Every fall, the high school cross country season gets a moment of exclusive access to the spotlight with the Footlocker Regional and National Cross Country Championships. Though in recent years, Nike Cross Country Nationals have threatened to overtake Footlocker in both attention and competitiveness, the latter’s history as the premier high school race in the country keeps it in the top spot. Add to that the fact that NXN’s team competition in which high schools compete under confusing club names that make it difficult to make meaning of the team competition, and Footlocker’s enduring beauty dwells in its simplicity.
With the annual championships set to take place Saturday, December 10, we figured we’d look back at the top five moments of the 2000s before undertaking a full preview of both the boys and girls races Friday.
In their preview of the event, Letsrun declared the 2008 girls race an all-time classic and for good reason. Three previous winners were in the field. Jordan Hasay had won in 2005 as a freshman and was coming off a stunning performance at the Olympic Trials over the summer; Kathy Kroeger won in 2006 as a sophomore and finished second as a junior; and Ashley Brasovan won in 2007 as a junior. Three returning champions is the most you can possibly have in a once-per-season high school race, but, against all odds, this race added a fourth champion in Chelsey Sveinsson, who was the reigning NXN winner.
Beyond the previous champions, Megan Goethals came in with a win in the Midwest region and was undefeated on the season. Emily Sisson only finished one second behind her at regionals and was 3rd at Footlocker as a freshman in 2006, so she figured to be in the mix as well. Additionally, Tullyrunners.com, a site the assigns scores to every performance to attempt to compare runners across different courses—similar to park adjustments in baseball—ranked Allie McLaughlin, a senior who finished fourth in the Midwest, as entering with the third-best performance on the season. On the track, Northeast regional champion Emily Jones stacked up well against Kroeger and Brasovan and was returning for her third national meet after an 11th-place finish as a junior.
On paper, then, this shaped up to be one of the greatest fields ever assembled at a Footlocker final.
(The race is broken up into three videos on Youtube)
The excitement generated on paper translated to the actual race. Allie McLaughlin was the first girl to try her hand at the lead, stringing the field out starting around 400m in. Lauren Smith, who finished fifth in the South regional, was the only other runner to break from the main pack to maintain contact with McLaughlin. All three previous champions—likely wary of the hill at one mile—were content to lay back and let the race play out.
McLaughlin held the lead through the hill and appeared to even widen her gap on the entire pack of 39 on the downhill. Entering the second loop of the course—an approximate halfway mark—McLaughlin maintained a nine-second lead on the field. If Hasay, Brasovan, Kroeger, and the others were at all nervous about the gap that had opened, they weren’t showing it hanging behind New Jersey’s Chelsea Ley.
Soon after the 2.5k mark, Hasay took the lead of the chase pack and the gap between them and McLaughlin started to narrow. It narrowed slowly under the stewardship of Hasay, but, once Brasovan took the lead over Hasay, the two pulled away from the rest of the chase and began to dramatically cut into McLaughlin’s advantage.
Entering the second time through the hill (5:40 mark in the second video), we can finally see Brasovan and Hasay in the same camera shot as McLaughlin. Cresting the hill, Brasovan ditched Hasay and made her move to overtake McLaughlin. The latter held her off through most of the downhill, but, coming across the road with about 600m to go, Brasovan finally made her pass with McLaughlin not letting it be definitive.
At this moment, it was easy to forget about Hasay, but, suddenly, we see her stalking McLaughlin and making her way back into our leader’s camera shot with 400m to go. Coming off the turn and crossing the road into the final straight, Hasay turned on the jets and passed McLaughlin and Brasovan in rapid succession. Brasovan hung on for second.
But, further back, McLaughlin finally hit the wall that she seemed to be inviting with her early aggression. In the final straight, both Megan Goethals and Chelsey Sveinsson passed her by to claim third and fourth places, respectively, with the early leader settling for fifth. After that, the results of McLaughlin’s early pace and the Brasovan/Hasay splinter group were manifest with an eight-second gap between McLaughlin and 2006 champion Kathy Kroeger in sixth place.
It’s not quite worthy of number-one honors in our rankings—you know what’s in that spot—but that is not a slight on the 2008 girls race at all. It remains hard to argue against as the greatest girls field ever assembled at Footlocker, a field made even more special by the exciting and suspenseful race that played out.