NXN Southwest Boys Preview: Six Ranked Teams, Six Ranked Individuals To Battle

Casey Clinger meets the Utah state meet finish line with a large gap on his pursuers. Photo by Bryan Deibel.

Nike Cross Nationals Southwest Regional coverage

Where: Grande Sports World, Casa Grande, Arizona
When: 10:47 AM, MST
States: AZ, CO, NM, NV, UT

Saucony Flo50 Teams: #1 American Fork (UT), #10 Olympus (UT), #11 Lone Peak (UT), #13 Davis (UT), #18 Timpanogos (UT), #23 Palmer Ridge (CO)

Team Challengers: Desert Vista (AZ), Hobbs (NM), Monarch (CO), Ogden (UT), Springville (UT), Mountain Vista (CO)

Saucony Flo50 Individuals: #1 Casey Clinger (UT), #11 McKay Johns (UT), #12 Patrick Parker (UT), #15 Joseph Benson (UT), #20 Garrett Barton (UT), #21 Grant Gardner (UT)

2015 NXN Team Qualifiers: Mountain Vista (CO), Timpanogos (UT), Lone Peak (UT), American Fork (UT)

Top Individual Returners: 1. Casey Clinger (UT), 4. Isaac Green (CO), 10. Joseph Benson (UT), 12. Tanner Norman (CO), 14. Camren Todd (UT)

Analysis: Not merely in the team rankings, but in the individual rankings as well, Utah comes into this meet with a whole lot to live up to. 

Casey Clinger has pretty much lived up to everything that's been written about him. He was last year's NXN champion and has yet to show the first sign of weakness this season. 

And, there's a certain synergy about the American Fork team going on that could mean we see the (nearly) unthinkable--a 1-2-3 individual finish from teammates Clinger, McKay Johns, and Patrick Parker. Don't wager the mortgage on that one yet, but do keep it in mind as a possibility. 

Trying to break up that little trifecta will be Utah notables like Grant Gardner, Joseph Benson, Seth Freckleton, and Garrett Barton. But, the only Utahans who broke up the trifecta at the Utah state meet appear to be holding out for a later cross country date in sunny California.

Garrett Barton checks in as something of a mystery. His resume is short, but impressive. It includes a close second at Murray, another close second at Bob Firman, and a win in Region 5 before finishing sixth in a state meet merge. 

And, perhaps Jaiden Melendrez refinds the wheels that took him to 14:13 at Woodbridge...

Colorado will take their whacks with 3A state champion Tanner Norman, 4A state champion and runner-up Ethan Powell and Ian Meek, and 5A state champion and runner-up Isaac Green (the only returning individual qualifier from last year--photo by Alan Versaw) and Joshua Romine. Norman is undefeated in Colorado and added a second-place finish to Daniel Bernal of Texas at Desert Twilight at the end of September.

Jordan Lesansee (photo by Jeff McCoy) comes out of the Land of Enchantment with a nice push of momentum out of his state meet. Santiago Hardy brings the top time out of the Arizona state meet. 

Just as Casey Clinger is a prohibitive favorite in the individual race, so likewise is American Fork a prohibitive favorite in the team race. The Cavemen started the season with a conspicuous 3-4 gap. To be sure, the gap is still there, but 4 and 5 have been steadily improving. And, the gap must be contextualized with the realization that the front three are all potential sub-15 types on this course. 

The leader of the battle for second place is not nearly as easy to pin down. Folks from Utah might look at the greater body of work through the season and tell you that team should be Timpanogos. Part and parcel of that body of work was wreaking devastation on the field at Nike Portland XC. Or, they might play the hot hand from State and suggest Olympus is your second-place favorite. Or, they could tell you that Lone Peak and Davis are simply sleeping giants waiting to be awakened. They might even suggest 3A power Desert Hills is a team waiting to explode. Or Ogden. Or... (Utah is full of outstanding teams)

Folks from Colorado might tell you that Palmer Ridge is the most underrated team ever to grace a page on the MileSplit network. Palmer Ridge, you will recall, finished second at Woodbridge by 12 points to Mountain Vista, but beat Great Oak by 40 points. All Palmer Ridge has done since then is win. The first of those wins reversed the order of finish with Mountain Vista and nobody has been within sniffing distance since.

Mountain Vista? Well, this is a team that struggled some in the final month of its season. The team never did quite find its rhythm after Woodbridge, and a series of very narrow wins after being beaten by Palmer Ridge early in October culminated with a loss to Monarch at State. To be sure, Mountain Vista is still a dangerous team, but they are not riding the same crest of momentum they came into last year's NXR-SW meet with. 

After Palmer Ridge, the Colorado team with major momentum right now is Monarch.

Hobbs won for a second straight year in New Mexico. Desert Vista prevailed again in Arizona. Both teams, however, appear as rather dark horses in this field. Nevada's top boys team is not making the trip.

Team Prediction: 1. American Fork, 2. Palmer Ridge, 3. Timpanogos, 4. Lone Peak (but honestly, folks, it could get wild after American Fork)

Individual Prediction: 1. Casey Clinger, 2. McKay Johns, 3 - 5: take your pick, plenty of candidates listed above.