They're (mostly) back this fall and just as dangerous as ever. Colorado Track XC file photo.
There isn't anyone who was there who has forgotten. It was American Fork. A little space and then it was Davis. And then there was the great, yawning chasm.
The chasm may not be as sleepy this year. American Fork and Davis figure to be good, but the distance they put on the rest of the field may turn out to be a bit on the side of exceptional.
Individually, a lot of last year's top talent moved on to college, leaving plenty of room for new faces to find their places in the order. NXR-SW 2014 should have a very different look and feel to it. Last year is history; this year is opportunity.
We'll start our 2014 analysis by taking a capsule of each of last year's top ten teams:
1. American Fork, Utah - Timo Mostert has a way of making men out of boys over the summer. The Cavemen will be back. Of course, they'll be back without Brayden McLelland and Tyson Green, but they're still extremely dangerous. Five of last year's seven return, and it's entirely possible that not all of them have assured spots on the team. It could be a mighty free-for-all for the varsity slots. A quick look at last fall's top times for American Fork dispels any doubts about Fork's ability to fill in the gaps. Sixteen sub-17 times at three miles (the standard Utah distance) last fall means American Fork won't be scraping the bottom of the barrel for varsity guys this fall. Connor McMillan, Zac Jacklin, Spencer Herzon, and Caleb Thompson assure Fork of a top-tier core.
2. Davis, Utah - The Darts took a beating a commencement exercises this spring. Alex Hedquist, Brayden Cromar, and three of the remaining four Darts who finished the NSR-SW race walked the aisle. On top of that, Davis simply wasn't quite as deep as American Fork last fall. Davis faces a tall task to get back to where they were last year. The mantle of leadership falls to veterans Skylar Williams and Stockton Smith, but this is a team that will have to mature in a hurry. Corbin Talley, however, specializes in the seemingly impossible.
3. Los Alamos, New Mexico - The Hilltoppers were almost as senior heavy last fall as Davis. Los Alamos graduated five of their top seven, returning only Colin Hemez and Mike Walker. While Los Alamos never runs a bare cupboard, their depth from last fall was a little short of Davis's depth, and a lot short of American Fork's depth. If Los Alamos is to return to their #3 team standing again this fall, a lot of guys without much varsity experience are going to have to step up in a big way.
4. Herriman, Utah - It wasn't difficult to see this one coming. Herriman was the cream of Utah's 4A crop last fall and--unless I have my wires crossed--moves up to 5A this fall to add a little pressure on the folks at American Fork and Davis. Herriman was not bitten as hard by graduation as either Davis or Los Alamos. Rory Linkletter, Connor Jones, and McKay Sharp return from last fall's regional squad. While that's only three of seven, it does include the number two and three runners. There were plenty of younger Mustangs in the fold, but Herriman is going to be looking for guys to drop a full minute off their times from last year to fill varsity slots at about the same level they were last year. That's challenging, but it's somewhat reassuring that there are plenty of them to work with.
5. Cleveland, New Mexico - New Mexico's best 5A team was another theam that took a big hit at graduation. You can't underestimate the impact of the loss of leader Luis Martinez. Martinez is the kind of guy who lifts a team simply by redefining the possible. The Storm lost two more key figures to graduation as well. Back this fall will be Preston Panana, Aaron Flores, and Jared Mayoral. These are the guys on whom the burden of leadership will fall.
6. Mountain Vista, Colorado - The Golden Eagles took a few hits to graduation, but will go into the fall campaign mostly unscathed, not so much because they didn't lose guys to graduation but because the next tier was so close behind last year's seniors. Andrew Walton and Connor Weaver are proven and capable in the top two slots. Blake Graf and Tyler Matzke look to be moving into key positons of responsibility this fall.
7. Mountain View, Utah - The fourth Utah team in the top seven faces a steep path to return to the level they occupied last fall. The Bruins lose their top three from last fall, leaving much to fall on the shoulders of Samuel Sorensen and Trevor Patten. The best thing about being in Utah, however, is that you'll get no easy affirmations of your team's promise. It's a meat grinder in Utah, and that has produced a glut of top teams. Don't be surprised if Mountain View responds to the challenge and comes back this fall with another very competitive team.
8. Fairview, Colorado - The Knights are scrambling to fill holes left by graduation. Richard Sanchez is the lone returning member of last year's top five. Fairview doesn't figure to drop off the radar screen entirely, but it's difficult to replace four of your top five and remain at the same level.
9. Bonneville, Utah - Bonneville was the surprising new team on the scene in Utah last fall. 2012 was their first visit to Nike Regionals, and there is always a learning curve to negotiate in a situation like that. Bonneville would figure to come back as a more experienced team this fall and maybe a team ready to make some serious noise in the regional race, except for one troubling fact. Each of Bonneville's top five graduated this spring. There will be a good measure of rebuilding at Bonneville this fall.
10. Ogden, Utah - It hurts to lose Jordan Cross, but Ogden was actually one of the younger teams in the championship race at NXR-SW last fall. Coming back for the Tigers are Michael Buckley, Justin Sheets, Jake Mathewson, and Harrison Godfrey. That should be the core of a very competitive team. If they can replace the leadership Cross provided, this team could become a hot commodity in the fall.
Other teams to keep a close eye on:
Albuquerque Academy, New Mexico - It wasn't that long ago that AA was a fixture at Nike Cross Nationals. They could be back this year. Kevin Wyss and Kyle Carrozza have the experience to lead and there is a bevy of young talent behind them. This is a team that's going to be very good for a few years to come. The virtual meet results for returning runners say you should be paying close attention to the early-season results in New Mexico. It gets any better when you project cross country scores off of 3200 times from track and field this past spring.
Riverton, Utah - Riverton brings back four of their top five from last year's Nike Regional. That would seem to indicate they're bound for a higher finish than last year's 13th. Clay Lambourne and Brady Earley figure to be leading the pack. Lambourne may have the best range of speed of any runner at NXR-SW this fall. Check out his 400 meter times.
Two additional sleepers would be Thornton and Fort Collins, both out of Colorado. Thornton has been on a steady incline for a few years running now and Fort Collins was simply at a lower point in the cylce last fall. Both teams have abundant potential to be very good this fall.
Rio Rico came on very strong in Arizona last fall and ended up 11th at NXR-SW. Rio Rico lost some talent to graduation, but if the momentum is still rolling, this could be the best team in Arizona again this fall.
Last year's top seven individuals all graduated. And, #8 will be back but wearing the uniform of a different school in a different state. Clayson Shumway moved from Liberty High School in Colorado Springs to what I have heard is Lone Peak High School in Utah. Shumway should fit right in with the Utah talent base.
Connor McMillan, who finished ninth last fall, will be back as the top returning Utah runner. And, since there is nothing deficient about the summer training at American Fork, look for McMillan to be contending for the title this fall. Next on the Utah watch list would be Kramer Morton. Morton won the Utah 5A boys title last fall before fading a little in the latest stages of the Nike Regional race and finishing 17th.
Bailey Roth, fresh off a US all-time #2 high school mark in the 2000 meter steeplechase, figures to be Colorado's top individual entry this fall. There may be some argument, however, emerging from the corner of Cerake Geberkidane. Geberkidane's brother Ashi was a very late entry in last fall's race, so it's not at all a certainty yet that Cerake Geberkidane will be racing. If he is, however, he should be one to take seriously. Yet another Colorado entry to give some thought to is Paul Roberts. The Lyons freshman ran 21st in last year's Nike Regional race, 134 places and nearly a full minute ahead of the next best freshman in the field.
Colin Hemez of Los Alamos is probably the early favorite out of New Mexico. Hemez finished 59th in last year's Nike Regional, but that finish doesn't reflect well either his cross country season in the fall or his track season in the spring. November 23 could be a date of redemption for Hemez.
Top contenders out of Nevada and Arizona are a little less clear and this point and could depend heavily on who signs up for the Nike Regional this fall.