TullyRunners -  Article


Random Thoughts - Cross Country 2011

by Bill Meylan (December 11, 2011)


Laura Leff at NYStates

Footlocker Finals 2011 ... Great performance by sophomore Laura Leff (West Genesee) in finishing 3rd at Footlocker Finals ... Laura finished 2nd at NY States (Class A, behind Jillian Fanning of FM), 2nd at NY Federations (behind Mary Cain of Bronxville) and 5th at Footlocker Northeast ... Laura was NY State XC Freshman-of-the-Year in 2010 and 8th-Grader-of-the-Year in 2009 ... Her 3rd-place finish at Footlocker Finals probably surprised her as much as anybody.

Most who have watched Laura's races know she typically goes out fast and likes to lead (she had a 50-60 meter lead at the mid-point of Footlocker Northeast) ... Laura's coach, Jim Vermeulen (who was at Footlockers), said Laura ran an extremely effective tactical  race ... From Coach Vermeulen, "She was in the top-18 at the ĺ mile mark of the two loop course. On the hill section of the loop, she attacked, coming off the hill in 9th. She jockeyed between 9 and 12th through the 2.5 mile mark to the second ascent of the hill. There, with an extraordinary effort, Laura passed 8-9 competitors both up and down the hill--and she hit the final rise to the finish straight in 3rd. With a strong surge-to-sprint effort, she held her position across the line, finishing in 17:33.9, a personal and seasonal best."

Laura is an exceptionally good hill runner, and I personally thought Balboa Park would be a good course for her ... she is quoted in the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper, "This was way over what I had hoped for ... Right when I had a mile to go I could see the leader and everyone in front of me and I knew I had one more hill left ... I really wanted to get top 15, so I started passing more girls ... (about the course) I loved it - I like how itís a loop and that you had to do it twice."

Comparing Footlocker Finals and NXN Nationals 2011 ... For the girls, I initially thought NXN was a bit stronger at the top-end, and said so in my NXN preview ... However, the Footlocker girls performed very nicely, and I was especially impressed by the top two finishers (Molly Seidel and Erin Finn) ... I suspect Sarah Baxter (the NXN winner) would be very good on the Balboa Park course, but I believe she's the only NXN girl who would have challenged the top two at Footlocker ... Overall, pretty even between between Footlocker and NXN (and maybe a slight advantage to Footlocker for the girls) ... Footlocker boys were stronger than NXN boys.

Note Laura Leff's jersey in the photo ... The photo was taken at the NY State Meet ... I had several inquiries regarding the jerseys at the State Meet ... Once again this year, the runners at the NY State Meet were not allowed to wear their school-issued uniforms ... Apparently, the school-issued uniforms that were bought and paid for by the NY State tax payers (and truly designate the schools represented) are not good enough or appropriate for the State Meet which is technically an "Intersectional" meet for the 11 public high school sections (so say  the majority of those in charge of the 11 sections) ... Nike was approached and "donated" (sponsored or whatever) all of the jerseys worn at the NY State Meet (some still had $22 retail price tags attached) ... That's where the jerseys came from, and why Laura Leff and all the FM girls (and other runners from Section 3) were wearing the same jersey ... very nice quality jerseys I should add.

NXN At-Large Selection ... In a previous article ("Quick Thoughts Concerning NXN At-Large Selections 2011"), I noted that California had an advantage based on the criteria used for the 2011 selection of at-large teams ... That criteria being selection based primarily (or solely) on performance at the NXN regional qualifying races ... Several "inquiries" suggested I needed to provide more "detail" ... In my opinion, it is not appropriate to directly compare the results of the California State Meet to the regional NXN races because it is an apples-to-oranges comparison ... And here's why...

(1) the California State Meet included 114 boys teams and 112 girls teams ... that's far more teams than any championship race at an NXN regional ... and it's been my experience that when three or four times as many teams compete, it's fairly common that the teams that finish 3rd or 4th overall might "look" a bit better than the teams that finish 3rd or 4th in the smaller fields ... three or four times as many teams have the opportunity to do better and some will ... it's simply a number thing, and California has the advantage.

(2) the California State Meet is the only NXN regional that is conducted as a progression of the actual in-season meets for high school teams ... Is this an advantage over teams that must wait for a period of time to compete at their NXN regional?? - That's a matter of opinion, but it's not the advantage I'm thinking about ... It is the In-Season part that I see as an advantage compared to all other NXN regions ... In-season means it's sanctioned by the State, and that generally means their travel expenses are covered by the schools (the State) ... Also, in-season means conflict with participation in other sports does not exist (e.g. the winter season sports).

The eight "real" NXN regional qualifiers have teams opt-out due to waiting, travel time, travel expenses and/or conflicts with runner participation in other sports ... and these factors can (and have) hurt performance at NXN qualifiers ... From my point-of-view, comparing the 3rd and 4th-place teams at these qualifiers directly to the 3rd and 4th-place teams from CA power merge is "advantage California".

Example ... Here is what I would consider a "fair" direct comparison ... I will use the Northwest region as the example ... Let's assume the Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana State Meets were all contested on the same day ... The following week (which is assumed to still be in-season), each of those States pays for the top teams to go to the NXN regional (a total of 112-114 teams in various divisions) ... Do you think the performances of 3rd and 4th-place teams in this Northwest power-merge might look a bit stronger than the performances of the 3rd and 4th-place teams in the current Northwest regional?? ...... The chances are real good that the performances will look better ... That's why I think it's imperative, when comparing CA teams to other regions, that the State Meet results take on added significance.

NY Example ... In indoor and outdoor track, New York combines the "State Meet" and Federation Meet into a single meet ... I wonder why the same thing isn't done in cross country ... It should be fairly easy to do ... Keep the Class divisions, include the Catholic, PSAL and Independent Association teams ... Expand the NYSPHSAA teams to include teams that did not win at sectionals (which is quite easy to do and could take various forms) ... Give out separate awards for Feds and NYSPHSAA just like track ... And assume 112-114 teams were included ... I tend to think the teams that finish 3rd and 4th in the merge might look a bit better than 3rd and 4th at the current NXN regional.

Hypothetical Example for Teams Considering NXN Next Year ... Let's hypothetically assume a NY coach contacts a top person in NXN during the summer and asks which meets the NXN selection committee looks at to pick at-large teams (the coach senses the possibility of finishing 3rd at the NY-NXN regional) ... Let's assume the NXN person says "Go to Manhattan", and the coach was not planning to go Manhattan, but decides to go Manhattan based on this advice (and has his team spend a lot of money going to Manhattan) ... Let's assume it's confirm that this hypothetical team is informed that they need to run well at their State Meet and finish at least 3rd at the NXN regional ... This hypothetically makes sense ... Let's hypothetically assume the team goes to Manhattan and finishes a very good 3rd beating many ranked teams (and only loses to CBA-NJ and FM) ... They finish 2nd at the Class A State Meet losing by only one point, but every knowledgeable person knows that one point loss was because only nine teams were in the race (hypothetical stuff is dumb sometimes because no State is silly enough to have only nine teams in a State champion race) ... In the merged State results (if we want a California type comparison), this hypothetical team won the State Meet by 13 points ... Let's assume this hypothetical team  gets enough runners from their section to charter two coach buses to go the NXN regional (that costs money) ... Let's assume they spend $2800 on entry fees for all runners, $1600 on some pasta dinner and maybe $2500 in merchandise (I guess motel rooms cost something as well) ... Let's assume the hypothetical team finishes 3rd at the NXN regional ... They beat competition head-to-head at Manhattan as suggested, they were effectively the NY State champion, and they finished a decent 3rd at the NXN qualifier (and that's just part of their resume) ... And what were they hypothetically given?? ... They were given the opportunity to bend over and grab their ankles.

Hypothetically, I wonder about the possibility of two coach buses returning to NXN next year ... In some years, those coach buses may have gone to Footlocker, and with Footlocker returning Van Cortlandt Park (hypothetically), I wonder if additional coach buses will be going to Footlocker.

Bottom-Line ... Based on what NXN did this year with respect to at-large teams - nothing matters except performance at the regional qualifiers ... Don't go to mid-season races to help your NXN resume ... Go to mid-season races for experience and to enjoy a possible over-night funfest ... I took me a while to realize that NXN wants the regional qualifiers to have this importance (they want to be more like Footlocker).


Rules and More Rules ... Various State Association rules present disadvantages to teams from some States ... For example, Michigan still does not allow Michigan teams to compete in NXN ... Apparently Illinois (and some other States) prevent or limit contact with coaches post-season ... I just shake my head in disbelief when I see some of these rules and feel bad for kids being denied equal opportunity.

A number of years ago, I was listening to a discussion of coaches (from various sports) about some new athletic rules ... One of the older coaches was visibly upset and said something I have always remembered because it is so appropriate in some situations ... His quote was...

"Rules made by adults to protect the jealously of other adults" ... usually disguised with the concern of "doing what's best for the kids", when in reality, one group of adults are afraid that another group of adults might gain an advantage.

Even if you disagree with me, just consider this ... Joe Newton (York, IL) is one of the greatest high school coaches of all time ... I consider coaches to be teachers, mentors, and information sources for high school students ... Coaches are living, breathing resource books ... Illinois (if that rule is still in effect) is basically telling the kids that "We have one of greatest reference books of all-time in our library, but you can't look at it today" ... Let me add to the sentence, "you can't look at it today because you might learn something and some adults might think that's a disadvantage to them".

NY Girls & NXN ... The discussion of NY Girl success at NXN continues in the context of 7th and 8th-graders being allowed to run varsity (or as a junior high feeder program to the varsity) ... One prominent California coach (who subscribes to NY having a big advantage with respect to 7th and 8th grade participation) just sent me an e-mail question, "Why are just the Fay-Man and Saratoga girls good year after year? Why not other NY girls teams?"

Well ... I don't have a specific answer ... I could answer the question with some other questions:

Why is York IL good year-after-year??
Why is The Woodlands TX good year-after-year??
Why are the Saugus girls winning year-after-year??
Why are other programs good year-after-year??

With respect to FM and Saratoga, it might have something to do with their secret workouts that nobody else has.




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