The 2019 Foot Locker Boys Race
There is not a great amount of time between races, which probably helps to limit the nervousness of the guys, who now were to follow a sterling girls’ race. Going into the 2019 Foot Locker Boys’ National Finals, fans anticipated a wide-open race with no prohibitive favorite.
That said this race already had one aspect which made the race memorable even before it had begun. Graydon Morris, the Texas 5A champion, would be representing the South for the fourth straight year.
No Clear Favorite, but a Threat
In the 41 years of Foot Locker history only one other male runner had ever qualified all four years of his prep career. Jorge Torres has that distinction and in fact only two other male runners had even come close: Bryan Dameworth and Futsum Zeinasellassie.
It is rare for a freshman guy to qualify and there was not one this year, as if to underscore the point. Graydon Morris did not just qualify either. He had placed third in the race last fall and second in the race as a sophomore. He had to be considered a real threat and one had to wonder if he could join Amanda White, who years ago had managed to win as a senior after having placed second and third previously.
Josh Methner entered the race as the Midwest champion and had placed sixth the year before but during the course of the season. The Illinois champion accomplished something that demanded he be given serious consideration. He had taken down the record of the legendary Craig Virgin, who was a two-time winner of the World XC Championship.
Other runners, who were likely suspects were Carter Solomon, a Michigan State champion placed fourth here last year, and Evan Bishop, another Michigan divisional winner, who finished ninth here last fall.
Judson Greer was the South champion as well as the Texas 4A champion and Pennsylvania champion Patrick Anderson was the Northeast titleist.
Not to be overlooked was Liam Murphy. Murphy was the New Jersey Meet of Champions winner as well as Eastern States champ.
The pack took off with the sound of the gun and was in a pack early but it was Graydon Morris, who led the way down the hill and around the turn as they headed back up by the hill. He had conceded prior to the race that he’d been thinking of this race since last year. They had only been running for 1:11 but there was Morris, where many assumed he would be; in the lead.
He was joined by Methner as they ambled up the hill looking quite comfortable. the pair reached the half- mile mark in 2:15.7 and .8. There was a large group right with them including Patrick Anderson, Carter Solomon and Coen Roberts; all just under 2:16.
Justin Wachtel and Coen Roberts of the South were tucked in nicely just ahead of Greer, who held 8th position.
Thomas Boyden was ninth and Zach Stewart, Liam Murphy and Evan Bishop all lurking in the top twelve. That said, all forty runners were within three seconds of the leader. So it was a veritable legion of runners, who swarmed past the mark, all primed for the race ahead.
Just before the five minute mark, Judson Greer eased into the lead and essentially ran with Methner and Morris. But the pack was still bunched.
Patrick Anderson had taken over fifth at this point also. Greer held a slight edge when he led the throng through the mile in 4:48, which is relatively pedestrian, so he was followed closely by Solomon, Methner, Anderson and Morris. Nathan Walker of Michigan had moved into 6th just ahead of Boyden fro Utah.
The split meant that all were still in the race and the question many fans had to wonder is when would someone make a move. The split incidentally was the same as last year.
It did not take long to get an answer. When would a move would come? Carter Solomon forged ahead at about the 5:13 mark, as they approached the “hill” for the first time. Methner quickly covered the move and was followed by Greer, Anderson and Morris.
The surge was swift enough that it served to break up the pack and now there was a distinct top five vying for the crown.
Methner moved into the lead, as they headed down Upas Hill and Greer took over second. The cast then followed hm back across the road to the starting area, which was passed at around 7:23. As he began the second half of the race, Methner pushed the pace with Anderson following him about ten meters back. Morris and Greer were a bit behind and Evan Bishop made an effort to get into contention as well.
That ten meter lead had become a solid twenty meters, as they went down the slight hill and then made the move back up away from view. There was a pack of six who were still arguably in contention; the question being, why are the pursuers giving up ground so easily?
Graydon did take over second as they ran up the hill and seemed confident enough in his finishing kick that he only needed to remain reasonably close. Methner reached the two mile split in 9:43. He had a four second advantage over Morris, Anderson, Bishop, Greer and Solomon, who ran in a procession just ahead of Jack Spamer, another Michigan runner. Thomas Boyden remained in the top ten.
Methner picked up the pace as he rounded the pool area yet no one in the chase increased theirs to cover it. In many years the second assault up Upas Hill has been the key to the win. One had to wonder if the failure to respond to Methner’s surge would be the key to the race. His surge was formidable and the others seemed unwilling to break away from the pack to give chase.
Carrie Tollefson announced that on each turn in the course Methner increased the pace. He was so far ahead, his pursuers were unaware. And in a mere hundred meters he had doubled that gap.
Greer and Anderson ran just ahead of the others but were conceding a sizable amount of yardage to a very capable runner.
Methner raced in the flat (11:51) looking so relaxed that Tim O’Rourke said “he looks great”. Morris and Anderson ran at the head of the pack but were not cutting into the lead in the least. Unless he fell apart on Upas, the race for first was all but over.
Any thoughts of Methner fading were dashed, when he literally attacked the hill.
Methner looked fresh and fluid even after going up the steepest part in 12:35. Morris and Anderson were in pursuit along with Bishop and Greer but the race was now clearly for second place. Methner headed back down in 13:21 choosing his steps carefully and once at the bottom with a quarter mile to go, victory was clearly in sight.
He was timed in 14:37 at three miles and had such a large lead that no one could be seen on the long straight stretch behind. He finished alone and unchallenged in 15:08.
Patrick Anderson had moved into second only to find himself in a battle with Carter Solomon. Solomon pulled away to earn second in 15:16, which left both Anderson and Graydon Morris fighting for third. Both dived at the finish; Anderson getting the nod in 15:18.
Judson Greer took fifth in 15:22 with Evan Bishop following him into the chute a second later.
Virginian Daniel O’Brien closed well to take seventh in 15:24 with Kevin Antczak crossing the line a second later. Jack Jennings earned ninth in 15:29 and Colton Sands of PA, rounded out the top ten in 15:30.
Of note: Sands was the second junior behind Greer with all others in the top ten, seniors.
Creed Thompson, a Utah junior, ran 15:33 for eleventh. Thomas Boyden followed in 17:34.
Gavin Sherry of Ct. was the top sophomore in the race with his effort earning 14th place and 15:36 and Aidan Puffer was the other. The performance of Sherry turned out to be especially important as when the top five runners from the Northeast and Midwest had been counted, both regions were tied with 43 points.
As the Northeast’s sixth runner his 14th place made the difference in the Team Race — the sixth man for the Midwest was 20th. The CT runner placed 21st with 15:45. Others of note were Jack Spamer (19th) and Liam Murphy (25th).
In the end although the boys’ race lacked the fireworks that the girl’s displayed, the winner (Josh Methner) gave a clinical example of the importance of racing tactics. His bold move early produced a national title.
Sensing when to make a move is one of the key elements of racing and he added to the lesson by showing that you can take advantage of the turns on a course. There is much to be gleaned in his race and coaches of future runners would do well to show this lesson in Cross Country 101.
Years ago college students read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style on how to write properly and effectively. Methner showed the elements of running style on this day. It was an impressive display of racing.
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