Past Week One Breakthroughs

Yes, it’s only the first week of meets, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have breakthrough performances or emerging sleepers right from the jump. I’ve compiled some of the biggest week one storylines over the past 10+ years from some of the very same meets that will be contested this coming weekend. Hopefully you recognize some familiar names. I’m looking forward to adding more names to this list in the very near future.

P.S. Make sure to hit us in the comments section with the “Other” answers that so many people are listing in the poll. And feel free to share some of your favorite breakthrough opening weekend performers from year’s past.

Austin Pondel, Corry (McDowell 2012)
During his junior season, Pondel proved he was a strong cross country runner. He medaled at states and was among the top 7 PA finisher at the Footlocker Regional Championships. However, he was still a relative unknown when compared to the likes of Dan Jaskowak of Grove City (within his own district), not to mention the District One super powers. As far as most were concerned, Pondel was good but not great.

Well the senior quickly changed the narrative as he started his 2012 season with a blazing 15:36 for the 5k at McDowell. Pondel smoked a strong western field that included reigning 1600 meter state champ Ryan Smathers and fellow returning state medalist Ean DiSilvio by 37 and 21 seconds respectively. That started a huge year for Pondel that included a sub 16 at Hershey and a Footlocker Nationals appearance.

Dave Adley, Baldwin (Gateway 2007)
It seems like every year there is a dominant individual force in the WPIAL, but entering the 2007 XC season we didn’t think it would be Dave Adley. Heck, if it was a Baldwin runner, most would have bet on TJ Hobart, the sophomore sensation with 1:52 speed. But Adley emerged from the jump as a contender and never relinquished his spot. He won the Gateway Invite in 17:28 (listed as a then course record) and finished the season as WPIAL champion in Coopers a few months later. All this after Adley was a complete non-factor in the championship picture a year prior. Dave also dropped into the 9:20s on the track and clocked a 4:16 for 1600 meters producing a terrific breakout senior year after being a relative no name in D7.

Mitchell Etter, State College (Big Valley 2016)
Etter’s results were hidden in the JV race, but the then junior raced to a 16:44 completely uncontested across the Big Valley course. That time won the race by 100 seconds and would have placed him 6th in the varsity race. Although Etter got injured this past fall, he raced to multiple fast 3200s on the track and earned a spot in the preseason top 50 rankings. We will see what he has this year when he takes to the course.

Michael Stolar, Mercyhurst Prep (McDowell 2006)
We are going way back in the archives for this one. Stolar was 20th at states as a junior at Mercyhurst Prep and, although that finish is nothing to gloss over, he was buried on the returners list behind some big names including the 5th place finisher Ben Hahn. But Stolar showed he was ready to make a big leap right from the jump at his opening invite. He dropped a 15:49 to defeat Hahn by 5 seconds. Both runners were over a minute ahead of the rest of the field in this epic dual. At states, the two would finish within a second of one another, this time Hahn had the edge with his 4th place finish while Stolar took 5th. Mike made up 12 seconds on Hahn over the final mile, but came up just short of edging out the eventual 3200 state champion from outdoors.

Dylan Mountain, Altoona (Big Valley 2011)
With all-time great Wade Endress now at Penn State, Altoona would need some step up performers if they were going to stay at the top of the state rankings. The man expected to lead the charge in 2011 was Korey Replogle, who had served as Endress’s #2 the previous fall and earned a state medal for his trouble. However, Dylan Mountain quickly asserted himself as a name to watch. The senior blazed to a 16:25 victory at Big Valley. After being a relative non-factor on the state scene as a junior, Mountain climbed into the state medals finishing 21st. He also posted terrific marks at Tri-States and Districts. Dylan went on to have a fantastic collegiate career at Lock Haven.

Jake Susalla, Plum (Gateway 2013)
The Martin twins were coming off a terrific year on the track. Ethan was a surprise state champion in the 3200 and Colin had dropped major time to break 9:20 and join his twin on the medal stand. Entering the 2013 season, both runners were among the title contenders in a loaded WPIAL. But at the opening invite of the season, they got an unexpected challenge. Sophomore Jake Susalla finished the course in 17:27, just 2 seconds back of the Martin twins who raced together in 17:25. The Plum sophomore didn’t make a big tent in the 2013 season, but in 2014 he was 3rd in the WPIAL and a state medalist. Then, in 2015, Susalla overcame an injury ridden fall to explode to sub 16 on the Hershey course, posting a top 8 finish at States.

Will Kachman, Bedford (Big Valley 2013)
As just a sophomore, Kachman entered the Big Valley Invitational with something to prove. He had been solid as a freshman in AA, but hadn’t made a major impact on the state scene. However, he quickly established himself as a contender, defeating State College’s Will Cather 16:16 to 16:17. Kachman went on to finish 3rd at the state championships in AA. Will also won the Big Valley race each of the next two seasons. Kachman stacked a lot of medals in his trophy case over his XC career and, as a senior, posted one of the fastest ever AA times on the Hershey layout. Cather had a strong showing in his own right. The senior placed 25th at states and led State College to a top five finish as a team.

Mount Lebanon (Marty Uher 2011)
There was a lot of talk entering the 2011 season about the talented group of returners at Mount Lebanon High School. Although they had some depth, it was hard to imagine this school competing for a state or district championship considering they ran in the same section of the state as North Allegheny and would have to contend with D1 powers like Henderson. Well, Lebo blazed out the gates and put themselves on the map from the jump by taking the top 7 spots at their opening invite, led by defending state medalist Alex Moran. Although Lebo didn’t ultimately grab their coveted titles, they still posted one of the best finishes in school history by taking 4th place in the state. Lebo was one of the breakout stories of a wacky year in 2011 that included the rise of O’Hara and the resurgence of North Penn.

Alex Milligan, State College (Big Valley 2014)
Milligan had a solid sophomore season on the track, gaining fame as a key alternate for the 2014 4x800 state champions from State College. However, he really hit his stride his junior season. Milligan opened the year running 16:24 to take 2nd at the Big Valley Invite, ahead of district rival and state medalist Brad Foust as well as defending district champ Dominic Stroh. Milligan would go on to win the District title and place 16th at states that season.

Colin Abert, Easton (Northampton 2011)
It’s not every day that a sub 15 5k guy comes waltzing through Pennsylvania. But back in 2011, a freshman by the name of Colin Abert started his journey to that historic number. Abert won the Northampton Invite as just a freshman with a time of 16:22. Although he didn’t return to the course in the years that followed, Abert went on to take 12th, 2nd and 5th at states in the next three years with three district titles and a sub 15 performance at Paul Short.

Dominic Hockenbury, Lake Lehman (Cliff Robbins 2014)

We already knew that Dominic Hockenbury was good. He took 2nd at states in 2013 and finished his sophomore track season as state champ in the 3200. But Hockenbury proved he belonged among the state’s elite, regardless of school size, right from the jump in 2014. The eventual 5 time state champion clocked a 15:51 to dominate the Cliff Robbins Invite and assert himself as a potential Footlocker Finalist. It was the first of two straight championships for Hock at this meet. 

TheRealTrain Course Comparison Database

For those of you who didn’t see it, here was an idea from one of our readers named Jiminy Cricket:

Etrain, how would you feel about creating some sort of comparison system for XC courses/meets? Since every course is different, it would be useful to be able to take someone's time and convert it into a time that works across the board (same idea as Speed Ratings, but this would be much more informal). I'm thinking we use the states course as the baseline/reference point.

For instance, from my experience, the updated Red White and Blue course (Schenley Park) is about 30-40 seconds quicker than the new Hershey course. Cooper's Lake is roughly 15-20 seconds faster than Hershey. The idea is that we get a bunch of people to comment with their own subjective conversions, agree on a consensus, and then have an idea of how fast an individual performance is on a known course (to most people). Hopefully, we cover just about every major meet throughout the season so we can judge each runner's time.

Again, just an idea. But I think this will be real useful, especially as XC starts back up and we don't know how credible breakout performances really are (flashing back to David Endres going like 15:45 in the 1st meet last year). Let me know what you think!

Personally, I think this is a very interesting idea and, with the right input from all of you, I think we could build our own little database of sorts. Hopefully you guys agree and we can work together to start piecing something together that will grow in the years that follow.

For starters, I’m putting together an excel sheet that will have some more numerical inputs to use to create a less subjective approach. Once I get the beginnings of that sheet up and running, I’ll post it up online and readers can add to it. I’ll explain all the ins and outs of the sheet once it’s ready.

In the meantime, I think it’s important to also have a subjective component of this. We need to make sure the numbers make sense with what we logically think because there are a lot of variables that go into this undertaking (time of year, weather, competition, natural variability, etc.). So I think we should start getting comments of course comparisons from the readers.

There are a lot of ways to contribute, but I think what is most important is to get a variety of ideas and discussions. Some ideas on how to share your thoughts:

1) Give a straightforward conversion. Maybe you think Lehigh’s 5k course is 45 seconds faster than Cooper’s Lake. Or maybe you think Carlisle’s course is 15 seconds faster than Big Spring’s. These give us a feel for how courses stack up and an easy way to compare times.

2) Rank courses in difficulty. Maybe you have run a bunch of different courses in your career. You can provide a quick ranking from easiest to hardest of the layouts. For example, say you raced 5 courses over the year. You may rank them from easiest to hardest as:

Belmont Plateau

It doesn’t provide an exact # equivalence, but those are usually hard to hypothesize about. This gives an order that we should expect the times to trend. Remember, more than just hills goes into a course being hard. Bad footing, sharp turns or pavement sections could change your opinion even more than hills.

3) Provide some insight on courses that aren’t particularly well known. We know about the big courses, but what about some of the smaller invitationals? What about dual meet courses? If we get enough input, we can have data on these courses as well. People who are out in Erie County can benefit from those in the Catholic League and vice versa.

4) Provide info on how courses have changed over time. There are always changes going on to make something easier or harder. Maybe a course moved locations. These things can have an impact when we look back on year to year comparisons rather than just comparisons within a certain year.

Let me know what you guys think and be on the lookout for the spreadsheet as I continue to try and compile some data for us all.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Top Small School Runners Who Didn’t Make The Top 50: AA Individuals

Aiden Weber, Jr Harbor Creek (10)
Christian Babo made the XC Pre-Season Top 50 last year. Ryan Stravaggi made it this year. But Aiden Weber could end up being the best of the Harbor Creek big 3 in 2017. Weber was a state medalist last year, taking 21st overall just 1 second behind his teammate Stravaggi. A year earlier, as a freshman, Weber finished ahead of his district champion teammate and just outside the state’s top 50. He’s also run very quick marks of 16:26 and 10:03 plus he’s been 4th and 3rd at the District 10 championships. Weber is a stand out performer with a ton of potential just like his two star studded teammates. I’m excited to watch this young core in action.
Jarrett Raudenski, Jr York Suburban (3)
If York Suburban is going to get back to the top of the podium in 2017, they will lean on rising junior Jarrett Raudenski. Not only does he have a dope name, Jarrett also boasts state finishes of 38th and 40th in his first two high school seasons with district finishes of 3rd and 7th. Personally, I think this kid could be sitting on a big breakthrough as he enters his junior season. He reminds me a bit of his teammate Bryce Ohl who had been knocking on the door of state medal position for two seasons before a tremendous breakthrough his junior year where Ohl posted a top 10 finish. By the way, Ohl is among the many talented teammates who will be pushing Raudenski in practice and races each week. That should provide an extra boost for the 16:40/2:00 junior.
Mitchell Rome, Jr Dallas (2)
Speaking of the state title picture, the boys from Dallas are looking for a 3rd straight team title this year against Raudenski and York Suburban. The x-factor could end up being Mitchell Rome. Rome was the lone sophomore in Dallas’s top 5 from the 2016 state meet and, as the youngest scorer, may have the most upside of the bunch heading into 2017. Rome made the jump from 73rd as a freshman (which was amazingly just the 10th best freshman performance in his loaded class) to 37th as a sophomore (9th best, yes this class is still loaded) and was a key contributor in two tight title races. I probably don’t need to say this again, but Rome does have a pretty famous last name in Dallas circles as well. No pressure of course. His own times speak well enough for themselves as he’s clocked 16:43 and 10:01 before even starting his 3rd year of high school running. Dallas vs. York Suburban is going to be one heck of a match up this year.
Jacob Pasake, Sr Western Wayne (2)
There’s not much to dislike here. Pasake proved his worth last year with a 3rd place finish at districts and a 12th place finish at states. He’s the #7 returner for states and the first AA medalist to be left out of the Top 50. In fact, only Manheim Central’s David Merkey ran a faster time at Hershey last year across all classifications without breaking onto the preseason top 50 list for 2017. Add in the fact that Pasake’s track bests are 4:31, 9:08 (3k) and 9:53 and you’ve got yourself a very deserving member of the honorable mention club. He’s already got a best of 16:18 for 5k so this could be a big year for the Western Wayne senior.
Nate Price, Jr & Erik Andrzejewski, Jr General McLane (10)
General McLane was one of my favorite storylines from the final weeks leading up to states. A pair of sophomores helped lead this squad through a difficult district meet and onto states where both Nate Price and Erik Andrzejewski were top 40 finishers. In fact, Andrzejewski was the top finisher at states for all of District 10. He absolutely caught fire down the stretch en route to that 18th place finish at states. His success should be a confidence booster for Price as well who is fresh off a track season that included times of 4:28 and 9:38 for 1600 and 3200. Andrzejewski was not far behind in 4:31 and 9:41. Amazingly, D10 still basically has everyone back from the top of the district so these guys still have their work cut out for them if they want to get to states as a team and stay in the top 10 of D10. But they’ve got the talent and momentum to do a whole lot more than that in 2017.
Cejay Walker, Jr Somerset (5)
District 5 is rarely stealing the spotlight in Pennsylvania distance running, but Cejay Walker of Somerset has quietly been developing into a medal threat. After a strong freshman season, Walker came back better than ever as a sophomore. He has now run 16:38, finished in the top 50 at states and ran 2 flat for 800. The kid has range, a high quality teammate in Dominic Mazzariello (who is perhaps even better than Walker) and a steady progression that could mean another nice jump in 2017. Walker has his work cut out for him as 15 of the 25 state medalists return (as well as 26 of the top 40 and 32 of the top 40), but he’s got just as good of odds as anyone else at breaking through and sneaking into the top 25.
Le’Shawn Huff, Sr New Castle (7)
Huff is a bit of a wild card in 2017. The New Castle senior was 105th at states last year and isn’t even his squad’s #1 returner from districts (that’s rising soph Anthony Litrenta). However, Huff became something of a household name when he stunned the 1600 field at WPIALs and took the district title in a huge PR of 4:24.18. That’s moving. In the process he beat out a ton of top 50 guys, including multi time state medalist Sam Snodgrass.
Sometimes those big breakthroughs can do wonders for the mental side of the equation. Huff went from running 4:33 and 4:34 in his first two milesplit worthy invites in 2016 down to 4:24 in the blink of an eye. If he makes a comparable jump in XC, he will be a state medalist.   
Ethan Bernstein, Sr Saucon Valley (11) & John Koons, Jr Notre Dame (11)
A year ago, Ethan Bernstein was the District 11 champion in XC, but it was his rival John Koons of Notre Dame who left with the state medal. Bernstein has run some terrific times in the past year including a 16:18 5k and a 9:39 for 3200 meters. He also placed in the top 50 at states for XC. Koons boasts the state medal, taking 25th overall as just a sophomore. His 5k PR is only listed at 17:02 on milesplit, but he does boast a 16:04 for 3 miles. We will see if things hold consistent in 2017 or one of these runners builds up a clean sweep at districts and states.
Bryce Zapusek, Jr & Lucas Volpetti, Jr Holy Redeemer (2)
District 2 has proven itself as a high quality district in AA. With just two teams and 10 individuals, they’ve produced almost exclusively top 10 teams and top 50 placing individuals. Last year, 6 of the 10 at large qualifiers were in the top 50 and D2 in general had 13 top 50 guys. For comparison, District 3 had 5 in the top 50 (3 from YS) and District 7 had 10. Team wise, District 2 had the champs (Dallas) and the 10th place finishers (Holy Redeemer). Plus, Berwick, who didn’t make it to states out of the loaded D2, had 3 individuals in the top 45.
All this is basically a long way of saying, I trust in the district. That means I’m going to trust that some of its rising stars may be ready to step up in 2017. Bryce Zapusek and Lucas Volpetti seem like just as good of candidates as anyone. Zapusek was just outside the medals last year in 27th and he and Lucas were a key part of this team’s big 3 that allowed them to punch a somewhat surprise ticket to states. With 3 other varsity guys back, the momentum should continue to roll in the HR hallways. Don’t sleep on Volpetti this year. He had a heck of a season on the track running 4:35 and contributing to a 4th place 4x8 at states.

Top Small School Runners Who Didn’t Make The Top 50: A Individuals

Zac Tingley, Sr Lakeview (10)
Lakeview’s senior Zac Tingley is coming off a terrific junior campaign that included a state medal in XC and a 1:59.17 clocking in the 800 meters. Running in one of the deepest A districts, Tingley has taken 4th and 3rd the past two seasons at D10s. At the 2015 edition of states, Tingley was 6th among sophomores and then, a year later, finished 3rd among juniors. He’s the #4 returner for states in 2017. His Lakeview squad is also the deepest it’s ever been, meaning Tingley will have the extra motivation of a possible state qualifying birth.
Andrew Healey, So Holy Cross (2)
I’ve mentioned Healey a little bit already as my honorary #51 guy for this year’s top 50 list, but I’ll add him in here as well. Healey was just 3rd among freshman at the A state championship, however he was in 13th place overall at 2 miles before slipping back through the field to 33rd. That place alone would be impressive for a freshman rookie on the Hershey course, but I think he has the potential to hang out even better this coming season. We saw Healey shine on the outdoor track with a district championship in the 3200 and a fantastic state 3200 performance under 10 minutes. In many ways, Healey has the upside of Brendan Miller of Upper Dauphin who was in 10th at 2 miles at XC states a year ago before slipping back on the final mile as well.
Ben Barnes, Sr Riverview (7)
Barnes is a consistently strong performer. He was 27th at states as a sophomore and 19th at states as a junior. On the track, Barnes was a state qualifier in the 3200 out of the loaded District 7 AA (they had the top two finishers in the state this year). Like Tingley, Barnes should really benefit from a strong team. Riverview returns 6 varsity runners from their 11th place 2016 squad.
Ethan Knoebel, Jr Southern Columbia (4)
If you are looking for a fearless runner front runner with potential to mix it up at the front of the state field, look no further than Southern Columbia’s Ethan Knoebel. As a sophomore last year, Knoebel was unafraid to race at the front of loaded fields, including districts and states. At Hershey, he was 16th at the mile, but couldn’t hold that aggressive start. But I see a big jump in the standings for this kid as he enters that pivotal junior season. Knoebel was the #2 freshman in the state two years ago and then ran 16:25, 4:25 and 2 flat as a sophomore. There’s a ton of talent here and, considering Southern Columbia has been building up a strong squad to contend for the D4 championship, I think Knoebel should have the right pieces around him to make a leap into the state medals.
Christian Tanner, Jr & Darion Gregory, Jr Smethport (9)
District 9 had 7 top 30 finishers in 2016 and the district likely won’t cool off in 2017. Leading the way atop the sleeper board are Christian Tanner and Darion Gregory of Smethport. The young duo took 22nd and 29th at states this past fall, going from 5:26 at the mile (19 seconds out of the medal picture), to finishing times of 17:04 and 17:23. They passed an estimated 70 runners during that time and proved they had racing wisdom well beyond their years. This season, I think they will be able to get out a bit more aggressively and not have to waste quite as much energy passing people in the later stages of the race. I think they are really finding their rhythm on the Hershey hills and this could be a big year.
Chris Colwell, Sr Penns Valley (6)
Chris Colwell is a clutch dude. The District 6 champ was 21st at states, leading Penns Valley to a 9th place team finish at states. Colwell also finished as the team’s #1 runner his sophomore season, taking 34th at states for the #10 overall team. And as a freshman, he finished just a second back of the team’s #1 runner as Penns Valley took 8th as a team in the state (this was a wild year, Elk Lake got 4th with no top 20 team scorers and Penns Valley took 8th with no top 40 team scorers, you don’t see that every day). In summary, Colwell has always shown up in a big way come championship season. I would bet on him to continue that trend this senior season, especially considering how strong Penns Valley has the potential to be this year.
Jack Miller, Jr Jenkintown (1) & Tim Kennel, Sr Christopher Dock (1)
I really doubted the District One boys entering the state meet last year, but they showed up in a big week. D1 AA had three state medalists including two of the top three returners from states in Jack Miller and Tim Kennel. Right now, I’m set to underestimate this pair again as I didn’t put either of these two runners in my top 50 for the preseason. Considering these two are not just district rivals, but league rivals, they should provide strong competition for one another that, just like we saw last year, could culminate in clutch results at states.
Ben Hoffman, So Elk County Catholic (9)
Speaking of clutch results at states, then freshman Ben Hoffman moving from 43rd to 27th over the final mile at the 2016 state championships was the big reason that Elk County Catholic held on against Seneca in the team standings. Elk CC earned silver medals for their efforts and, with 4 of that impressive top 5 on the way back, are looming in the fight for gold this year. That should hinge on the development of Hoffman, a state qualifier in the 3200 this past track season. Hoffman is in a great program with lots of quality teammates and a history of success. Elk CC has a long list of state medalists and top 10 finishers including last year’s 7th placer Zach Wortman.
Wayne Reilly, Jr Tri Valley (11)
This is a deeper sleeper that I took note of toward the end of last fall. As a sophomore, Reilly stunned me with his District 11 championship in A. He then followed that up with a poised run at states where he consistently picked off runners to move from 91st to 62nd to 46th. On the track, Reilly further bolstered his confidence and experience by qualifying for states in the 3200. The kid doesn’t have a ton of flashy times, but he seems like a stronger racer who is growing quickly into a formidable opponent. I’m not saying he’s going to be state champ this fall, but I think Reilly could be one of the bigger surprises of the 2017 season.

2017 XC Team Rankings: All Classifications

Well friends, the world championships are officially over which means I can focus again on other things. One of those things? The 2017 Etrain Team Rankings. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be combining the rankings that you guys put up on the blog with my own to create a group team rankings to start the season. Now I only used posts that actually had state wide rankings to create the “commenter” rankings. If you made a note but didn’t actually provide full rankings, I read your note, in most cases I learned something from your note (lots of insightful stuff) and I incorporated that into my thinking for my own rankings, but there was not a reasonable mathematical formula to apply to the rankings for those type of comments. So I left them out. For my own rankings, I only went up to top 10 so if you see an “N/A” for my ranking it could mean anything from 11th to 111th (although I would bet closer to the former).

Anyway, without further ado, here are the top 10 rankings for each classification. Remember to check out the returners cheat sheets as well as the bulletin board material post for lots more feedback on just about every team around the state.

Honorable Mention: Masterman (ET: 10, Comments: N/A)

10. Elk Lake (ET: N/A, Comments: 8)
Elk Lake is a consistent, excellent program with some proven talent in Peyton Jones and Cody Oswald. They were both top 50 finishers in the state last year. The difficult question for Elk Lake will, of course, be making it out of their loaded district as Montrose is looming as a state title contender once again.

9. Riverview (ET: 9, Comments: 10)
The WPIAL has been consistently strong in A, having the top two teams in the state as recently as 2014. Riverview has spent the past few seasons gaining experience on the state course and their front runners are improving at the right time. Ben Barnes shines as the returning state medalist, but there could be a breakout from Michael Komaniak or Ryan Cecil this year that takes this team to another level.

8. Seneca (ET: 8, Comments: 9)
Seneca will be an interesting team to watch this upcoming fall. They lose the three key components of their state title contending squads in the Myers twins and Adam Hanes, but they do return a lot of other quality pieces who spent time developing under the Seniors leadership. The question becomes, will this team continue to move forward without their stars or will they struggle to find an identity? Personally, I think this team is going to continue to excel and win the district once again, however, it’s a tall order to ask for a team that loses it’s big three. I think Jake Schneider is the name to watch on this roster, but don’t sleep on Brock Smith either.

7. NE Bradford (ET: 6, Comments: 6)
The District 4 powerhouse is still probably my pick to make states, but they will get everything they can handle from Southern Columbia. I like the depth, I like the potential for some of their young guys to step up (especially some of the younger brothers on the roster), but they will have an uphill battle just to make the championships. Zak Smith looks like a sleeper pick for a state medal, but Mosier or Moore (or someone else we don’t know) will need to become a top 50 guy as well if this team is going to continue a remarkable top 5 streak.

6. Southern Columbia (ET: 5, Comments: 7)
I’m very high on this squad as exhibited by my top 5 ranking. They showed at Foundation last fall that all they need to be a top 5 team in A is an opportunity. Ethan Knoebel has the potential to be a top 10 guy in the state (maybe even top 5) after a terrific sophomore campaign and Nick Kuzo is no slouch as a #2. They return a hungry pack that has been chomping at the bit to rematch NEB and punch a ticket to states.

5. Jenkintown (ET: 7, Comments: 4)
It’s hard to discount a team that returns two state medalists, including a guy who was top 10 in the state as a sophomore in Jack Miller. Jenkintown seems on the way up, but they need to prove they can restock the back end of their depth. They lost some key pieces to graduation and, with small schools, having depth is not always a guarantee, even at the top programs. However, their front running and experience makes me feel pretty confident about another top 10 finish for this squad, assuming they survive the challenge from District rivals Christopher Dock.

4. Penns Valley (ET: 4, Comments: 5)
I’m super high on this team. I’m a big believer in Penns Valley, a squad that has been consistently improving each year, led by their all-star Chris Colwell. Colwell and Bierley give this squad one of the best 1-2 punches in the state and the pack behind them has the potential to be excellent. They’ve got experience, they’ve got depth and, if one guy makes a jump, they could be competing for team medals in November.

3. Montrose (ET: 3, Comments: 3)
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but Montrose was really good last year. Like really, really good. In a pretty solid district, they absolutely dominated the district meet. They had depth stretching past the varsity squad and into JV and they handled a loaded group in their first appearance in A. However, at states they didn’t have their best day and they were on the outside looking in for the medals. To compound that, they lost a lot of their firepower out front in Mead and Brewer. I still feel good about their chances this year considering their remarkable depth for a small school, plus their extra experience and motivation from their defeat last year.

2. Elk County Catholic (ET: 2, Comments: 2)
Elk County Catholic doesn’t get a ton of talk behind Winchester Thurston, but people are starting to notice how good this program is. They got a #1 vote over WT in the preseason rankings and last year’s runner-ups have caught my attention as well. I think Ben Hoffman could be a superstar this season after a terrific freshman season and his fellow rising sophomore Isaac Wortman could be a top 35 type as well. The top 4, on paper, is the best in the state. If they get a #5 and their sophomores can handle the spotlight, look out.

1. Winchester Thurston (ET: 1, Comments: 1)
It’s easy to see why Winchester Thurston is the #1 team on both of our rankings. They’ve won two state titles in three years. They absolutely dominated every small school race they competed in last year. They’ve put 3 guys on the medal stand in each of the past two seasons as well. With three top 50 guys coming back and some other young pieces returning as well, it’s hard to bet against this proven program. However, we’ve seen that even the best programs can slip when injuries come into play. WT knows all about that from their 2014 and 2015 runs. Hopefully this team stays healthy and we get to see what they can do. Also, keep your eyes out for a breakout freshman to come from this roster. They’ve produced some of the best in the state the past few years, including Tristan Forsythe, who is now a senior looking to grab his first individual title on the XC trails.

Honorable Mention: Pope John Paul (ET: 10, Commenters: N/A), Milton (ET: N/A, Commenters: 9), General McLane (ET: N/A, Commenters: 10)

10. Central Cambria (ET: 9, Commenters: N/A)
Central Cambria didn’t get a lot of love from the commenters in the build up to these rankings, but I’m a fan of this squad’s potential. They are still very young and potentially inexperienced, but there is too much talent here to ignore. My projected top 5 for this squad includes two sophomores and two juniors, any of which could be the breakout stars of 2017. Plus, I think this district in general could take a nice step forward. Most of the top guys return including Garrett Baublitz and that should allow the big names to push each other and work toward faster times throughout the season. Just ask District 3 how much that can make a difference.

9. Greensburg Salem (ET: N/A, Commenters: 6)
This team has officially become a household name after a terrific 2016-2017 that included a WPIAL championship and a 7:51 4x800. However, Greensburg Salem has lost a key piece to that success in Frankie King and the GS boys will need to add to their depth if they are going to replace him. The good news is they have one of the best top 3s in the state in the Bindas and Mark Brown, all three of which are entering their junior years after huge track success. If they get a 4-5, look out.

8. Grove City (ET: 5, Commenters: N/A)
Although this team is a year in and year out contender, I don’t think they made it onto any of the commenter rankings this offseason. Yes, it’s easy to forget about these guys because they missed out on states last year, but let’s keep in mind this program is historically always a contender for a top 5 spot in the state (and usually more). Plus, it’s not like they don’t bring back any talent. Most notably, they have Jonah Powell, a potential state champion candidate in 2017, but also Tyler Quinn, Mason Murray and Luke Owrey. The disappointment of missing states last year is probably still fresh in this group’s mind and it wouldn’t surprise me if they use that as fuel for a run into the top 3 at states.

7. Holy Redeemer (ET: 8, Commenters: 7)
Holy Redeemer was one of the pleasant surprises of district week last year and backed it up with a great run at states. They have a couple rising juniors with a ton of talent in Zapusek and Volpetti who they will lean on heavily, but they also return some nice depth to round out the roster. This squad should really benefit from going up against top teams like Dallas, Tunkhannock and Berwick on a consistent basis in District 2 and, even in what should be a loaded year for the AA classification, it’s hard to imagine this team outside the top 10 given their talent.

6. New Castle (ET: 6, Commenters: 8)
I really like this team. They were sneaky good last year, nearly defeating South Fayette (who went on to be 3rd at states) at WPIALs. They had a terrific pack last year and return a good chunk of it. Rising sophomore Anthony Litrenta has the potential to be a star this year, but the real wildcard name to watch is Le’Shawn Huff. This kid surprised everybody with a 1600 victory at the AAA WPIAL meet last spring and could be a real force in XC as he enters his senior season. If he does become great, that will just make this intriguing core even more dynamic.

5. Harbor Creek (ET: 7, Commenters: 4)
Harbor Creek returns 3 state medalists. 3! That should be all you need to know right there about this program. However, they do need to solidify the back half of the roster. Plus, it will be nice to have a little insurance policy so that there isn’t too much pressure for all of the top pieces to run out of their mind. Harbor Creek is a strong program and I think they have the potential to bolster the back half of the lineup and become top 5 contenders again, but nothing is a given. I’m excited to see how this team looks when they start the season. Regardless, that top 3 is so impressive, I have a hard time betting against these guys. They may end up with 3 in the top 15 this year.

4. Wyomissing (ET: 4, Commenters: 5)
I’m very excited about Wyomissing’s potential. They just barely missed my top 3. Joe Cullen is already a star as the reigning district champion so the key for this team is their other pieces. Rising sophomore Ben Kuhn has shown flashes of brilliance already and he only just finished his freshman year. Matt Driben could be an x-factor if he jumps into the XC line up after a monster track season. Plus, Wyomissing will have a great measuring stick in house in York Suburban that should help push them and show them what it takes to be elite. They have to prove that their potential can be realized, but the upside here is undeniable.

3. South Fayette (ET: 3, Commenters: 3)
South Fayette had one of the best races of the weekend at states last year. They finished 3rd in a loaded AA race and nearly stole team medals away from York Suburban. One of the more obvious keys to their success was the excellent front running of Sam Snodgrass and Aaron Pfeil (now graduated), but what took them over the top was their consistent pack running to round out the top 5. Silas Mays and Michael Cusick will have to bring that same clutch factor to the 2017 season if this team wants to make up for the big whole left by Pfeil’s graduation. I’m excited to see if they can take over the WPIAL or if another squad will rise to challenge the early season favorite.

2. York Suburban (ET: 2, Commenters: 2)
1. Dallas (ET: 1, Commenters: 1)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Dallas and York Suburban are two terrific teams, returning a lot of fantastic runners for programs with state championship pedigree. It’s unbelievable how strong these two squads have been year in and year out for the past 4 seasons! Dallas is going for a crazy strong three-peat and yet, if Dallas wasn’t around, York Suburban would be the heavy favorites for a four-peat! Although I think Dallas is better right now (and they have the advantage of winning the last two titles), I really like York Suburban’s early season odds for knocking them off. The difference this year will likely be the #5 spot. Both teams lost a key senior contributor, so someone else will need to step up and fill that role. Even with all the firepower out front, this is a great reminder that XC usually comes down to the unsung heroes.

Honorable Mention: North Penn (ET: 8, Commenters: N/A), Southern Lehigh (ET: N/A, Commenters: 9), Abington Heights (ET: N/A, Commenters: 10)

10. State College (ET: 6, Commenters: N/A)
As you’ve probably guessed, the team rankings are a bit all over the place as we enter the season. State College, who is #5 on my board right now, is on the outside looking in for a lot of people. The #5 spot may be a little bold, but I think it’s a fairly wide open discussion and I’ll hang my hat on a team that 1) has two potential all-star talents to front run, 2) has proven they can put together a top 5-7 program with some consistency, and 3) has good experience. However, State College still needs to prove they can bolster their back end depth enough outlast some of the District One powers, needs to hopefully keep everyone healthy and, most importantly, outlast Mifflin County in what should be an exciting district match up.

North Penn was the other team that almost made this spot on the list. I love the North Penn upside (excellent core, younger guys on the rise), but I just need to see it from start to finish this season. I think the peak for this squad is a top 5 finish in the state, but they could just easily be fighting for their life just to make it to Hershey.

9. Butler (ET: 4, Commenters: N/A)
As far as I could tell, Butler has only received one vote from the commenters and it was a #10 spot. I guess I’m missing something here as I see the Bull Dogs (I make up team mascots so I apologize when this is wrong) as a Cinderella story in 2017. This squad returns a fantastic core. They have a great front runner. They are confident, experienced and peak at the right time. There doesn’t seem like a lot of downside. That being said, Butler is in a district where it will be tricky just to advance to Hershey. They also weren’t a top 10 team last year at states and they aren’t the household name that other top programs are. Maybe those factors will end up mattering and maybe that’s why they haven’t gotten quite as much commenter love, but I’m on board.

8. Henderson (ET: N/A, Commenters: 4)
Henderson is basically the opposite of Butler. I had Henderson just outside my top 10 while the Warriors were one of just two programs to show up on every list that was presented by you commenters (the other being CR North). They have championship pedigree, a great front runner and a nice core that was a top 10 team in the state last year. At least one guy has to step up if they want top 5 in the state and, ideally, they need 3 guys around the top 50. The thing is the 5 district one teams to qualify for states have been top 10 at states every year since the move to three classifications. Henderson has made states every year since the move to three classifications. So it makes sense that this team is in the top 10.

7. North Allegheny (ET: 10, Commenters: 6)
North Allegheny is another team with a legendary reputation. Last year they took 6th in the state and it was a huge surprise to see them outside the top 5. Pretty wild to think about considering they didn’t have many guys who could clock sub 17 minute times for 5k and they still jumped up to 6th in final standings. NA has graduated so many elite guys over the years and the other top programs in the state have been loading up with young talent, so it’s reasonable to expect these guys to slip. But that’s not how the Tigers have operated. They have always been district title contenders and near top 5 in the state. Bet against NA at your own risk.

6. Mount Lebanon (ET: 9, Commenters: 7)
On paper, this Mount Lebanon team looks really strong. They’ve got 5 sub 17 guys back. They have rising sophomore who made states as a freshman last season. The track times posted by this group were excellent including multiple guys in the low 4:30s or near 10 flat for one and two miles respectively. If this were a district one team, they’d probably be getting more hype on here. However, Lebo has struggled at districts and the WPIAL is loaded at the top this season. Personally, I’d love to see them atop the podium in Coopers, proving to everyone they’ve exercised their demons, but it’s a long way to go between now and districts.

5. Shanahan (ET: 7, Commenters: 5)
When this team is clicking, it’s something special to behold. At districts last year, when everyone was coming around to be healthy and focused, Shanahan looked excellent with 5 returners under 17 minutes. On the track, when the team was ready to roll, the 4x8 grabbed a surprise indoor state medal without their best runner. There’s so much talent on this roster including the obvious super star in Josh Hoey, but also some lesser known stand outs like Logan Yoquinto. The former AA school isn’t quite as deep as many of their AAA counterparts so they need to be firing on all cylinders to keep their hold on this ranking, but the talent is undeniable. Jack Ettien, Jonah Hoey and Jon McGrory will be the swing voters this year. If they can get to the low 16s, this team will be really good.

4. LaSalle (ET: 3, Commenters: 8)
I think this LaSalle squad is being slept on hard. Yes, they lose a lot of key pieces from last year’s team, but what you can’t underestimate is this team’s depth. At the ’16 state meet, LaSalle’s top two runners had off days and they still rallied and got 5th overall with a tight pack. They return “just” 3 varsity guys but they are two talented rising sophomores (imagine how good you are to make LaSalle’s varsity as a frosh?) and an all-star in reigning district champ Evan Addison. If you look down their track roster there is a ton of potential as well. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if LaSalle is in the state title discussion by October.

3. DT West (ET: 5, Commenters: 3)
Well, it’s official. Downingtown West has reached “elite program” status. In the past, people have said Henderson, North Allegheny, CR North and others have been praised for their consistent success, regardless of returning talent. Those schools are typically lauded in preseason rankings without needing to look at the roster. Well, DT West has entered that realm. The commenters ranked this school 3rd and I gave them a top 5 spot despite the fact that they return just 1 varsity runner from their 3rd place team in the state. And, although I think Tyler Rollins is going to be very good this year, he wasn’t a top 50 guy in AAA and I don’t believe he would have been an individual state qualifier out of District One. Yet still, we all think this team is going to be good again this year.

Here’s the thing, despite DT West’s losses, they have plenty of talent coming back. This school was incredibly deep last year down to the JV and the freshman teams in elite invitationals. And guys like Rollins, Kaiser, Sewall and Chamoun all put down serious marks on the track that indicate they could be excellent pieces in a run at states again this year. So basically, I’m perfectly comfortable with the ranking by the commenters. Shout out to DT West and welcome to the elite programs club. Now go out and back up the reputation.

2. Seneca Valley (ET: 2, Commenters: 2)
It was a huge 2016-2017 for Seneca Valley. They toppled North Allegheny at WPIALs in a decade defining event and then turned around and became the districts top 4x8 squad with multiple school record runs at states. And get this-they bring back basically everybody who made those achievements possible. Seneca Valley is very legit and has an ascending 1-2 punch in juniors Sam Owori and Seth Ketler. They also bring back Alex Dixon and Christian Resch who were top 25 guys in the WPIAL last season. Andrew Balla, Luke Bellack, Adam Owori and Aidan Domencic each showed flashes of potential to step in a become a strong #5 runner (or perhaps more). I really like this team and think they can be gold medalists in November.

However, there will be some pressure now that they are on top. Seneca Valley will have a target on their back and the rest of the WPIAL (and the state) will be out to topple this budding powerhouse. I’m sure North Allegheny is hungry for a rematch and Butler would love to beat SV to establish themselves as a true contender. How will they handle the pressure of expectation? Will the juniors be ready to lead the team now that Trey Razanauskas is graduated? Those are perhaps the more pressing questions for this squad as clearly, the talent and pedigree is on the roster.

1. CR North (ET: 1, Commenters: 1)
The unanimous preseason #1 is the defending state champions from CR North. Back to back champions aren’t rare: we’ve seen them in 2012-2013 and 2007-2008 in AAA. Dallas is fresh off back to back titles themselves in AA. So it wouldn’t be a jaw dropper for a team with the consistent success of CRN to grab another gold in 2017. They have plenty of front running talent to get the job done as Ryan Campbell is a state title contender, Sam Early is an ascending state medalist and Ethan Koza is a jack of all trades 16 flat guy. It’s actually the depth that could be the biggest concern as, after Kevin Ehrgott, they don’t return a lot of low 16 types.

I’ll tell you this right now, CRN will likely not look like a title team for the first month of the season. This squad is notorious for looking (relatively) flat early before turning it on down the stretch to produce top 5 type results. Plenty of teams know how to peak at the right time, but perhaps none peak so dramatically as CR North does, going from left for dead to title contender in the blink of an eye.  So feel free to jump off the bandwagon if you’d like during the early season, but remember that come late October, CR North will be ready to chase the title.

Hotel Warner West Chester Mile

Tonight (August 10th) will be another edition of the West Chester Mile at Henderson High School. Some of the best athletes from the United States will be on display including Craig Engels, Kyle Merber, Emily Lipari, Angel Piccirillo and more! Here's a schedule along with links for the website and full elite entries. TheRealTrain OGs Jarrett and Garrett will be there and we hope to see you guys out there as well.

6:40-Hoka One One Citizen's Mile Section 2      
6:50-Wednesday Knights Citizen's Mile Section 3
 7:00-John Serock Catering Citizen's Mile Section 4    
 7:10-West Chester Running Company Citizen's Mile Section 5 Citizen's Mile Section 6          
   7:30-Mercedes Benz of West Chester Elite Women's 800 meters.  
    7:38-McCaffrey All State Men's Elite 800 Meters        
   7:50 Worday Citizen's Mile Section 7            
7:57-Tolsdorf Oil Lube Express Citizen's Mile Section 8    
8:05-Burkholder Brothers Citizen's Mile Championship                
8:20-CTDI Elite Women's Mile              
8:30-ServiceNow Elite Men's Mile    

Event Website:
Elite Entries:

Bulletin Board Material

Alright I came out with a new interactive post idea. Let's give it a shot. Here's the game. Pick a team, any team. Paste them in the comment section. Then I will tell you if I think that team will make states or not as of this moment in time. If I say yes, great. I've likely jinxed your team and I apologize, but at least I've got confidence in you. If I say no, then boom: you've got one more thing to throw on the metaphorical (or literal) bulletin board.

I'd encourage people to share their thoughts on why they think I'm wrong or right in my prediction. Hopefully, no one takes offense if I give them a "no" and they use it to their advantage! It's nothing personal, all good fun to get talk going. Let's have fun with this and stay competitive this summer. A lot can change between now and November!

2017 Worlds: What To Watch For Day Two

2017 IAAF World Championships – Day Two (NBC Sports Network, NBC, NBC Gold)

Men’s Shot Put Qualification: PA Represent!
Not only does the United States have 4 representatives in the Shot Put qualifying, but 3 of them hail from our home state of Pennsylvania. Darrell Hill (Penn Wood) and Ryan Whiting (Central Dauphin) are not locks for the final, but certainly have the potential to throw well beyond the 20.75 meter automatic qualifying mark (season bests are 21.91 and 21.65 respectively). If either of them can pop off a performance near or above their PRs, they will be in the medal hunt. Then, there’s Joe Kovacs (Bethlehem Catholic) who is the defending world champion and has heaved a PR of 22.57 meters this year. That puts him in truly elite company (9th all time).

Of course, even Kovacs is chasing the Olympic Champion Ryan Crouser who has heaved 22.65 meters this year. If Crouser looks in form through qualifying, the world record of 23.12 meters is in play.

Women’s Hammer Throw Qualification: A Medal Opportunity for USA
Gwen Berry of the USA enters this event as one of the top seeds and could potentially bring home a medal for the USA in the hammer. She moved to #11 all-time in this event in May when she tossed a 76.77 meter effort. However, the American Record Holder didn’t even make the final in Rio last year so she has something to prove. The USA’s DeAnna Price did make last year’s final and placed 8th in the Olympics. She’s looking to make it two in a row in London.

If you want to see the most dominant performer in the history of the event, look no further than Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland. She’s got the 13 best Hammer Throw performances of all time including an 82.98 world record last year. The next closest personal best is 77.33 while the next closest season best is Berry’s 76.77.

Men’s 400m Heats: Watch a World Record Holder and 4 Americans
There shouldn’t be much drama in the heats of the 400 as the big names usually advance with relative ease. However, the times in Beijing a few years back were electric in the 400 rounds so you may see one or two runners pop off a fast time. Plus, if you tune in for Heat #2 you get to see the world record holder Wayde Van Niekerk take to the track. Americans will be Heat 1 (Kerley), 4 (London), 5 (Merritt) and 6 (Roberts). Top 3 in each heat go through automatically with the next six fastest advancing on time.

Women’s Triple Jump Qualification: USA’s Long Shot Looking for Long Jump
The final in this event is sure to be fantastic as Caterine Ibarguen battles with fellow 15 meter jumpers Yulimar Rojas and Olga Rypakova (assuming all athletes advance), but for American fans the real drama will be in the qualifying round. Tori Franklin is the USA’s only competitor in this event and she enters with a PB of 13.86, the shortest of the field, from this past indoor season. Franklin is the ultimate long shot for the finals, but she will be on the track with a chance to surprise on Saturday morning.

Women’s 100m Heats: Tori Bowie and the Ducks
We haven’t seen much from our US contingent in the 100 meters since the US championships. Tori Bowie is a world class talent in this event and the 200, but we haven’t seen her race since the championships. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of form she is in. Meanwhile Oregon’s Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington are coming off long collegiate seasons. Will they have enough left for the rounds in London? It would be stunning if the US didn’t have at least one woman in the final competing for a medal given their history success in this event, but there are a good amount of question marks surrounding this group. They should have no problem with the prelims, but their form in this first race should provide an indication of how they will handle the later, tougher rounds.

Men’s 800m Heats: Another Year, Another New US Team
In 2015, the top 3 at USAs were Nick Symmonds, Erik Sowinski and Cas Loxsom. A year later, the Olympic team was Clayton Murphy, Boris Berian and Charles Jock. Now, we have Donovan Brazier, Isaiah Harris and Drew Windle toeing the line in the 800. That means three rookies will competing in one of the most grueling events in the championships, a three round, cut throat ordeal.

I’m nervous for our guys in the early rounds. Brazier is a huge talent, but he’s struggled with tactics in slower paced races. He almost missed the finals at USAs and this will surely be a deeper group. Meanwhile, Harris is relatively inexperienced on this stage, despite great form at our national championships the past two seasons. He was excellent during the collegiate season, but that was a long time ago now. Windle has perhaps been our most consistent performer, but he can’t afford to spot this field a big gap and expect to kick down world class athletes each round.

The top 3 in each heat will advance to the finals along with the next 6 fastest times. Windle runs in Heat 1 of 6. He draws Kipyegon Bett and Andres Arroyo among others. By personal best, Windle is the #2 seed in his heat with a good chance to advance, but the 5 guys right behind him are capable of 1:45 or faster.

Harris is in Heat 3 and draws Ferguson Rotich of Kenya as well as home town stand out Elliot Giles of Great Britian. Like Windle, Harris has the #2 PB in this group, but a lot of 1:45 guys will be in the mix. I think I am most nervous for Harris out of all of the USA guys, but I think he got a decent draw. He will definitely have a chance to advance.

Lastly, Brazier goes in the final heat of the day. That should give him a chance to make things fast if necessary. That’s the good news. The bad news is his heat will be loaded. While Brazier has the fastest 2017 best of the bunch, he draws 2013 World Champ Mo Aman, 2015 Bronze Medalist Amel Tuka, consistent global finalist Marcin Lewandowski and Kenya/UTEP’s Michael Saruni. Throw in a Brit with homefield advantage (Guy Learmonth) and you have an extremely capable field, including some very savvy veterans. Aman and Tuka have not been in top form thus far this season, particularly Aman, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be dangerous. Brazier has to go into this race very focused if he wants to come out the other side.

Women’s Heptathlon Day One: The New Multi Star
With Ashton Eaton retiring this year, the Multis need a new face. Introducing Belgian Nafissatou Thiam. After winning the Olympics over an all time great in Jessica Ennis-Hill, Thiam asserted herself as a world class athlete. But the 22 year old, in turns out, was only just getting started. Thiam produced a new PR of 7013 points this year, moving her to #3 all time in the event. She’s only a few points back of #2 and she’s still improving.

On Day 1, the Heptathlon competitors will take on the 100 meter hurdles, the High Jump, the Shot Put and the 200 meters. Thiam is a world class High Jumper (she jumped 1.98 in the Olympics, a mark that would have put in her contention for gold in the open event) so that will be her big point scoring opportunity on Day 1. Her PRs in each of the events she will be contesting on Day 1 are as follows: 13.34s, 1.98m, 15.24m and 24.40s.

Erica Bougard and Kendell Williams of the USA have a good chance to be competitive on the first day of competition. While neither are great shot putters, their personal bests are very competitive in the 110 hurdles, high jump and 200. Also expected to excel on day one is Germany’s Carolin Schafer. She’s #2 in the world this year behind Thiam.

Women’s 1500m Semi-Final: Who Will Survive To The Final?
The prelims today were fast! It started with Jessica Judd pushing the pace and being rewarded with a 4:03 PR and an auto Q. And it ended with Sara Vaughn of the USA and Sarah McDonald of Great Britain running PRs to get themselves into the next round as time qualifiers. In total, it took 4:05 to get you into the final, which is worth roughly 4:25 for the mile. That’s moving for a preliminary round where they were only beginning to weed out the talent.

Now we head to the semi finals with just 12 spots up for grabs. The two heats will each get 5 automatic qualifiers and then the last 2 spots will be determined by time. As expected, the heats are absolutely loaded. Right off the bat, we will have world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, Diamond League champ Laura Muir, Olympic 800m champ Caster Semenya and Olympic 1500m champ Faith Kipyegon. In case you were wondering, that’s four spots that could be taken up by truly elite talent. It’s not even accounting for someone having a step up day. Assuming those 4 are the ones who advance, that leaves just one more spot for women like Angelika Chichocka of Poland, and sub 4 performer Gudaf Tsegay. Not to mention the USA’s own Kate Grace. This could be bad news for Kate who only just skated by to make into this semi final on time.

Heat 2 should be a bit more manageable although it’s still no cakewalk. Sifan Hassan and Jenny Simpson of the USA will headline this heat, but the race also includes 3 other women with sub 4 minute 1500 PRs. Also sure to factor in is Laura Weightman of GBR. She’s run 4:01 this season and should get a nice boost from the hometown crowd. The London faithful should be a real x-factor as, on Day One, they willed all four British athletes through to the semi-final including two PR performances. The USA’s Sara Vaughn will be looking to continue her truly magical season by making the final from this heat. She will need something truly heroic if she is going to make it out of this loaded group, but Sara is clearly not someone who goes quietly. After her PR in round one, she will be hungry for more.

**Men’s Discus Final: Stahl is the favorite, but the gap is closing**
Dan Stahl of Sweden advanced through automatically on his second throw of the preliminary round. The only man over 70 meters this year had the best throw of the qualifiers, however Robert Harting and Piotr Malachowski had an easier time, qualifying on their first throw. Andrius Gudzius of Lithuiana emerged as a podium threat as the only auto qualifier from Group 2. If I had to guess I’d say the three medals come from those four throwers.

USA’s Mason Finley qualified for another global final in the Discus. He went past the auto Q mark which was pretty impressive. He was definitely in good form during qualifying and, if he holds it through to the finals, he could surprise and slip into the top 5.

**Men’s Long Jump Final: A New Champ Will Be Crowned**
Defending Olympic Champion Jeff Henderson and defending indoor world champ Marquis Dendy both missed out on qualifying for finals in the long jump. That opens the door for a newcomer to emerge atop the podium. The front-runner is likely Luvo Manyonga who looked plenty healthy eclipsing the auto qualifying mark on his first jump. The South African was the silver medalist in the Rio Olympics and, with Henderson out, can smell the gold.

Jarrion Lawson is the only remaining US jumper and, although he didn’t wow with his series, he advanced to the finals with an 8.05 meter jump. Lawson had an awesome second jump where he was incredibly close to the board that was called a foul. If it had been legal, he would have been one of the top jumpers of the day without a doubt. Lawson has been playing the game inches for years as he memorably missed out on an Olympic medal last year when his hand brushed the sand.

Also in medal contention will be Ruswahl Samaai of South Africa, Aleksandr Menkov of Russia and Radek Juska of the Czech Republic. Juska had two very strong jumps in qualifying and, although his PB is one of the lowest of all finalists, he seems like a breakout candidate in Saturday’s night final.

**Men’s 100m Semi-Finals & Final: Bolt’s Last Race**
The Semis and Finals are both held tomorrow in the 100 meters meaning we won’t have a complete picture of how things look until the afternoon. That being said, the stage certainly looks set for Bolt to win yet another gold. Nobody looked particularly impressive in the heats as Coleman was arguably the best from Heat One. I that he would be done after a long collegiate season, but he seems to be holding form well enough to be a factor.

Bolt didn’t look phenomenal in the prelims, but he clearly had plenty of gears to use as he made up ground in a hurry on his competitors. I don’t feel like he’s a lock, but after watching Farah pull out some magic in the 10k, there’s no way I’m betting against Bolt.

The remaining medal spots seem pretty open to me. Blake looked rough, Simbine didn’t even get an auto Q and Ujah didn’t blow me away like I was thinking he might. The name that jumps out from the first round was Jamaica’s Julian Forte who will be dangerous after a 9.99 win in his heat.

Update: Gatlin draws a tricky 100 meter Semi as he will go up against Simbine, Meite and Forte who are all sub 10 guys this year. Only the top 2 are guaranteed a spot in the final. Bolt and Coleman will get a good luck at one another in the semis as they are both in Heat 3 with Ujah and Vicaut. I think Belcher got a nice draw in Heat 2 as he obviously didn't get any of the names I mentioned. His primary competition will be Blake and Bingtian Su of China, the latter of which has looked very strong thus far.

**Women’s 10,000m Final: How Healthy Is Almaz?**
A year ago in Rio Almaz Ayana demolished one of the most impressive world records on the books when she clocked a 29:17 in the 10,000 meters for Olympic Gold. That mark alone makes her an overwhelming favorite in this event, but it helps that her main rival, 2015 world champ Vivian Cheruiyot is not competing these year due to pregnancy. However, Ayana has given us no performances with which we can judge her fitness. So do we trust that the world record holder will have enough talent to defeat any field?

Similarly, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, the Olympic bronze medalist in Rio, has given us little results to discuss. She excelled in her appearance in the London Marathon, running 2:17 to move to #3 all-time. However, she hasn’t been hitting the track circuit so far this summer either. So although she is a prolific talent with a long list of global medals, Tirunesh is a question mark as well.

The USA’s Molly Huddle should be a name to watch in a potentially wide open race for the medal stand. Huddle was just 6th in Rio, but she clocked a time of 30:13 in the process. That was not only a new American Record but the 16th fastest performance in history. She memorably lost out on the 2015 Bronze medal to a hard charging Emily Infeld and who probably like a shot at redemption before she moves full time to the roads.

The aforementioned Infeld along with Providence grad Emily Sisson round out the USA contingent. If the pace is honest (and Alice Aprot of Kenya is expected to make it honest), it’s going to be tough for these ladies to hang on and compete for medals as their PRs are over two minutes slower than Ayana’s world record. But these two are in great form. Infeld just ran a great 10k PR in hot conditions at USAs and then broke 15 minutes for 5k. Sisson is also excelling, having PRed in that same 10k race.

Ultimately, I have a lot of questions about this race which means I don’t have a lot of answers. All the more reason to tune in and find out how the race unfolds!