How To Get To Portland: Finish as one of the top-five individuals (excludes runners on qualifying teams)
Cole Sprout enters as the defending champ, and with 14:14 5ker Leo Daschbach reportedly ending his season, he's a clear favorite.
The Valor senior's 14:16 is currently the third fastest 5k run this fall, and the fourth fastest ever. He's won five of six races this season - his only loss being to Daschbach at Desert Twilight. Sprout has been on a rampage this fall, blazing new course records everywhere he's run. His most recent victory was his 15:12 state-record run just over four weeks ago.
It's a well known fact that Sprout doesn't want to just qualify for Nike Cross Nationals, but win this year - having led last year's national race into the final meters before being out-kicked in the final straight.
The only questions for Saturday's NXR-Southwest race will be how fast Sprout will run (can he crack his 14:16.01 PR from Desert Twilight and inch further up on the All-Time list?), and how everything shakes out behind him (who else sneaks into the Top 5 individuals?
In that Desert Twilight race there was a fairly sizable gap behind Sprout and Daschbach. Sprout's future Stanford teammate, Skyline's (UT) Thomas Boyden, was the only runner within 100 meters of the duo, while North Phoenix Prep's (AZ) Jordan Black was the only other runner under 15 minutes. Though, we'll keep the focus more-so on Colorado athletes for this preview...
The challenge for any Colorado runners wanting to get to the Big Dance in Portland will be in the above paragraph(s).
Sprout, Boyden, and Black are individuals on teams that are not likely to qualify automatically - given some sort of miracles.
Three of the five individual spots are held by runners who have already broken 15 minutes this season. So, where does every other Colorado runner stand? Actually, in pretty good shape...
Connor Ohlson hasn't run on any fast courses this year, but he was the second fastest runner at the state meet (behind Sprout), and his 15:24 run was the second fastest of the day, and it was 16 seconds faster than his 2018 performance.
Additionally, he has the knowledge of what it takes to get to Portland - last year he finished fourth at NXR, running 14:51 before going on to finish 10th at Nationals. Currently he's sitting No. 9 in the MileSplit 50 Rankings.
Colorado runners looking to qualify individually would likely be rooting for Dakota Ridge to get an auto-qualifier, as that would take Ohlson out of the "Top Five Individuals," thus opening up another spot.
Parker Wolfe and Cruz Culpepper are the next two likely candidates to nab a qualifying spot. Wolfe owns the second fastest 5k run in Colorado this year with his 14:47 run at Liberty Bell, and he was the third fastest runner at the state meet behind Sprout and Ohlson.
Meanwhile, two-time 4A state cross country champion, Culpepper, heads to Arizona as a bit of a Dark Horse.
He's raced just three times this season. Though, his 15:36 state title last month was the fourth fastest time of the day, and just over 12 seconds faster than his 2018 performance. Additionally, Culpepper holds the "Runner You Don't Want On Your Heels With 400 To Go" card, as he's likely one of the fastest half-milers in the field.
Culepper hasn't raced Sprout, Ohlson, or Wolfe this season, and of the three just mentioned, Sprout is undefeated, Ohlson has only lost to Sprout, and Wolfe has lost to Sprout and Ohlson.
Like Ohlson and Dakota Ridge, Colorado runners hoping to get to Portland would want to root for Niwot, because they've got a shot to qualify on the team side as well, and as mentioned above, that would take Culpepper out of the Top Five Individual qualifiers list.
And then things get a little hazy...
In terms of speed, Luke Sundberg, Matthew Mettler, Matthew Storer, and Grahm Tuohy-Gaydos all ran between 15:07 and 15:11 on this course at Desert Twilight.
Last year Dylan Schubert nabbed one of the final qualifying spots for NXN by finishing 10th in 15:07.
Schubert hasn't run on any crazy fast courses this fall, but like Ohlson, he has the benefit of knowing what it takes to get to Portland - last year he finished 35th at Nationals last year. The one time he raced Ohlson this season he finished just five seconds back - at the Joe Vigil Open in early September.
And then there's two-time 3A state champ, Mason Norman, who is the fifth-fastest returner from last year's NXR-Southwest meet. He ran 15:11 a year ago, just missing a qualifying run by seconds. Additionally, he beat Schubert at Joe Vigil, and finished one second behind Ohlson.
So, who books their ticket to the Big Dance? The door is open, it's all a matter of who decides to have a great day Saturday.
Colorado clearly has the quality, and the quantity...
Next Page: How many Colorado squads can book their ticket to Portland?