan Lafond, Senior, Illinois
17. Ben Saarel, Senior, Colorado
16. Edwin Kibichiy, Rs. Senior, Louisville
15. Jacob Burcham, Senior, Oklahoma
14. Jerrell Mock, Junior, Colorado State
13. Jefferson Abbey, Senior, Colorado State
12. Malachy Schrobilgen, Senior, Wisconsin
11. John Dressel, Sophomore, Colorado

10. Colin Bennie, Junior, Syracuse
Everyone knew Syracuse would be good. Justyn Knight had shown tremendous promise on the track during his freshman year and Martin Hehir was already one of the top collegiate distance runners in the nation. While everyone was focused on the potent 1-2 punch for 'Cuse, no one was expecting Colin Bennie to have the breakout season he did.

Bennie was given the 42nd spot in last year's Etrain rankings, but wasn't content on staying there. Bennie immediately stepped into the national spotlight after getting a win in the first meet of his season (Spiked Shoe). While there were some solid names in that field, I wasn't ready to say he was breaking out...until Beantown. In Boston, Bennie would finish 4th overall and defeat some established long distance runners like Ben Rainero and Curtis King. It was a great race, but the competition would only get harder as Syracuse at Wisconsin. That, of course, did not phase Bennie who exploded for a 6th place finish and crossed the line ahead of many other names on this top 50 list. At ACC's, Bennie continued to impress me with a 4th place finish which was followed up by a 2nd place finish at regionals. If there were any doubts about Bennie handling the post-season pressure, they were surely erased at NCAA's where Bennie clicked off an 8th place finish which helped secure Syracuse the team title.

What I love about Bennie is his confidence and how he is clearly not intimidated by the competition that surrounds him. We saw glimpses of that confidence continue throughout indoor and outdoor track where Bennie posted awesome PR's of 7:54, 13:38, and 28:52. I'm curious to see how much better he can get after such an amazing sophomore year.

9. Jonah Koech, Sophomore, UTEP
Last season, all eyes were on PAC-12 freshmen stars like Grant Fisher, John Dressel, Matthew Maton, and Tanner Anderson. While the spotlight shone on them, no one noticed UTEP freshman Jonah Koech.

Before the 2015 season, Anthony Rotich was the name that put UTEP on the map. So when Jonah Koech started racing right next to Rotich, things got very interesting. After Koech and his teammates swept two early-season meets, the Miners headed to Indiana to race at the Notre Dame Invite. When the dust settled and the results were posted, fans began researching just who Jonah Koech was after he placed 3rd overall. The same thing happened at Pre-Nats as Koech placed 4th only behind super-stars like Thomas Curtin, Edward Cheserek, and teammate Anthony Rotich. Not only was it a great finish, but Koech seemed to be the missing piece UTEP needed to be competitive nationally. The Miners ended up placing 4th in the team standings at Pre-Nats. Another two weeks would pass and UTEP would cruise through their conference meet and head into regionals with high expectations. Once again, Koech showed off his fitness and even got a win out of it. Surprisingly, the freshman to watch at nationals would not be Grant Fisher. It would be Jonah Koech. At NCAA's, Koech fought through a hard pace to finish a very respectable 11th place overall. It's crazy to think that 11th place at nationals was (arguably) his least impressive race of the season.

What's even more crazy is that Koech would later run the 800 during track and throw down a PR of 1:46. Talk about range. Koech will the heavy favorite now at meets like Notre Dame and regionals as he is the top returner. NCAA's showed that he may not do as well with a fast pace from the gun, but now I'm just being ticky-tacky. One thing is for sure, Cheserek better not let Pre-Nats or nationals come down to a kick against a 1:46 man like Koech.

8. Jonathan Green, Senior, Georgetown
Before the 2015 season even started, Georgetown lost names like Ryan Gil, Ryan Manahan, and Colin Leibold thanks to some controversial allegations that they wanted to avoid. Longtime coach Pat Henner also ended up resigning in wake of the allegations. Things weren't looking great for the Hoyas as they began last season...but then Jonathan Green happened.

In 2014, Green showed promise as a sophomore and got some experience at some important meets. That experience would help Green get over the learning curve in 2015 and make him one of the top runners in the nation. Green's first battle would be at Lehigh's Paul Short where he placed 3rd behind Villanova's Patrick Tiernan and Jordy Williamsz. It was a solid race and certainly an improvement on 2014, but it wasn't nearly as exciting as what he would do two weeks later at Pre-Nats. The little known Hoya crushed the Louisville-based course and placed 6th overall in what was a huge breakout race for him. Green would carry his momentum from Pre-Nats over to BIG East's and regionals where he would finish behind Tiernan and earn silver in both races. At nationals, his poise was no different as easily out ran experienced stars like McGorty, Scott, and Hehir (to name a few) and ended up finishing 5th overall.

Even though he was 5th as a junior, Green will only move up one spot among the list of returners at NCAA's. Other young guys that are quickly maturing along with a key returner that redshirted the 2015 season pushes Green back to 8th in the rankings (well actually 7th, but I'll get to that). I may be under-ranking him, but if he can do the same as last year and stay consistent, then I'm not afraid to move him up.

7. Marc Scott, Graduated, Tulsa (No Eligbility)
We all make mistakes, right? Scott was labelled as a sophomore on TFRRS despite Tulsa's XC roster stating that he was a senior in 2015. Just a classic case of "you can't trust everything you see on the internet".

My bad there!

6. Grant Fisher, Sophomore, Stanford
Fisher was easily the most anticipated runner of the 2015 season. Whether or not he would be redshirted became a huge conversation and fans around the nation were kept waiting as to whether or not he would wear a Stanford uniform.

The first time we saw Fisher run, he was running unattached at the Stanford Invite and took 2nd behind McGorty while also running a scorching 23:33. After months of waiting, we finally saw Fisher make his debut with Stanford at PAC 12's. The race was incredibly fast thanks to Cheserek establishing a 4:38 pace. Fisher hung on the best he could and settled for a satisfactory 11th place. While he was still running well, no one could've expected him to do as well as he did at nationals where he placed 17th overall.

While his nationals performance was impressive, what he did during track was even better. The young star would register PR's of 3:42, 7:50*, and 13:30. After grabbing 6th place at nationals in the 5k, Fisher was able to extend his season and gain experience at the Olympic Trials.

*Ran 7:50 indoors unattached (redshirted)

Fisher may not have been a top 10 talent during cross country, but his incredible runs this past spring shows that his base is finally starting to come together. Now that he's got the mileage under his legs, expect to see Fisher appear in more races than just PAC 12's and nationals.

5. Sean McGorty, Senior, Stanford
4. Justyn Knight, Junior, Syracuse
This was a hard decision to make and I'm lumping these two together because of how close they are. There are plenty of factors that go into ranking the names on this list. Everything from track PR's, racing style, XC consistency, experience, and wins played a role in trying to see who would get the 4th and 5th spots.

I had to give Knight the edge over McGorty due to the two key races during last fall. Wisconsin was headlined by Knight and McGorty and sure enough, the final 200 meters would come down to McGorty and Knight fighting to the line (Marc Scott later came out of nowhere to win). Knight got the best of McGorty at Wisconsin and neither would see each again until NCAA's. It was there where Knight once again ran away from McGorty to finish 4th overall while the Stanford junior placed 7th.

Guess what Knight's worst finish was in 2015? It was his 4th place finish at nationals. Knight placed 1st or 2nd in every meet other than nationals. Although McGorty wasn't far off from the same numbers (in admittedly different races), his two 7th place finishes at regionals and nationals give Knight the edge.

Once McGorty graduates, he could leave the NCAA as the best runner to never win a national title. That's not an exaggeration either, especially when you see that his PR's are 3:53, 7:48, and 13:24. But Knight's confidence has to be sky high as he enters his junior year, a time which some would argue is the peak of a collegiate's fitness and rate of improvement. The end rankings could go swing either way, but McGorty and Knight will surely be very fun to watch in 2016.

3. Futsum Zienasellassie, Rs. Senior, NAU
2. Patrick Tiernan, Rs. Senior, Villanova
When you get this deep into the rankings, there can often be a debate about who should be ranked over who. Many would argue that Futsum is the 2nd best runner in the NCAA...and I would be quick to disagree.

Last fall, I ranked Futsum at 2nd overall in the top 50 rankings. Futsum would end up redshirting his senior cross country season so that the NAU team is stronger and more experienced in 2016 when he is still running. Tiernan, meanwhile, was not just wining, he was dominating. With the exception of nationals, Tiernan placed 1st in every race he ran in during the 2015 cross country season. Tiernan beat top-ranked Jonathan Green three times throughout the post season. All three times, he beat Green by over 20 seconds.

I am not discrediting Futsum for redshirting. His career has been spectacular and if McGorty isn't the best runner to never win a title, then Futsum might own that status. However, Futsum has never displayed the level of dominance that we saw from Tiernan last year. When it comes to beating Cheserek, both of these individuals have failed. But the way Tiernan attacked the pace at nationals last year made me more a fan of his more than I already am.

1. Edward Cheserek, Senior, Oregon
There isn't much I can say that you don't already know. I could go on for paragraphs, even pages, about the incredible accomplishments we've seen from Edward Cheserek. Honestly, I'm not sure why there is still an argument about whether or not Cheserek is the greatest collegiate distance runner of all time. In fact, I think he's in the argument for greatest collegiate track and field runner of all time, not just distance running. King Ches has his nickname for a reason.

As he enters his final year of eligibility, be sure to realize that you are watching a living legend. There is a good chance that we will never see someone as good as him for a very, very long time.

2016 NCAA Top 50 Rankings: #20-11

By: Garrett Zatlin

In case you missed the news, both the NCAA and PA HS XC Top 10's will be released on our Twitter account throughout the day on Friday (tomorrow)! You can see who made the top 10 before any of our blog-only readers by following us @TheRealTrain11. Spread the word and happy reading!

The rest of the list...

50. Nick Tuck, Senior, Penn

49. Jake Leingang, Senior, Oregon,
48. Michael Williams, Junior, Washington State
47. Brian Barraza, Senior, Houston
46. Joel Hubbard, Senior, Syracuse
45. Chase Weaverling, Junior, Virginia 
44. Jack Bruce, Junior, Arkansas
43. Jaime Perales, Senior, Eastern Kentucky
42. Luke Traynor, Senior, Tulsa
41. Matthew Schwartzer, Rs. Senior, Indiana
40. Andrew Rafla, Rs. Sophomore, Boise State
39. Travis Neuman, Senior, Oregon
38. Darren Fahy, Senior, Georgetown
37. MJ Erb, Senior, Mississippi
36. Frankline Tonui, Senior, Arkansas
35. Ben Flanagan, Senior, Michigan
34. Joel Reichow, Senior, South Dakota State
33. Colby Gilbert, Junior, Washington
32. Michael Vennard, Junior, Boise State
31. Dallin Farnsworth, Sophomore, BYU
30. Philo Germano, Senior, Syracuse
29. Kieran Clements, Rs. Senior, Iona
28. Gilbert Kirui, Junior, Iona
27. Amon Terer, Senior, Campbell
26. Cerake Geberkidane, Junior, Oklahoma State
25. Lawrence Kipkoech, Rs. Sophomore, Campbell
24. Chartt Miller, Junior, Iona
23. George Parsons, Senior, NC State
22. Kyle Eller, Senior, Air Force
21. Morgan McDonald, Junior, Wisconsin

10. Colin Bennie, Junior, Syracuse
9. Jonah Koech, Sophomore, UTEP
8. Jonathan Green, Senior, Georgetown
7. Marc Scott, Senior, Tulsa (No Eligibility)
6. Grant Fisher, Sophomore, Stanford
5. Sean McGorty, Senior, Stanford
4. Justyn Knight, Junior, Syracuse
3. Futsum Zienasellassie, Rs. Senior, NAU
2. Patrick Tiernan, Rs. Senior, Villanova
1. Edward Cheserek, Senior, Oregon

20. Jacob Thomson, Rs. Junior, Kentucky
I'm not going to hide my bias, I am a huge fan of Jacob Thomson. I watched him when we were both in high school and I was super impressed when he ran the state of Kentucky's two-mile prep record (8:54). It's taken some time for him to adjust to the collegiate scene, but he is entering his third season of cross country with plenty of momentum.

Thomson would start his 2015 season with two smaller meets in Kentucky as early season rust-busters. Thomson wouldn't have his first challenge until the Cowboy Jamboree where he would place second behind Oklahoma State's Cerake Geberkidane. When Thomson finally got to a big name meet (Pre-Nats), he finished way back in 123rd and returned home to prepare SEC's. At SEC's, we saw Thomson rebound and place 4th overall. Yet, it was at Southeast regionals where we saw Thomson have the best race of his season. The Kentucky sophomore thrived off of the fast pace and he placed 10th overall, snagging the third auto-bid spot to nationals. Thomson would later end his season at nationals by placing 44th overall, 4 spots away from All-American.

I can't lie, his cross country performances aren't as impressive as some of the guys who are ranked behind him. That said, he showed a lot of maturity in his poise and strategic ability this past spring. Although I try to avoid making track times a big part of my rankings, I can't ignore his progression and ability to handle all kinds of race situations. The Kentucky sophomore put together a three PR season with times of 3:44 (1500), 13:43 (5k), and 29:01 (10k). He was even able to earn All-American in the 10k (placed 6th).

It may have taken some time, but I really liked how Thomson matured this past year. This fall, he'll be a junior and have the experience of racing against top-tier talent. I'm expecting multiple wins from him early on as well as more consistency during the regular season.

19. Henry Wynne, Senior, Virginia
Last year was the season when the NCAA's top milers also became some of the best XC runners in the nation as well. Wynne joined guys like Burcham and Yorks in showing the nation that they can be competitive in more than just the mile.

UVA held an early season meet on their home turf with an invite called Panorama Farms. The small meet was competitive with entries from Furman, Oklahoma, Erik Peterson, and the Campbell duo. It would be a good meet to see which members of the UVA team could be the team's low-stick during the season. Although the fast pace quickly thinned out the field, Wynne held on to finish a respectable 5th place overall. It was a great start for Wynne, but was no indication for what he would do at Wisconsin where he shocked everyone and placed 9th overall. Two weeks later was ACC's and Wynne would finish 10th overall. Not bad, but not quite as impressive as his Wisconsin performance. After another two weeks, Wynne underwhelmed with a 12th place finish at regionals. Again, it wasn't a bad race, but he still wasn't matching his performances from earlier in the season. Wynne's regression took full form at nationals where he placed a disappointing 59th overall to end season.

In my mind, I think Wynne just simply peaked too early last year. He put together a good race early on and showed how talented he was at Wisconsin. He is certainly better than his nationals performance indicates. In addition, it's pretty hard to ignore his success on the track. He was the national champion in the mile while still owning PR's of 7:53 and 13:49. This November, expect Wynne to hit his peak on time (the postseason).

18. Dylan Lafond, Senior, Illinois
It's never easy being the new guy...unless you're Dylan Lafond. The rising senior was once a runner for Mount Olive, a D2 program located in North Carolina. After grabbing multiple All-American finishes with Mount Olive, Lafond decided to step things up a notch and transfer to Illinois.

Despite being the new guy, Lafond began his junior year by stepping into the Illinois program and instantly becoming the leader. The Greater Louisville Classic was a great first meet for Lafond to show off his skill set against D1 competition. Sure enough, he did very well as he finished 6th overall. Lafond would add on to that 6th place finish with a 22nd place finish at Wisconsin. However, it wouldn't be until BIG 10's where the former Mount Olive runner showed he could compete with some of the best in the NCAA. Lafond placed 3rd overall behind McClintock and Ferlic, and also made himself the top returner for BIG 10's in 2016. At regionals, Lafond would experience his first sub-par race as a D1 athlete after he placed 8th in the Mid-West region. Luckily, Lafond still qualified for the national championship and took full advantage of the opportunity by placing 29th overall.

Lafond was able to do all of that in his first cross country season of D1 competition. He quickly adjusted to the improved competition and still fought for top finishes at some of the best meets in the nation. The top returner at BIG 10's, an All-American in the steeplechase, and knowing what kind of competition to expect gives Lafond lots of upside in 2016. Don't be surprised when he wins the BIG 10 and/or the Mid-West title.

17. Ben Saarel, Senior, Colorado
Very few people had a year as tough as Ben Saarel did. Saarel was sidelined for most of the 2015 cross country season with a foot injury. He was able to return for regionals and nationals only for his team to be upset for the national title (despite his 31st place finish). After redshirting his indoor and outdoor track seasons, Saarel ran 3:37 unattached and went into the Olympic Trials where he "strained [his] hamstring for the 4th time since March" in the final 100 meters of the first round.

Very few runners have been as dominant as Saarel has been since the start of his collegiate career. I could go on and on about all of the incredibles races in his career, but just know that prior to the 2015 season, Saarel had placed outside of the top 10 only once in his career. Two finishes in the top 10 at nationals also help his case as to why he should be in the top 20.

Saarel is obviously talented enough to be in the top 10. But when I hear that he's strained his hamstring four times in five months, I get super cautious about how he'll run in the fall. If he can come out strong and show me that he's healthy, look for him to make a big jump in the rankings.

16. Edwin Kibichiy, Rs. Senior, Louisville
Edwin Kibichiy may be one of the most consistent runners in the NCAA. In last year's preseason top 50, Kibichiy was ranked 16th. At the end of the 2015 season, Kibichiy was ranked 16th. Now he'll enter the 2016 season ranked...16th.

Kibichiy began last season by cruising to 2nd at the Commodore Classic and preparing for Louisville's home meet, the Greater Louisville Classic. In his own backyard, Kibichiy once again placed 2nd and set his sites on Pre-Nats. He may not have placed 2nd again, but he placed a very solid 13th overall. Once the post-season came around, Kibichiy returned to finishing in the top three with a 3rd place finish at ACC's and a 3rd place finish at regionals. Throughout his five races in 2015, not once did he show any signs of letting up. So it was quite a surprise when Kibichiy failed to grab All-American honors at nationals and ended up finishing in the heartbreaking 41st place.

If you were to go to Vegas and bet on runners (because that's totally a thing), Kibichiy would probably be one of the safest guys to bet on. Yes, NCAA's was a big surprise for everyone who follows the sport as closely as I do (so maybe two others), but don't think that it's going to be a trend for an 8:30 steeplechaser. If he's going to improve in the rankings, I would really like to see him get a couple wins in addition to doing better at nationals. If he can do that, then the top 10 will not be out of reach for him.

15. Jacob Burcham, Senior, Oklahoma
Just like Wynne, Burcham was in a small group of top-tier milers that had breakout seasons and showed that they could still be competitive during cross. In fact, Burcham did so well that he won the Zatlin Award for Best Breakout Runner.

Panorama Farms would be the first of many surprising races for Jacob Burcham during the 2015 season. In that race, he finished 4th overall and quickly put his name in the top 50 rankings. Even with his great start, I questioned if it was just a one race fluke. At Wisconsin, Burcham proved to me that he was the real deal with an incredible 11th place finish. Burcham was building momentum and doing so rapidly. After placing 2nd at BIG 12's, Burcham entered a very underrated Mid-West region that would produce multiple All-Americans in the coming weeks. That, however, did not phase Burcham as he fought Wisconsin Invite champ Marc Scott to the line to finish 2nd. Not only was Burcham running consistently well, but he getting even better as time went on. Just when we thought that the Oklahoma junior couldn't impress us anymore, he tore through Tom Sawyer Park and placed 16th overall at nationals which was the cherry on top of a truly incredible season.

There's really not a lot to dislike about Burcham. He had such an incredible season during 2015 that it's tough to point out any flaws. I'll be curious to see how much better he can get after such a crazy improvement in his fitness. If he can grab a couple wins this season, then the top 10 could be in his future.

14. Jerrell Mock, Junior, Colorado State
13. Jefferson Abbey, Senior, Colorado State
Mock and Abbey might be the best 1-2 punch in the NCAA. We saw them shut down talented individuals and get big wins throughout the 2015 seasons. With a young successful coach and slew of talented teammates to train with, Abbey and Mock will be a dangerous combo.

Roy Griak is one of the first big meets of the season and there is often a lot of excitement surrounding the results it yields. When the gun sounded at Griak, the CSU duo didn't look back as Abbey and Mock took the top two spots. When they traveled to Notre Dame a week later, they continued to impress with Abbey placing 6th and Mock placing 11th. These two were on a roll, and kept that momentum going as they headed into Pre-Nats. Once again, it was Abbey taking 16th and Mock placing 17th. Just when it seemed that the two were inseparable, Abbey had his first slip up of the season at the Mountain West championships. Mock was able to pull away for the title, but Abbey finished 8th. Abbey's finish ended up costing the Rams a conference title which was most likely what fueled his 5th place finish at regionals. Mock, of course, was 6th in that race. When it came time for the pair to battle a 252-person field, they ended the race six spots away from each other. Abbey placed 13th and Mock 19th.

Abbey and Mock may be the most exciting duo to run in the NCAA since Cheserek and Jenkins. They're able to get wins and consistently put up impressive results. They'll need to improve at meets like Pre-Nats and Notre Dame, but they have shown just how good they can be in any kind of race whether it be strength oriented or tactical.

12. Malachy Schrobilgen, Senior, Wisconsin
No one could've expected that an established program like Wisconsin would fail to qualify for their 44th straight national championship. There were plenty of reasons that their streak ended, but one of those reasons was because of the injury that derailed their star leader in the post-season.

Last year, Malachy entered the 2015 season with an Etrain ranking of 6 and, for a while, lived up to that ranking. After treating the Greater Louisville Classic and Iona Paddy Doyle Invite as workouts, Schrobilgen's first true effort would be in his own backyard at the Wisconsin Invite. On his home course, Schrobilgen fought for the lead late in the race. His strategy backfired a bit as a barrage of kicks put him in 5th. Still, there was no doubt that Malachy was at the top of his game. Two weeks later, we were supposed to see the Wisconsin star battle with Ferlic, McClintock, and Lafond at BIG 10's. Unfortunately, the defending BIG 10 champion would have to pull out with an injury and surrender his title. Fans would have to wait until regionals to see if Malachy would cross the line. When regionals finally did arrive, Malachy was able to cross the 33rd place. He fought through an injury in hopes that his Wisconsin Badgers would be able to make another appearance at NCAA's. That, of course, did not happen.

I can't fault Schrobilgen for being injured. It happens to the best runners in the world. It would also be criminal to ignore his sophomore season as a Badger. In 2014, Schrobilgen won the BIG 10 title, was runner-up at regionals, and placed 10th at NCAA's.

It pains me to keep Schrobilgen out of the top 10 even though he may be my favorite collegiate distance runner (probably helps that he has a cool name too). I kept him out of the top 10 because we still haven't seen him race since regionals last year. I'm also not sure what his health is like and I like to stay on the cautious side. I have the utmost confidence that Schrobilgen is capable of returning to the top 10 and even dipping into the top 5 if everything goes right and he is in fact healthy

11. John Dressel, Sophomore, Colorado
I desperately wanted to put Dressel in the top 10, but I just couldn't find any room for him in such a talented group. The young Buffalo had a huge impact for Colorado last year, especially at a time when they didn't have Saarel. Clutch running is just part of the reason why he's at 11th.

We first saw Dressel make his college debut at Pre-Nats where he placed 46th overall. For most freshmen, that would be an awesome finish...but John Dressel isn't like "most freshmen". Dressel would reappear at PAC-12's and surprise fans across the country by placing 6th overall. He would later place an unexciting 19th at regionals. With nationals fast approaching, Dressel's performances became more and more important as Saarel's health concerns made the Buffalo's more vulnerable to an upset. When it came time to defend the title at nationals, the frosh was ready. Dressel locked down the 26th spot and ended the day as Colorado's third scorer. But even with the clutch performance by Dressel, the Buffalo's fell 9 points short of defending the team title. Dressel and his team went home with silver.

It took some time to adjust, but Dressel was clutch when it counted the most. Obviously, he is incredibly talented and can hang with some of the best guys in the nation. We also saw him continue to mature on the track this past spring with PR's of 13:48 and 29:20. With so many members of Colorado's varsity squad graduating, the pressure will be on Dressel to become an ace and lead the squad as just a sophomore. One year of experience may not be a lot, but when you have the Wetmore factor on your side, anything is possible.

PA HS XC Top 50: #20-11

by Jarrett Felix

Here's the second to last post on the top 50! We will reveal our top 10 for both High School and NCAA on twitter throughout the day before releasing the official posts so if you are into that sort of thing, give us a follow @TheRealTrain11

51. Aaron Pfeil, Senior South Fayette (7 AA)
50. Sam Snodgrass, Junior South Fayette (7 AA)
49. Jakob Jorgensen, Senior Epsicopal (Ind)
48. Jonah Powell, Sophomore Grove City (10 AA)
47. Sam Morgan, Junior Parkland (11 AAA)
46. Christian Babo, Junior Harbor Creek (10 AA)
45. Austin Maxwell, Senior Kennent (1 AAA)
44. Alex Tomasko, Senior Mechanicsburg (3 AAA)
43. Jack Zardecki, Junior Dallas (2 AA)
42. Ben Littman, Senior Winchester Thurston (7 A)
41. Brian Mass, Senior CB West (1 AAA)

40. Mike Morris, Sophomore Hershey (3 AAA)
39. Jesse Cruise, Senior Cedar Crest (1 AAA)
38. Jake O'Neill, Senior DT West (1 AAA)
37. Bryan Keller, Senior CR North (1 AAA)
36. James Abrahams, Senior Haverford (1 AAA)
35. Hunter Crawley, Senior South Williamsport (4 A)
34. Ryan Barton, Senior DT West (1 AAA)
33. Donovan Meyers, Senior Seneca (10 A)
32. Isaac Davis, Junior Jersey Shore (4 AA)
31. Brandon Hontz, Senior West Chester Rustin (1 AAA)

30. Noah Beveridge, Junior Butler (7 AAA)
29. Matt D'Aquila, Senior Lower Merion (1 AAA)
28. Ryan Campbell, Junior CR North (1 AAA)
27. Connor Walsh, Senior Cambridge Springs (10 A)
26. Tristan Forsythe, Junior Winchester Thurston (7 A)
25. Ben Bumgarner, Senior Waynesburg Central (7 AA)
24. Casey Conboy, Senior Baldwin (7 AAA)
23. Evan Addison, Junior LaSalle (12 AAA)
22. Morgan Cupp, Junior Mechanicsburg (3 AAA)
21. Seth Slavin, Senior Pleasant Valley (11 AAA)

20. Ben Clouse, Senior Sewickley Academy (7 A)
If not for an unfortunate injury at the PIAA state meet, it’s not impossible to imagine Sewickley Academy  with the #1 and #2 returners from the state meet. He and Griffin Mackey took 1-2 at the Foundation Invitational just a few months before states and 2-3 at the WPIAL championships. Plus Clouse was second in the A classification at the Red, White and Blue Invitational (behind Mackey again) and second at the Slippery Rock Invite (behind only oscar winner Nick Wolk). He’s a member of the two time defending WPIAL team champions and will be training with the defending state champion (as well as talented frosh Henry Maekem) in 2016 looking to duplicate the big jump he made a year ago. Assuming he’s healthy (he didn’t run any track this year), Clouse is not just a top 20 guy in the state, he might even have a shot at top 10.

19. Noah Curtin, Senior Mercyhurst Prep (10 A)
The last three seasons, the A state meet has featured a Curtin brother in the top 3. Noah broke through under the bright lights last November for easily his most impressive race of the season, rolling to a 2nd place overall finish in A with a 16:14 time. He had some other highlights during the season (15:48 at McQuaid for 3 miles), but mainly Curtin turned it on best during championship season. On the track, he had his most successful season by far dropping a 4:24 for 1600 and a very quick 9:28 for 3200 at Baldwin, both big PRs. This year he goes for a 3rd straight top 15 finish and a 4th straight top 3 finish for the Curtin brothers (Sebastian was 3rd and 2nd in 2013 and 2014). I think sub 16 is in the cards for Noah, especially in a loaded A field, but he will need to have another brilliantly timed peak. Let’s see if he can be clutch once again.

18. Eric Kennedy, Senior Kiski (7 AAA)
The WPIAL proved during this past track season that they are one of the best districts in the state. Someone in this district is going to have a breakout year like Nick Wolk or Marc Migliozzi and become a star. Maybe that someone is Eric Kennedy? The Kiski runner has had problems with health during XC, but this past track season we saw what a fit and healthy Kennedy could accomplish. He ran 4:17 for second at WPIALs, finished 8th at states and then dropped a monster 1:56.04 at John Hay to win the slower section.

Last year, Kennedy raced very sparingly, but he showed his XC potential in the Spike Shoe Invite at PSU. He finished 3rd overall in that meet, second for PA athletes, and defeated a variety of future Top 50 finishers at states. As a sophomore in 2014, he finished tops in his class at WPIAL  championships (15th overall). This came a year after he finished as the WPIALs top freshman in 28th. And, much like Ryan Campbell, Eric’s older brother was a Footlocker Finalist back in 2012 (as a junior). If Eric can find a way to stay healthy, he’s going to be very tough to beat this fall.

17. Kyler Shea, Senior Lower Dauphin (3 AAA)
Kyler Shea was consistently in the top 25 of my rankings a year ago and looked like a good bet for a state medal in Hershey. He finished 3rd at Big Spring (behind only Nate Henderson and Zach Lefever), 2nd at Mid Penns, 9th at Carlisle in 15:59 (#5 for PA behind only Hoey, Hoey, Henderson and Sappey) and 5th at districts. Shea ended up finishing just 33rd at states, which is still incredibly impressive, but perhaps not as high as he was hoping. He was 34th as a sophomore (and 8th at Districts) so he has consistently been a top tier talent and I think he will come out with a vengeance this season, seeking his first state medal. Remember, Lower Dauphin has turned into quite the power in recent years produced state medalists Cole Nissley and Sean Weidner as well as district champion Jeff Groh (who won as a sophomore). Shea has great training partners in Colton Cassell and Jared Giannascoli who are both top 50 threats this year and is fresh off a track season that included a 9:30.12 3200m PR at the heat of states (he finished 13th). I think this kid has a ton of upside and could definitely surprise with a top 5 finish at the state meet if things break right.

16. Connor McMenamin, Senior Souderton (1 AAA)
A two time top 50 XC finisher, Souderton’s Connor McMenamin has been one of the sport’s best distance runners when healthy. He missed this past spring, but indoors he finished 6th in the mile with a 4:22.30 and grabbed his first state medal. The previous spring, he ran in the 9:20s for 3200 and qualified for the state championship in that event. But McMenamin’s best work has definitely been on the grass. He ran 15:44 at Lehigh last year for 7th in the district and also ran an identical 15:44 mark at the Suburban One Championships at the same course. Although McMenamin had a rare off day at Hershey last year, he finished 31st at states as a sophomore. In addition, Connor has been in 18th and 15th with a mile to go the past two years at states. If he can find the extra strength in his senior season to finish that final mile, he will end the season in the top 10 on this list without a doubt.

15. Mark Provenzo, Senior Franklin Regional (7 AAA)
For almost a decade, the WPIAL has had a clear alpha dog leading the way throughout the season in cross country. A year ago, it was Peters Township’s Nick Wolk, who made a big leap forward starting in the summer and never slowing down. Heading into 2016, this year’s version of Wolk might be Franklin Regional’s Mark Provenzo. Provenzo was on fire to finish out his XC campaign last fall. He was the #2 PA runner at Sharpsville (behind Zach Skolnekovich), won the West Moreland race in a blazing 15:38, finished 3rd at WPIALs and then earned his first ever state medal with a 20th place finish at Hershey. Provenzo continued to prove his worth on the track when he ran 9:26 for 3200. He’s the top returner from the WPIAL XC season for both Districts and States and he’s hoping to hold his ground at that spot in 2016.

14. Liam Conway, Junior Owen J. Roberts (1 AAA)
This past track season, Liam Conway had one of the most effective seasons of any runner. When you consider the fact that he was just a sophomore, it’s mind blowing. Conway ran 1:54, 4:15 and 9:24 in the three major distance events. Indoors, he qualified for states in all three events and outdoors he made the 1600 state final. Conway isn’t just a track guy as he’s been one of the state’s top runners in his class since his freshman year breakthrough at Paul Short. Last season, Conway placed in the top 10 at big time invitationals like Foundation and Paul Short, was 11th at districts and 28th at states (just 3 seconds behind the final medal spot).

Conway will lose some key training partners in 2016, but he will also have a ton of individual motivation when he hits the trails. He has come up just short of a medal each of the past three seasons and guys who have had that type of bad luck (Vinny Todaro, Tony Russell) tend to bounce back with a vengeance: especially if they are as talented as Conway.
13. Nick Feffer, Senior State College (6 AAA)
In PA history, there have been few 800 meter specialists that have placed in the top 12 of the AAA state championship. Sure, there are 1600/800 types who have done well (Crits, Endress, Hoey, Brehm), but very few 800 centric type guys. The closest would be Chris Ferry (11th in 2006) and Zack Montijo (6th in 2007) who both earned state medals in the 800 the winter and spring after their XC prowess. However, they both focused on the 1600 the seasons before they placed in the top 12. On the flip side, the AAA 800m state champ has finished in the top 50 at XC states just 3 times in the fall immediately before their title run. Those finishes were 26th, 29th and 34th.   

So you are probably wondering, what’s the point? Well, I’m setting the stage to talk about one of the most intriguing runners on this year’s list: Nick Feffer. Feffer was 22nd at states a season ago and also finished 3rd at Mid Penns, 6th at Foundation (top returner) and 2nd at Districts (top returner again). He’s the #7 returner in AAA. Meanwhile, on the track, Feffer dropped a 1:52 split and then ran 1:53.50 to take 4th in the outdoor 800 final on the double (setting him up as the top returner for 2016). Feffer has solid mile strength (4:20 for 1600), but it’s clear that he’s more 800 centric than say his teammate Alex Milligan (who placed 16th at XC states as a junior and 1st at D6 last year). That sets Feffer up with the opportunity to become one of the only true 800 specialists to place in the top 10 in XC in the sport’s history. Pretty cool.
Feffer is a clutch performer who has brought his A game to the state championship on more than one occasion (he’s run big PRs the past two spring state championships and had his best race of this past XC season on the Hershey hills). Let’s see if he can continue his hot streak with the pressure on as a senior leader in 2016.

12. Liam Galligan, Senior Springfield Delco (1 AAA)
Just getting a state medal is difficult. But imagine grabbing 4th place in both the indoor and outdoor state championships in your event. That’s what Liam Galligan was able to do in the mile, finishing 4th indoors with a 4:19 and 4th outdoors with a 4:15.03. The only guys who finished top 4 both indoors and outdoors were Jaxson Hoey, Josh Hoey, Dominic Hockenbury, Domenic Perretta, Mike Kolor and Matt Wisner. Essentially, your nominees for best actor in the 2015-2016 season. And notice that only Josh Hoey is a returner from that group and trust me, he will be prominently featured on this list.

Galligan’s impressive track marks are consistent with his XC credentials although likely slightly superior. Galligan already has two top 50 finishes in the state for cross country and finished 21st a year ago on the hills. Liam timed his peak beautifully over the course of the season as he went from 8th at Delcos to 4th at Centrals then 14th at districts and finally his 21st finish at the state meet. That’s a strong progression. To crack the top 10 on this list, he will need to prove he can be a consistently dominant front runner on the trails, but he should have plenty of opportunities in his senior season to do just that.

11. Rusty Kujdych, Junior Neshaminy (1 AAA)
I often talk about experience, especially for cross country and the difficult Hershey course. However, as just a sophomore who never raced the Hershey course before, Rusty Kujdych ran a gutsy race and finished 19th in the state with a time of 16:13. That’s a monster performance. It took Rusty a little time to find his groove during his last XC season (he was 34th at Paul Short), but once he found it, the kid was nearly unstoppable. He ran 15:48 at William Tennent, 15:53 for 2nd at Leagues and 15:55 for 12th at districts prior to the 19th place finish at states. On the track, the sophomore ran 8:48 for 3k and 9:22 for 3200m (which somehow didn’t make states in the wacky district one). That 9th place finish in D1 that ended his track season should give an extra spark to an already talented and motivated runner. Rusty is never afraid to front run and chase a fast pace and at Hershey that attitude could just make him a surprise title contender in 2016. 

The League

By Jarrett Felix

Track and field, for all intents and purposes, is an individual sport. In high school and college, there is a team competition element and in the Olympics, we will count medals, but compared to a sport like basketball or baseball, the logistics and excitement are inferior. For that reason (in part anyway), there is no professional cross country or track league in the United States (or the world, but as a typical self-centered American, I’ll keep it to the US). However, a couple of exciting new groups are taking a stab at making this possible. And no, none of those groups are etrain crica 2014.

Let’s back up a second. First, there was the American Track League. You may have seen the Atlanta or Houston meets on TV that featured some of the nation’s best athletes like Ashton Eaton, Ajee Wilson, Matt Centrowitz and Clayton Murphy. The meet let fans down to the track, had cheerleaders and tried to make the sport more spectator friendly. I have my own personal qualms with it (the kids on the track clamoring to steal Jenna Prandini’s headband weren’t my favorite and there was some suspect interviewing), it seemed to generate some excitement from the youth and at least get people talking. Plus a Murphy vs. Centrowitz match up in a 1k made me drool a little bit.

But the ATL was missing something. So enter the TrackTown Series. When we talk track, it seems it’s impossible to avoid the “Historic Hayward Field” (count the number of times this phrase is said on a typical ESPN NCAA broadcast. It may actually be possible that you can’t say Hayward Field without the Historic), and former U of O Head Coach Vin Lananna is working hard to create track’s first ever league featuring a legitimate team concept. The league will have four teams: New York, Portland, San Francisco and Philadelphia (shout out). Each team will feature both male and female competitors competing in a variety of distances and field events. And there will even be a 4 mile road race where fans get to toe the line with pros.

The first event is coming this Friday night beginning at 9:30 east coast time on ESPN. Not too shabby. It will feature some 2016 Olympians including top flight medal contenders like Matt Centrowitz, Shannon Rowbury, Brittany Reese and even Canadian Melissa Bishop. Again, we are talking minimum amounts of shabby-ness. The goal is to have 2 athletes from each team in each event (they get pretty close to this goal, although it’s not always perfect) creating a total of 8 participants and then awarded points based on finish. It’s 9 points for 1st, 7 for 2nd and then 6-5-4-3-2-1 for the next six places. At the end of the first night, the winning team will be awarded a trophy for their efforts.

The teams are set and you can find them here. Same can be said for a schedule of events at this link. What you probably didn’t know, is that there was actually a draft for this league (Philly’s first round pick Boris Berian isn’t competing in this year’s event) on Twitter where many of the top names were revealed and put on teams. However, that wasn’t incredibly well marketed so even a die-hard fan like myself didn’t tune in to the twitter-verse until it was too late.

Which I guess leads to the part of the post where I get critical. I want to stress that, overall, I think this is a fantastic idea and I’m optimistic this will be an interesting innovation that draws in a few more fans and, at the very least, gives an opportunity for athletes to grow their brand and make more money from the sport. I’d love to see our best athletes get some support. But I do have one or two (or seven) criticisms of the process so far. And heck, most of them aren’t even really the organizers fault, they are more just issues with how are sport is set up in general.

For starters, it’s hard to believe they put together a team competition without some type of relay. Maybe a 4x100 where you pull in your long jump talent to help with the sprints, a medley relay of the distance or sprint variety or a classic 4x4. All would be worthy additions to the itinerary. But relays aren’t possible. For people who have so much money invested in their health, they won’t want to take silly risks in events that aren’t their specialty. Sounds stupid, but unfortunately I feel like it’s the way people think. Basically everyone trains super hard for one meet (Olympics and world champs) and everything else is just supposed to be part of the plan.

They also won’t have official team uniforms as far as I’ve heard. They will have colored bibs which is a decent substitute, but I’m really sad we won’t be seeing some cool uniforms. I would buy a Philadelphia (Insert Sponsors Name Here) racing singlet for sure. The teams can’t do uniforms because of sponsorships. The primary moneymaker in our sport is your shoe contract and people from Asics or Brooks don’t want their athletes wearing other people’s gear during the few times of year where the athletes actually race (and they aren’t wearing Nike dominated team USA garb).

I get it, but can’t they compromise and make shirts in a certain color and just change the logo depending on the athlete? To me, it seems like a better marketing opportunity anyway. Like I would buy a Robby Andrews jersey for sure. Adidas just slaps on their logo large and in the corner or the back or whatever and just makes it the New York team’s color. Then I’m wearing the Adidas logo and I’m paying them the money to wear it. Seems like a good return on an investment for sponsorship dollar in Robby Andrews. That’s a win for everybody. Sponsor, athlete, track league and Jarrett Felix, certified Robby Andrews enthusiast.

And I gotta say, I feel like the point system is a little too complicated. I’m not sure I’m really going to want to be doing the math during the men’s 1500 trying to figure what it takes for Philly to stage a comeback. I’m more of a fan of the 5-3-1 system for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I like math and all, but coming up with one set of circumstances has to fall into place when literally everyone in the field will score points in a given just seems way too complicated. I mean imagine if in basketball, there were six basketballs and you had 1, 2, 3 and 4 pointers. The last possession would be impossible to keep track of and lack drama, even with incredibly capable announcers (which, guess what, track and field has struggled to find).

Sorry, I know I'm harshing the vibe here and probably coming across as a bit too negative. I just enjoy the sport. A lot. And I want it to be more socially acceptable that I do. And this league could really do something about it.

And that’s the thing. This idea is really great. If we can find the right system (and this will take time, no matter who is in charge and what the ideas are), then we could get something pretty exciting going for our sport. Our old methods aren’t working. We need to get innovative and we need to take chances. Doing something different, even if not perfect, to try and break the mold, get some publicity and grow the sport is an awesome idea. I know I will be watching on Friday night (even if it’s past my bedtime) and I hope plenty of you will as well.