The 2011 US Junior XC championship for young men proved a triumph for conservatism, as Erik Olson of Stanford bided his time for most of the race amidst a large charge pack and then pulled away authoritatively late in the race. In so doing Erik not only secured a national title but an unique birthday present for his grandfather.
The junior guys ran a race that had little in common with that of the young ladies for numerous reasons, especially, when one considers the large number of runners, who remained in contact with potential qualifying berths until well into the competition. The race began with a huge phalanx of runners running conservatively along the trail, which headed towards the nearby Hilton Hotel. In spite of the fact, that there was no true leader, Ammar Moussa, Craig Lutz & Erik Olsen of Stanford were always near the apex of the triangle of runners, who raced in a pack.
Dustin Fay of UCLA began to assert himself, as the field rounded the turn by Mission Bay and during the course of the trek along the Bay, he slowly began to open up a lead. By the time that Fay had reached the 1K mark, which is near the end of the Bay portion of the course, the lead had grown to around twenty meters. Looking relaxed & fluid Dustin ran the mini-inside loop along and continued to widen the gap over a legion of runners, who ran conservatively and appeared to be unconcerned with the leader.
The UCLA freshman picked up the pace slightly during the next kilo & cruised through the 2K mark in about 5:59. In terms of time he had a solid six second lead over the rest of the field, which saw Drew Jordan of Washington State plus Moussa, Lutz & Olsen hovering at the front. Kyle Pittman of New Mexico was also visible just behind Lutz at that point. There was little change in the next kilometer except Fay had slowed his pace a bit & went through the 3K in 9:10. Still, despite the lessening of the pace, he maintained a six second lead over the chase-pack, whose leaders still continued to include Jordan, Moussa, Lutz & Olsen plus Edward Owens of the packer Institute. Nicholas Composto of Columbia was also in evidence at that point.
The complexion of the race began to change, when the pack made the turn & once again ran along the bay. Craig Lutz, a Texas prep who had placed 4th at Foot Locker in 2009 & ran in NTN this year, began a move that would slowly close the gap owned by Fay. His move was covered by both Olsen & Moussa and soon all three were leading a large group of challengers back into contention. Although it was Lutz, who led the initial surge, Ammar Moussa & Erik Olsen quickly lent their support and by the time that they had begun the inner loop the trio loomed close behind Fay. On the knolls at the very center of the course Ammar Moussa caught & passed the leader, who did his best to remain in contention. Lutz & Olsen, of course were pretty much on point as well and they were joined by Raymond McCormack of Clemson & Max Straneva of Syracuse University.
Ammar Moussa had placed sixth in last year’s junior championships, which had been held in Spokane, and the Arcadia prep had every intention of making the US team once again, and to that point he held a slight lead at the 4K mark, which was passed in 12:20. Lutz & Olsen, as seemingly ever, were close behind as were McCormack & Straneva. The trio remained close well into the next kilometer before Lutz & Olsen opened up a short lead over Moussa but in the later stages of the kilo Moussa fell just a bit behind & he was trailed in turn by McCormack. Still in contention a little further back was a group that included Matt McElroy of Oklahoma State, who had placed second at Foot Locker in 2009, Ryan Poland, Clint McKelvey of Duke & Jacob Benn of Oklahoma State. David Perry of the University of Portland was also making his mark & thrilling UP fans, who noted a number of times that “DP was making moves.”
At the 5K, clocked in 15:26, it was still Olsen, Moussa & Lutz showing the way with McCormack close behind them but soon after that point Stanford’s Olson moved out a bit and his pace earned him a slight lead over Lutz & Straneva, as Ammar Moussa fell back about ten yards & was in turn followed by Raymond McCormack. It did not take long, however, for Lutz & Straneva to rejoin Olsen and the trio raced by the 6K in 18:29. It was late in the race now and the leading trio was beginning to really press the pace. Their joint effort gapped Ammar Moussa, who was left to race on his own in much the same way as had Sierra Vega in the girls’ race. Well behind him trailed McCormack, Benn, Perry & McElroy, who, although they did not run in a true pack, they were not far separated & could feed off each other’s strength.
As the raced progressed Erik Olsen seemed to gain strength at least in comparison to his competitors & confidence and he had forged a slight lead over Straneva by the 7K, which was passed in 21:35~. Lutz meanwhile found his back tightening a bit & was forced to give up the hunt for the title & concentrate on holding his position. Ammar Moussa remained a lonely fourth but was also forced to focus on maintaining his position, while a number of runners slowly began to reel him in during the late stages. Clemson’s McCormack was the closest purser behind Moussa at the time but he too was beginning to show signs of stress.
The return to the knolls left no doubt about the cards that Olson was playing and he made a distinct surge, which was not answered. In the end he had cruised home with a comfortable nine second to win the US Junior title in a time of 24:48. Maxwell Straneva completed his impressive showing by claiming 2nd in 24:57 and Craig Lutz crossed the line in third with a 25:06 clocking thereby becoming the first high school runner of the day to earn a berth on the US team that will head to Spain to compete in the World’s championship. One has to give him credit for the usual gutsy performance that he is able to perform. Though obviously hurting at the end, he held on just as he had at Foot Locker in 2009 & at NTN that same year. It would be hard to argue, that he had not given all that was in his power that day.
Possibly the surprise of the day and surely a brilliant performance was turned in by another high school runner, Justin Vilhaeuer. Justin had a pretty solid 2010 XC campaign with a 4th at Clovis, a 5th at Mt. SAC, plus a CIF Central Championship in California. His one off day unfortunately had come at the State meet, where he placed 41st, yet on Saturday he made his own statement with a very strong surge in the later kilometers of the race to finish an impressive fourth overall in a time of 25:09. Ryan Poland of the University of Oklahoma took fifth three seconds later & Ammar Moussa of Arcadia held it together to claim his second berth on a US Junior team. Not only that but he led his Arcadia team mates, running as O’Brien’s Army, to a victory in the team competition: and that despite the fact that their normal second-place runner Sergio Gonzalez did not run.
Jack Benn of Oklahoma State placed seventh & will be the first alternate for the US Junior World team & should lead the US team which will compete in Trinidad. He ran 25:21 & was followed by David Perry of the University of Portland (25:23), Matt McElroy (Oklahoma State – 25:27) & Clint McKelvey of Duke (25:28). Jacob Sienko of Rhode Island ran unattached but earned the last berth on the team to Trinidad by placing 11th in 25:31. Like Sarah Fakler, who placed 11th in the Junior Women’s race, Sienko was not honored at the awards ceremony, which included only the top ten runners in each race, yet they both earned a spot on a national team. If there is logic in not honoring them for their accomplishment on race day, it escapes me. Andrew Palmer & Reed Kamyszek of Syracuse garnered 12th (25:33) & 13th (25:35) & Nicholas Composto of Columbia finished 14th in 25:38. Fifteenth place went to Duke’s Brian Atkinson (25:38).
Other high school runners of note were Jacob Smith of Wenatchee, Washington, who is only a junior, made a splendid showing by coming home 17th in a time of 25:47. Eric Garibay of Arcadia, who secured 24th position for Arcadia (O’Brien’s Army) & aided in their team championship, and 2010 Foot Locker National finalist Darren Fahy of Carlsbad, who took 25th with 26:11. Ryan Urie of San Diego, who had a brilliant fall campaign with a victory in the Danner & a second at Woodbridge had an off day placing 56th.