High School Track/XC Stories of the Year
December, 23, 2011
By Steve Underwood | ESPN.com
John Nepolitan/ESPNHSLukas Verzbicas and Edward Cheserek, shown here after the epic NBIN 2-mile where they went 8:40.70 and 8:42.66, between them grabbed headlines all year long.From the fast distance runs by Lukas Verzbicas and shot put USRs by Ryan Crouser in February to the sizzling battle between Edward Cheserek and Futsum Zeinasellasie at Foot Locker in December, 2011 was definitely a year to remember. Here are DyeStat's Top Stories:
Lukas Verzbicas: Distance Dominator
After beginning the 2010-11 school year with an unprecedented Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker XC double, Carl Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.) senior Lukas Verzbicas achieved something even greater when he became the first to triple in the 5,000 meters, two-mile and mile in an indoor or outdoor prep championship at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York.
Verzbicas set a prep record in the 5,000 meters (14:06.78) Thursday, then ran the second fastest two-mile in history (8:40.70) and kicked to a 4:10.67 mile victory on Sunday. In outdoor track, he only competed twice but made history each time. He lowered the prep two-mile record to 8:29.46 at the Prefontaine Classic, then ripped a 3:59.71 to win the Adidas Grand Prix Dream Mile in New York, becoming the fifth prep to break 4:00.
Verzbicas signed with Oregon, but he spent less than two months with the Ducks this fall, leaving to pursue of his dream of making the Olympics in the triathlon.
Fayetteville-Manlius Girls’ Cross Country Perseveres
While gunning for its sixth straight Nike Cross Nationals title this fall, the Fayetteville-Manlius (Manlius, N.Y.) girls’ cross country team lost two of its five top returning runners to injury, including 2010 NXN runner-up Christie Rutledge. And head coach Bill Aris was dealing with the passing of his father.
But the team stayed strong and rallied behind junior Jillian Fanning, who finished fourth individually at NXN, to hold off a challenge from powerful in-state rival Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) and triumph once again at Portland Meadows. The squad also finished No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50.
Throws Titan Ryan Crouser Sets Two USRs Despite Injury
Despite injury issues that caused him to miss more than a month of action outdoors and relegated him to throwing from a standing position to win a state meet shot/discus double, Sam Barlow (Gresham, Ore.) senior Ryan Crouser still had an epic 2011 that included three national records. Foremost were an earth-shaking 77-2.75 indoor shot put USR at the Simplot Games in February and a 237-6 outdoor discus USR at an open meet in Oregon in July (also part of the best shot/discus double ever).
Four Multi-events U.S. Records For Gunnar Nixon
Edmond North (Edmond, Okla.) senior Gunnar Nixon set out in 2011 to surpass every track and field multis event available to him and by the end of June had done so in style, earning the Gatorade National Track and Field Athlete of the Year award. In March, he hammered home the final stretch of the event-ending 1000 meters to take the pentathlon record by a single point. Between April and June, he eclipsed marks set by Curtis Beach in 2009 in all three decathlons available to preps – with open/collegiate hurdles, shot put and discus (7,524 pts. at Arcadia Invite in April), with high school hurdles, shot put and discus (8,035 points at Great Southwest Classic in June), and with “Junior” hurdles, shot put and discus (7,748 points at the USATF Juniors, also in June).
Ed Cheserek: 7 Course Records In 7 Races, Then National Title
St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) junior Ed Cheserek was expected to be the top cross-country runner in the country in 2011 and didn’t disappoint. He set course records in his first seven races, through the Foot Locker Northeast Regional, topping superlative standards at nationally renowned venues like Van Cortlandt Park and Sunken Meadow in New York, and Holmdel Park in New Jersey. At the Foot Locker Finals in San Diego, he held off a great challenge from North Central (Indianapolis) senior Futsum Zeinasellassie – a fast friend and fierce rival, who was also unbeaten – to capture the title by less than a second in 14:52.
Six Golds for Team USA at World Youth Champs in France
Team USA’s high school stars earned six gold medals and 16 total medals at the IAAF World Youth Championships (athletes under-18), a week-long event in Lille, France. Golds were captured by Neptune (N.J.) junior Ajee Wilson in the 800 (2:02.64), Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) junior Nnenya Hailey in the 400 hurdles (57.93), St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) junior Arman Hall in the 400 (46.01), St. Mary’s (Berkeley, Calif.) junior Trinity Wilson in the 100 hurdles (13.11 seconds), Plano East (Plano, Texas) junior Jennifer Madu in the 100 dash (11.57), and the Team USA boys medley relay (World Youth record 1:49.47).
Chapus, Weissenbach Form Stunning Distance Duo in California
Juniors Amy Weissenbach and Cami Chapus became arguably the greatest girls distance duo ever at any high school with their spring/summer individual and collective performances. Weissenbach’s efforts were topped by a state-meet winning 2:02.04 800, #3 in prep history and best-ever in a high-school only race, which was a huge reason why she won the Gatorade National Track and Field Athlete of the Year award. Chapus became the nation’s top miler (4:42.71), as well as #1 at 1500 meters (4:17.12) and #2 at 1600 meters (4:40.88). Together, they were bookends on the distance medley relay team that destroyed the US record at New Balance Outdoor Nationals by nine seconds with an 11:22.23 clocking.
Aisling Cuffe’s Titles, Records Earn DyeStat Athlete of the Year
Cornwall Central (Cornwall, N.Y.) senior Aisling Cuffe added to her dominant Foot Locker Finals triumph in late 2010 (which earned her the Gatorade Cross-Country Athlete of the Year award) with indoor and outdoor track national championship performances that ultimately earned her DyeStat’s AOY award. She captured the New Balance Indoor Nationals 2M in March with 9:56.85, 2nd-fastest in prep history, then blasted a 9:54.22 national record for the same distance at New Balance Outdoor Nationals
Girls Year of the Javelin
Every now and then, a single event in track and field witnesses a confluence of outstanding performers in a single year that are so good that they collectively deserve recognition. In the girls javelin in 2011, Legacy (North Las Vegas, Nev.) junior Avione Allgood took down the national record with a heave of 176-8, and was one of four to better 173 feet as she and Chander (Chandler, Ariz.) senior Hannah Carson, Othello (Othello, Wash.) senior Christine Kirkwood, and Gresham (Gresham, Ore.) soph Haley Crouser finished the year 1-5-6-7 on the all-time list.
Morgann LeLeux Vaults to 5 national titles, USR
Generally, the more tests a top-ranked national athlete undertakes, the greater the chance of picking up one or more defeats becomes. But during a year where she also struggled mightily with Epstein-Barr Virus, pole vaulting Catholic (New Iberia, La.) senior Morgann LeLeux was everywhere and suffered nary a loss. She claimed both the New Balance Indoor and Outdoor national titles, the USATF Junior crown, and the Junior Olympic championships under both the AAU and USATF banners. The third of those also qualified her for the Pan American Juniors, in which she was also victorious. And if that wasn’t enough, she broke the US outdoor record with a 14-2.75 at her region meet in April.