High-SchoolTrack-and-XC: edward cheserek

Beat the clock: Cheserek's perfect season

December, 8, 2011
Course recordsJohn Nepolitan/ESPNHSEdward Cheserek poses with his winning course-record time at the Oct. 9 Manhattan Invitational at Van Cortlandt Park in New York.
Edward Cheserek touched down in San Diego late Tuesday, arriving early with St. Benedict’s Prep School coach Marty Hannon in order to prepare for Saturday’s Foot Locker finals.

Cheserek’s 2011 cross country season has been nothing short of spectacular. The junior from Kenya’s Rift Valley is in his second year as a student in the U.S. – and this fall has broken seven course records in seven races.

If Cheserek goes 8-for-8 and breaks Reuben Reina’s 1985 Balboa Park record of 14:36 the achievement will surely go down as one of the greatest in prep cross country history. So far this season, Cheserek’s closest race was a 24.9-second win in the Foot Locker Northeast regional.

The clock, and each course, served as motivation when competition was absent.

“I try to keep myself motivated all the time,” Cheserek said. “Last year, I had lots of competition. This year there is not as much.”

On Saturday, Cheserek knows there will be competition. He will race Futsum Zeinasellassie of North Central (Indianapolis, Ind.), the Nike Cross Nationals champion, for the first time.

“For me, in my mind, I would like to win and get the course record,” Cheserek said. “But Futsum is a great runner, so it will not be easy.”

Season in review

The groundwork for Cheserek’s course records assault began over a summer that included highs and lows. He strengthened his friendship with the Rosa twins, Jim and Joe, and went on training runs with them at New Jersey’s famed Holmdel Park. He also
attended the Nike Elite camp in Oregon, getting a chance to socialize and make friends with some of the top runners in the country. And he continues to become more sophisticated with his approach to training. He bumped his mileage up to about 55 per week.

But the summer also held bad news and heartbreak. Cheserek’s father died in Kenya. He made a trip home to be with his family, but the visit was short – just three days.

“It was a very difficult time for me,” he said.

Back at school in Newark, N.J., Cheserek poured his energy into his training – and began one of the most impressive cross country campaigns ever.

Sept. 24, Garret Mountain Reservation (N.J.): After bypassing an early-season meet, Cheserek opened his season by running on familiar ground at the Passaic Coaches Invitational. Garret Mountain is not far from Newark and he has done training runs there occasionally. From the starting gun, he took off and left the field behind, hitting the first mile in a scorching 4:25.

“I knew when I came through two miles in 9:25, I could get (the record),” he said. “With 800 meters to go, I sprinted.”

Final time: 14:53, the first under 15 minutes on the layout.

Oct. 1, Holmdel Park (N.J.): Holmdel Park is hallowed ground in the state of New Jersey because it is the site of not only the Shore Coaches Invitational, but also the Meet of Champions. It is the ultimate measuring stick for high school cross country in the Garden State and has been for many years.

Cheserek had never raced at Holmdel before, but he was certainly aware of his friend Joe Rosa’s 2009 record of 14:56.

“This course is really tough,” Cheserek said. “I wanted to see what I can do on it.”

He peeled three seconds off Rosa’s time, running 14:53.

As Cheserek met to answer questions from Star-Ledger newspaper reporter Jim Lambert, “there were 100 kids around the interview,” Hannon said.

Lambert reported that Cheserek went through the challenging uphill first mile in 5:01, six seconds ahead of Rosa’s record pace.

“He was signing autographs and was very happy with his performance,” the St. Benedict’s coach said. “He was also cognizant of Joe Rosa and the time he spent with him over the summer. So I think he had some mixed feelings about breaking a friend’s record.”

Oct. 9, Van Cortlandt Park (N.Y.): The Manhattan Invitational, held on one of the most historic courses in the U.S., arrived on an unusual day – much to Cheserek’s liking. With temperatures in the mid 80s, he tore out after the first sub-12 minute time in history on the 2.5-mile course.

Cheserek accomplished the feat, running 11:55.4 to win the Eastern States championship by nearly 26 seconds. Again he bettered a Joe Rosa record, this time by more than eight seconds. At the 2010 meet, one of Cheserek’s first in the U.S., he had finished second to Jim Rosa.

“He knew the course a little bit better this year,” Hannon said. “Having broken (the record) at Holmdel, I think he had a lot of confidence. He got out well, had some people with him through the woods and then poured it on at the end.”

Said Cheserek: “That course is hard. There are more hills. But you can sprint at the end of it.”

Oct. 15, Goddard State Park (R.I.): Traveling outside of the New York City metro area for the first time, Cheserek made a return to the Brown Invitational, where he had missed the course record (15:00.5, Cory Thorne in 2004) by three-tenths of a second in 2010.

Conditions were far from perfect.

“We went up Friday and jogged (the course). It had rained heavily and we were concerned there would be mud puddles. It was in much better shape by the time of the race,” Hannon said.

Meet organizers put hay down over the soggiest points on the course to help with footing. But it was quickly apparent that the wet track wouldn’t slow down Cheserek.

“The Brown Invitational was the most shocking (record) to me, to be honest,” Hannon said. “We thought he might get it by five or 10 seconds – but he broke it by 25 seconds.”

Cheserek finished in 14:34.6.

“I didn’t think I was going fast like that because it was a muddy course,” he said. Yet once again, he knew by the two-mile mark that he had the record. He won the race by nearly 47 seconds over fellow Foot Locker finalist Joel Hubbard of Massachusetts.

Oct. 28, Brookdale Park (N.J.): Flat and fast like a road race, Cheserek let it rip –hammering out a first mile in 4:28 and a second mile in 4:48 – on the way to 14:20.0 at the Essex County Championships.

He knocked 22 seconds off his own course record from 2010 and lowered it to a realm where it may be untouchable by anybody else. He won by 44 seconds – over another Foot Locker finalist Blake Udland of New Jersey – and produced one of the fastest prep 5K times anywhere.

After the race, he complained of a bothersome twinge in his hamstring, which caused him to hold back a bit.

“He’s got a lot of speed,” Hannon said. “When he first came to us we thought he was probably more of a 10K guy.”

Last spring’s 4:03 mile on the track, a sophomore class record, suggested otherwise.

Nov.5, Warinanco Park (N.J.): In 2010, Cheserek beat a 22-year-old course record by 10 seconds. Coming back to the New Jersey Catholic Track Conference championships, and running all alone yet again, he kept the record streak alive, but just barely.

Cheserek ran 4:50 for the first mile and 4:40 for the second and completed the 5,250-meter course in 15:18.2 –three-tenths of a second ahead of his 2010 time. Warinanco isn’t his favorite place to run, he said, because stretches of the course are paved. He prefers softer surfaces.

Nov. 26, Sunken Meadow State Park (N.Y.): On the north shore of Long Island, a rested and ready Cheserek intended, first and foremost, to qualify for the Foot Locker Finals.

But the course record dangled like a carrot and Cheserek couldn’t resist trying to keep his streak alive. John Gregorek, who would go on to represent the U.S. at two Olympic Games, held the record of 15:32.3 since 1977. Cheserek said he did not give an all-out effort, but merely wanted to qualify for the trip to San Diego. He finished in 15:20.5.

Hannon had instructed him to go conservatively for the first mile, a strategy designed to ensure a win but not necessarily a record.

“I told him after the first mile, if you feel good, then you can take off,” the coach said.

Cheserek listened to his coach, and went through the mile in 4:52.

“It was exciting to get the record, but it wasn’t really my best (effort). I was aiming only to qualify,” he said.

Is an eighth course record in the cards?

Hannon said he tries to keep a lid on expectations that rise so high, but this fall they have been difficult to contain.

“I think we all feed off other people’s expectations sometimes,” he said. “But I don’t like that stuff. I tell everybody I talk to that it’s not a given (he’s) going to win Foot Locker. Everyone goes to the starting line even.”

The number to keep in mind on Saturday is 14:36 – a standard that has been on the books since Reina, a Texan, led nine runners under 15 minutes 26 years ago.

CBA, Zeinasellassie finish fast for NXN titles

December, 4, 2011
NXN boysJohn Nepolitan/ESPNHSGeorge Kelly (top left) and Christian Brothers Academy NJ react to the announcement that they have won the NXN championship by four points.
PORTLAND – Futsum Zeinasellassie and the Christian Brothers Academy NJ ruled the day and walked off the Nike stage wearing “Champions” jackets at Portland Meadows.

Zeinasellassie broke the course record by running by 15:03 and set the table for a blockbuster showdown with Edward Cheserek at the Foot Locker Finals in San Diego on Dec. 10.

But it was the team race between CBA (Lincroft XC) and worthy contender Southlake Carroll TX that produced the most dramatic moments of Saturday's Nike Cross Nationals – a frenzied final kilometer and a four-point victory (95-91) for CBA and legendary coach Tom Heath.

“This is the biggest moment in CBA cross,” Heath said. “It’s an incredible achievement.”

It was all the more incredible for how it played out over 5,000 meters of semi-squishy terrain. The Texans rolled the dice and went out fast from the gun, hurtling themselves to the front of the pack early. At the 1-kilometer split, Southlake Carroll was up on CBA 38 to 120.

“We knew we had to get out that first 400 and to be in the top pack if we had a chance of winning this,” Carroll’s Jordan Chavez said. “We knew from past experiences here that if you don’t get in that front pack it’s going to be tough to pass throughout the race.”

Getting out fast is a workable theory with a lot of merit, but it also has consequences.

With each passing kilometer, CBA kept getting closer. The score was 64-111 at 2K and 92-106 at 3K. Southlake Carroll had an 85-101 advantage at 4,000 meters.

CBA’s mission all along was to remain a bit more conservative early and close with a rush late. That strategy worked. Knowing that their team was trailing, George Kelly, Jack Boyle and Tim Gorman rallied and picked up valuable points.

CBA moved up late

And the difference in the teams’ No. 3s was the most revealing. Gorman closed in 3:01.10 over the final 1,000 meters and finished 36th overall in 15:54.46. Southlake Carroll’s No. 3, Alexander Johansson, closed in 3:09.06 to finish 47th in 15:59.16.

“We told them in the first K to get out, and they did pretty well, but not as well as Carroll did,” Heath said. “After the moguls there’s a good patch where they can really move. And from there it was a battle.”

CBA’s cumulative time of 79:58 was one second faster than Southlake Carroll’s.

The fastest mover early on was Nick Ryan of Fayetteville-Manlius NY, who had seven seconds on the entire field after the first split. Ryan’s gambit at the front was intended to inspire his team and create a sense of shock among the leaders.

Ryan held up pretty well. He finished fifth overall and was the only runner in the top 19 who was connected to team. Fayetteville-Manlius finished 12th, however.

Futsum ran away with it

Zeinasellassie, a senior from North Central of Indiana, remained calm and controlled. He pulled up alongside Ryan before the 3K mark and then moved past him. And then he surged and left everyone behind him.

Zeinasellassie ran the third kilometer almost 10 seconds faster than anyone else in the race (3:16.42) and the fourth kilometer eight seconds faster than anyone else.

The winner made a point of thanking his coach, his teammates and his parents before moving into questions about his race and the challenge of facing Cheserek next week for the first time.

“When I caught up to (Ryan) I had a good lead on the pack I didn’t want to slow down so I just picked it up and kept going,” he said.

Zeinasellassie, who was born in Eritrea, won the NXN Midwest and Foot Locker Midwest regionals with measured efforts, knowing that he had to run more times than Cheserek before their eventual showdown.

As he was going over the final set of hay bales, he heard that he was in range of Craig Lutz’s course record and so he pushed himself to go after it.

He now has a chance to match Lukas Verzbicas’ historic NXN-Foot Locker double in 2010.

“I wanted to relax as much as I could and I was hoping for an easy win but it wasn’t,” Zeinasellassie said. “I went all out but winning this race has given me a lot of confidence. I’ve still got one more, but I’ve got one in my bag. I’ve won a national race.”

Also finishing strong were Texan individual qualifiers Daniel Vertiz (15:26.4) and Craig Nowak (15:26.7), who were second and third overall. Both of them are doubling back to San Diego next week also and both felt good about the way they finished. Nowak (2:52.04) ran the fastest fifth kilometer and Vertiz (2:53.95) was second-fastest.

Izaic Yorks of Lakes WA also had a strong kick and placed fourth (15:29.9), three spots ahead of the in-state rival who had beaten him three times in the past month, Kamiakin WA's Anthony Armstrong (15:31.4).

Jonah Diaz of Palos Verdes CA was sixth and Jake Leingang of Bismarck NC was eighth. Rapid City SD's Tony Smoragiewicz, the top returning finisher from 2010, was 11th.

Beyond CBA and Southlake Carroll – the third and fourth teams in NXN history to score less than 100 points – Davis UT finished third (157) and Arcadia CA was fourth (184). The 5-8 spots were separated by just six points: At-large qualifier Palatine IL was fifth (255), American Fork UT was sixth (256), North Central WA was seventh (259) and newcomer Arrowhead WI was eighth (261).
Fourteen states conducted state meets on Saturday, making it the biggest weekend of the season so far.

This week there are 18 more state meets.

Here is a look at the action over the weekend, starting in New England, where a huge Nor'easter swept in and dumped a lot of pre-Halloween snow.

State meets in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island were spared the snow -- ducking under the wire before the storm hit.

The storm was in Connecticut by Saturday morning and races were conducted in white-out conditions. Check out this Hartford Courant resport, which quotes Glastonbury's Reid Watson saying she had to squint through the race to keep the snow and bright reflected light out of her eyes. Some of the races were originally postponed to Monday, but power outages are preventing them from happening today, either.

Working our way west, in West Virginia, Maggie Drazba set a record and Jacob Burcham did his thing.

In Indiana, it was Futsum Zeinasellassie's time to shine, breaking a course record held by Lukas Verzbicas on the way to his third state title. Plus the US#6 Carmel girls and US#6 Columbus North boys rolled.

In Wisconsin, Molly Seidel was a scene-stealer, breaking her own meet record. You should know that when we entered her 4K time into the TFX rankings system, we were met with a warning. Are you sure? (Her 13:39 is faster than the parameters we have set, prompting a warning).

In Iowa, it's all about Dowling Catholic, which swept the team titles.

In Oklahoma, Arya Bahreini of Edmonds Santa Fe posted an impressive win.

In Kansas, Jacob Morgan won his second straight title for Washburn Rural.

There was a blockbuster girls race in Colorado and Monarch emerged on top of the 5A heap and Jordyn Colter won the individual title as a freshman. The Fort Collins boys and Classical Academy girls (3A) also were headliners at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.

In Idaho, the era of seniors Emily Nist and Dallin Farnsworth reach their zenith. Nist won her third title, Farnsworth his second.

And in Hawaii, on the beautiful island of Maui, the Hawaii Preparatory girls and Leilehua boys won titles.

Also, US#1 Edward Cheserek conquered yet another course record, this time at the Essex County Championships.
Steve Underwood was obviously impressed by Julie Macedo's big win at the Joe O'Neill Invitational in Delaware.

Macedo, who was unranked and coming off a broken leg suffered during outdoor track season, continued to build on an already sterling season with a 16:55.3 victory, her second sub-17 this season. The senior from Charter School of Wilmington DE beat a field that included Tatnall's Haley Pierce by 40 seconds.

Macedo rose from 4 to 1 in the girls Top 25 rankings issued by Steve U.

There were some minor tweaks to this week's boys Top 25 rankings, but Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's NJ has a firm grip on No. 1.
Special thanks to guest host/interviewer Nicole Blood for taking time out of her schedule to help us out at Van Cortlandt Park on Sunday. Is it too early to call her a New York running legend?

Here is a rundown of the videos from the Manhattan Invitational, where a bunch of No. 1s -- CBA, F-M and Edward Cheserek -- did work.

The Eastern States boys wrap-up. The Eastern States girls wrap-up. In addition to Blood, photographer John Nepolitan and videographer Moses Galindo documented the meet.

Here is the line-up of post-race interviews:

The man himself, Edward Cheserek.

Christian Brothers Academy ring-leader George Kelly.

Coach Bill Aris and the fabulous Fayetteville-Manlius girls, including Jillian Fanning, the overall race winner.

The mega-watt sophomore from Bronxville NY, Mary Cain.

And talented North Shore NY standout Brianna Nerud.
For the second week, Edward Cheserek ran not only to win but also make a statement. The St. Benedict's junior ran 14:53 on the 5K course at Holmdel (N.J.) at the Shore Coaches Invitational, a massive undertaking with 26 races. The next five runners behind Cheserek (competing without a team) were all from US#1 Christian Brothers Academy. Yep, they scored 15 points. John Nepolitan covered the meet for Dyestat with his camera lens.

At the Great American Cross Country Festival in North Carolina, there was a pretty big upset in the boys Race of Champions, where Holy Trinity FL's unranked Daniel Moore flew past US#4 Jacob Burcham and set a course record of 14:57.6. In the process, Moore erased a record held by Alan Webb. Cardinal O'Hara PA won the team title with 119 points, followed by Great Oak CA with 129. On the girls side of things, Wesley Frazier won the University Race of Champions on Friday (17:41) and Haley Pierce won the high school ROC on Saturday in 17:32.1. Meanwhile, Saratoga Springs got the better of Pierce's Tatnall DE team, 64-72 for the title.

In Yakima, Wash. at the 38th Sunfair Invitational, Northwest power was on display. Glacier Peak WA's Amy-Eloise Neale tore away from North Central WA's Katie Knight late and smashed the three-mile course record with a stunning 17:03.9 -- taking down a Brie Felnagle record. Glacier Peak also won the flighted team competition with 18, with surprising Camas WA next with 25. Anthony Armstrong of Kamiakin WA won a marquee matchup with Mead WA's Andrew Gardner as both went under 15:10.

At the Paul Short Invitational in Pennsylvania, Julie Macedo showed there was nothing flukey about her sub-17 a week earlier. She ran 17:26 for the win and won by 28 seconds.

At the Desert Twilight Festival in Gilbert, Ariz., Cibola AZ's Bernie Montoya ran 15:02.6 to win the boys race and Sarah Fakler of Xavier AZ clocked 17:30.9 to beat the girls field by 30 seconds.

At the flrunners.com Invite in Titusville, Fla., Josh Brickell from Peachtree Ridge GA (15:02.14) and Olivia Ortiz of Lakewood Ranch FL (17:35.82) were the individual winners.

At the Wendy's Invite in North Carolina, Darcy Middlebrook of Watauga NC led wire to wire and won the girls invitational race in 17:36. Hardin Valley NC brothers Will and Aaron Templeton recorded two of the three fastest times of the day in the open race.

At the Harrier Classic in Albany, Ore., the US#15 Summit OR girls put all five of its scorers between 17:53 and 18:47 on a flat 5K course.

Check out the photo album that Kirsten Leetch put together at the Palos Verdes Invitational for DyestatCal.

And lastly, there was a state meet on Saturday. It starts getting cold early up in Alaska, where the Service boys and Wasilla girls repeated their Class 4A titles. Meanwhile, it was a rough ending for talented freshman Allie Ostrander of Kenai. She collapsed at about 4K and walked to the finish line. Here's hoping she comes down to the Lower 48 for one more race.
Steve Underwood released his weekly individual rankings today, and while he allowed the boys list to simmer, without much significant movement, he gave the girls list a stir.

A couple of highly ranked preseason athletes, Sarah Baxter and Haley Pierce, dropped out because they haven't competed yet this season. Both are reportedly on the mend from injuries, but will have to work their way back into the rankings. Campolindo CA's Carrie Verdon rocketed up the list from 18 to 6 on the heels of her 16:59 performance at Stanford. And Julie Macedo moved from 20 to 7 after running 16:53. (Macedo wasn't in the preseason Top 25).

There were no changes in the top 16 on the boys list. Even Edward Cheserek's course-record season debut at Garret Mtn. didn't move him past Futsum Zeinasellassie. So Cheserek is No. 2, at least for now.
On the heels of Edward Cheserek's big course record on Saturday, Christopher Parish filed this report on the New Jersey page. Cheserek is profiled in the October issue of ESPNHS Magazine.
Another week of full tilt cross country action across the country brought a few more grand entrances into the 2011 season.

You sort of had a feeling that after Futsum Zeinasellassie grabbed headlines with an impressive run last week that Edward Cheserek was not going start the season with a whimper. Quite the contrary. Cheserek broke the Garret Mountain (N.J.) course record by a whopping 22 seconds on Saturday, running 14:53 at the Passaic Coaches Invitational. He won the race by 107 seconds!

Meanwhile, US#1 Christian Brothers Academy (N.J.) also started with a bang, winning the Bowdoin Park Classic in New York, sticking four in the top 10. The girls from US#6 Saratoga Springs, N.Y. got out of the gate fast, too, scoring 17 points at Queensbury.

Out West, reigning national champ Arcadia continued its hot streak by winning the boys title at the Bob Firman Invitational at Eagle Island State Park on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho. Doug Binder's meet story is here details the team wins by Arcadia and the upstart Skyline (UT) girls, plus dominant wins for Dallin Farnsworth and Katie Knight. Special thanks to Gregg Mizuta for sharing his photos.

In Portland, Aloha High School hosted the Nike Pre-Nationals, where Washingtonians Maddie Meyers and Jacob Smith took care of business in the Jim Danner championship races. Gig Harbor of Washington won the boys title and Redondo Beach had its No. 6 runner to thank for breaking a tie with Mountain View (Idaho) for the girls title.

At Stanford, Carrie Verdon of Campolindo ran the fastest time of the day for the girls, a blistering 16:59 in the D3 race. That was faster than Glacier Peak WA's Amy Eloise-Neale's 17:09, which won the seeded race. Darren Fahy of La Costa Canyon was also sensational, running 14:54. Check out the coverage on DyestatCal.

The US#3 Carmel girls (and boys) dominated the action at Culver Academies Invitational.

Julie Macedo of Wilmington Charter (Del.) ran a stunningly fast 16:53 5K to win the Six Flags Wild Safari Invitational in Jackson, N.J., gapping the field by a full minute.

On the three-mile course at Deer Grove (Ill.), host Palatine won the boys meet and Assumption took the girls title. Lake Park's Kaylee Flanagan broke the course record, running 16:51.3.

In New Hampshire, Mike Marsella of Chariho (R.I.) ran 15:35 to win the Manchester Invitational.
Edward Cheserek hasn't run yet, but he remains firm grasp of the No. 1 ranking in Steve U's individual rankings for Sept. 14.

Mike Marsella of Rhode Island's Chariho High School, and Robert Domanic of Texas' Hebron High are the week's biggest movers, entering the rankings at Nos. 16 and 17.

Girls rankings ... are pending.