Foot Locker West Girls' Race

Chandler Olson & Maddie Meyers

With Super Saturday following Thanksgiving having been past three-quarters of the field for America’s National Championship at Foot Locker had been set.   All that remained was for the runners from the West to be selected and scores of runners were on hand Saturday for a trip to the finals in San Diego.  It should be noted that the morning is a very full one with numerous races for all levels of runners being run prior to the seeded races.   Last year a number of runners earned college scholarships almost solely off their efforts in the senior races, so there was much more on the line than it may have appeared.

     We had escaped the frigid temperatures in Portland and were relieved to see pleasant weather.   With clear skies and  temperature around sixty degrees runners had very good conditions for racing and, although some runners had to feel at least a little bit of temperature there was a fair amount of socializing going on prior to the races.   It always helps to have so many runners & a number of races & runners returned to show their medals, which were won in earlier races.  Idaho & Utah had large contingents, who tended to remain together to interact & Washington even had its own state tent.   The Spokane area, long heralded as a hot-bed of distance running was the driving force but they welcomed runners from the western portion of the state to their harrier festival.

    It would  be misleading to think that the day was solely about the elite runners, for there were races for all levels of runners.  Both guys and gals had the opportunity to race against peers of their caliber in races for Seniors, Juniors, Freshman-Sophomores, as well as a combined race for 7th & 8th graders.   Runners received medals and in the Northwest Molly Cole of Washington placed 8th in the senior race with 20:32.   Cheryn Trapp of Idaho led all the Northwest girls in the Junior race with her third place effort of 19:57.  Brooklin Young topped Washington runners with  her 12th place finish in 20:34. 

Spokane Girls

     The seeded girls’ race was the first of the seeded races to take place and Washington’s Maddie Meyers got the race off fast, as she sprinted away from the starting line and headed towards the corral.   She was the titular leader of a legion of runners, who followed.   Maddie was almost directly in the center of the throng, while Emily Nist of Idaho and Chandler Olson of Washington could be seen racing together on the far end of the course.  There were so many runners, who were packed very tightly together after the first 150 meters, that it was difficult to identify many individuals.  

     The runners raced out of sight briefly and moved back into view on the far side of the corral at about the 2:15 mark of the race.   There was still little distance separating the first runner from the thirtieth place racer,  but Kelsey Braithwaite of Utah & Cami Chapus of California were two of the leaders.   Meyers at that time was comfortably settled in fifth position.    The throng quickly raced away and soon was again out of sight, as they circled the corral area for the second time.   Once the field returned to viewers’ sight Californian Karlie Garcia was clearly the first runner.    Garcia had qualified for Nationals as a freshman but was hampered last fall by problems as a sophomore and did not make nationals.   On this day the diminutive sprite was running with abandon and looking a bit like a tiny Pied Piper out in front of a phalanx of runners, who were working to run relaxed yet remain in contact with the leader, who was already pushing the pace.   It was still a challenge to identify runners but Braithwaite, Chapus & Meyers were still close to the leader.

     Soon after that Karlie led the field through the mile post in a brisk clocking of 5:19 and they almost immediately began the procession up the first hill, which is known as “the switch-backs”.   The grade is reasonably steep and it served the purpose of pruning back the number of challengers.   The ascent & corresponding descent took less than four minutes and Garcia remained in the lead, when they hit the “airstrip”, which is not far from the starting point and serves as the cross-over point to the second side of what is a bit like a figure eight course – save the switch-back aspect.   The cross-over is a crucial area, because it empties out with the challenged of the famed & feared “pop out hill.”   The nomenclature is appropriate and Garcia yielded the lead to Jordan McPhee of Mt. Rainier High School in Washington.  Given the hill her school name seemed appropriate and the sophomore, who is in her first campaign in cross country, headed the field, as it began its arduous climb.   It was a somewhat surprising move especially since the 4A (large school) Washington champion has not received a great deal of recognition this fall in spite of some very impressive times.   Jordan had also barely been tested in a true XC race this fall unless one counts the short and essentially flat Border Clash course.   It seemed to be a dangerous move yet Jordan bravely took the point on the mini-mountain, which has brought the demise of many race strategies.   At the half-way point in the first section of the hill it was Jordan out in front with Karlie about three meters back.  Kelsey Braithwaite was another four meters back, while Kendra Weitz was in fourth just ahead of, I believe, Cami Chapus, who ran just a bit off her shoulder.   Maddie Meyers held sixth.   Just out of the top ten at that point were Clare Carroll of California & Emily Nist.  Zoe Kaufman ran alone another twenty meters and a number of runners behind that pair. 

jordan McPhee on Poop Out

     The arduous climb did take its toll on Jordan and she noted after the race that she had lost the feeling in her arms by the time that she began to make her way towards “reservoir hill”.   In some ways Garcia seemed energized, rather than drained, at that point and she regained the lead and soon took command of the race.   Jordan had lost some ground & placement after reaching the top of “poop-out” but, although tired, she was hardly spent and the Washington harrier yielded nothing once a few runners including Garcia, Braithwaite & Makena Marley passed her and, although she did not know it at the time, she would end up carrying her state’s banner for the Washington girls.   Sadly Oregon, the State that gave us Prefontaine, had no one to represent it in the girls’ race.

      Garcia led the assault up the first of “reservoir” hill’s two successive grades at the 14:07 point in the race with Braithwaite in third, McPhee in sixth and Maddie Meyers, who was battling a small pack of runners, in eleventh.   With Garcia reestablishing the lead and then breaking away it became a duel between Braithwaite & Marley for second and the Utah runner soon surged ahead .   Once Garcia began to roll down the second of the “Reservoir” grades there was little doubt that unless something strange happened, she was headed for victory.   The early order of finish was now pretty evident at least up front but there was still plenty of action going on, as far as the final qualifying berths were concerned.   Karlie would end up with a very solid time of 17:46, while Kelsey Braithwaite of Utah claimed second in 17:55.  Makena Marley of Montana came home alone with her time of 18:07 and was followed four seconds later by Sarah Robinson of California (18:11).   Robinson, a soccer player on a team that would play next weekend, would give up her trip to San Diego for her team, so, although no one was aware of it at the time, effectively there were only three runners, who had qualified at that point.    The valiant Jordan McPhee found something in reserve, as she moved back to earn fifth with a clocking of 18:17.

Kendra Weitz

     It appeared at first, that it would be Kendra Weitz, who would finish seventh.   Kendra had qualified the previous year along with her brother Nathan and thereby became the first brother – sister combination to ever qualify for Foot Locker/Kinney in the same year.   In fact only one other family has a brother – sister pair to ever qualify even in separate years and Kendra entered the track with a little more than 200 meters to go in  seventh place but was exhausted. Sydney Segal of Beverly Hills and then Clare Carroll passed her on the back-stretch and crossed the finish line in 7th & 8th place respectively.   Cami Chapus, yet another Californian, caught Kendra on the final turn on her way to garnering ninth place in 18:34.   After rounding the turn and beginning the final straight Kendra still had hopes of securing the last ticket to San Diego and a return engagement at Nationals.  As she drew ever closer to the finish line it became obvious that she was in duress and her face displayed both her pain and her effort as she willed her way to the end.    It was probably that goal, which enabled her to valiantly run the final straight but shortly before the finish Anna Maxwell of San Lorenzo Valley, who was also hoping to return to nationals, swept past to claim what was assumed to be the last qualifying spot.    It was probably the final straw for Kendra, who struggled even more only to have Emily Nist of Idaho race past closely followed by Carrie Jube (18:42) of Utah.   Still Kendra fought her way to the finish and collapsed, where she lay almost next to Anna Maxwell, who had previously collapsed after finishing.   Her brother Nathan probably described the situation best, when he commented that ‘she puts everything on the line, when she races’ and it would be hard to disagree with that assessment.    One has to respect a runner, who is capable of giving so much in a race, when many runners have to second guess that they could have given more.   Happily Kendra and Anna had both recovered after a fair interval but it was scary to see two runners in distress lying on the ground as runners began to stream home.

Mikayla Malaspina

Molly Babcock of Irvine, California took fourteenth in 18:41 & was followed by Christine Bayliss, yet another Californian.   Mikayla Malaspina, a freshman from Idaho, is a runner, who has really progressed during the course of the season and her sixteenth place effort was evidence of that.    Her time of 18:49 on such a severe course does her credit & bodes well for the future, while Morgan Wilson of Washington ended her prep career in cross country with a seventeenth place finish a second later.  California’s Julia Maxwell & Christine Hoffman broke nineteen minutes and Paige Gilchrist of San Luis Obispo placed twentieth in 18:59.   Salt Lake City’s Natalie Shield ran 19:04 to finish 21st and edge Maddie Meyers by a second.  Meyers, a two-time Foot Locker National finalist, had one of those days which all distance runners have sooner or later yet she was surprisingly up-beat after her 22nd place finish.  Oddly enough Maddie ended up finishing just ahead of her friend Chandler Olson, who was well off the pace going up “Poop-Out” Hill.   With a field like the one at Foot Locker & a challenging course like Mt. SAC,  it is very difficult to succeed when not at full strength.   That was obviously the case earlier, yet she regrouped on the downhill passing a good number of runners to earn 23rd.  The good news here is that Chandler has another year to attempt running’s Nirvana .

      In the end the girls’ race offered numerous surprises including a brilliant come-back race by Karlie Garcia, who had a challenging 2010 after being a 2009 finalist as a freshman.   Certainly after her race Saturday, Garcia will have to be added to the short-list of runners to watch closely.   Kelsey Braithwaite also was very impressive as was Makena Morely.   Jordan McPhee has not received the National recognition that her times suggested and now ought to be off the “to watch” list but she now has thrust herself into the discussion.   Saturday’s race also has given her added experience.   It was a pleasure to watch Clare Carroll & Anna Maxwell earn return trips to San Diego.    Maxwell’s finish was something quite special actually, because she had been well out of a qualifying position late in the race.   She caught at least two runners on the final downhill.  Once on the track she raced by a number of other runners on her way to the finish.    There is of course the sad flip-side of racing that includes others failing to succeed, for one’s success can mean another’s failure in any given race.   It is all the more painful in a race of this magnitude.   My heart goes out to both Kendra Weitz & Maddie Meyers, who will not return but they at least have experienced the grandeur of Foot Locker Nationals:  a race that does not need PR to make its case for greatness.   There were high hopes for Chandler as well but the good news is there is next year.   Of course there are a number of state champions, whose seasons have been curtailed after finishing well behind the runners mentioned.    With a superior field there must be that dichotomy, yet the thing is that everyone, who accepted the challenge, deserves credit and is to be commended.

     Tempered by all that has been mentioned is the story of Emily Nist.   Emily is a three-time State champion in Idaho and she ran a very solid and strong race to finish eleventh.   That placement making her the first alternate has reduced numerous runners to tears just in recent memory, yet young Miss Nist was very happy with her finish and effort.   We spoke to her, when she believed it was her final race of the season and the last XC race of her prep career, yet she was buoyant.   Shortly after that chat Emily, who persevered with the hopes of finishing the season on a more positive note discovered that her finish had been even better than expected, as the Foot Locker staff extended an invitation to San Diego.    Our only regret was not witnessing that moment but it was a fitting end in many ways.   How I love this sport!

Emily Nist