The Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational is always a meet that brings in an impressive field due to being very flat and, normally, very hard due to the climate in Kentucky this time of year. Conditions were almost idea for fast times again this year and the athletes took advantage of the opportunity to run fast. The weather was hot and dry which led to a good amount of dust through parts of the course, including the finish which appeared to be a cloud of dust for most of the day. Out of the dust, though, came plenty of fast times and even a few athletes that garner the attention of more than a few college coaches around the nation.
Chris Walden (Carmel, IN) was the big story coming in on the boys’ side and he more than delivered even without being at 100%. “Early this week, actually all this week, I’ve had some kind of nagging muscle pain. It was really in my butt, but in the past couple days it’s flared up into my back. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to race today.” After making the decision to race, though, Walden had high hopes for his performance at a meet that he has competed in for all four years of high school. “I knew this course was fast, so I was trying to run a fast time and maybe go for that US #1 time, which I think would have been like 14:47 or something like that. So, I was trying to shoot sub-14:40 or 14:50 or so, but I kind of came to halfway through the race and I saw I wasn’t going to get it, so I just kind of turned it in and (decided to) get ready for next week.” Most people would love to be able to “turn it in” to the tune of 14:57 like Walden did today, setting a new course record in the process, but he has plenty on his plate going forward with a visit to Wisconsin tonight and tomorrow as well as a showdown with Futsum Zeinasellassie and Zach Wills next weeked at the Culver Academy Invitational. (Note: Walden’s college list is rather long still with Wisconsin, Cal-Berkeley, UNC, Michigan, Arizona State, and UCLA still among his long list of possibilities, but he mentioned that he plans to have it wrapped up around Christmas.)
Walden had plenty more to say about his plans for the rest of the season, saying, “The (meet) I really kind of circled on my calendar was Culver with all us super studs coming together. I think if it is not a tactical race, I think Chris Derrick’s record 14:47 is in danger…. At this point this year, compared to last year I feel so much stronger and better. A lot of the national websites kind of had their top ten and I was like 11th and they were putting those top ten guys on a pedestal. I know I can race with those guys, and, you know, I feel like I am a top guy, and if one or two of those top guys are having an off day then maybe it’s a title. You know, we’ll see, I’m definitely hungry and I think I’m ready to take it to the next level.” Clearly, the young man is ready to challenge the best in the country and his credentials match-up favorably. He will definitely be fun to watch going forward this year and we are all looking forward to Culver next weekend.
As for this weekend, though, let’s talk sophomore studs, specifically Jacob and Jacob. Burcham (Cabell Midland, WV) entered this race as the consensus #1 in the nation among sophomores based on his track season and he delivered a smoking 15:19 performance that was impressive especially since he just decided this fall to give up football and focus on cross-country, though he says track is his main sport. “I love coming down here, first of all, because I can’t think of any flat courses in West Virginia, so it’s always nice to come out here on a nice flat course. My goal today was 15:20 because I saw that there were two sophomores ahead of me nationally and 15:21 was one of them. I think I posted a 15:19 or something like that, so I got that.” Unfortunately for him, it was sophomore Jacob Thomson (Holy Cross Louisville, KY) that crossed the line in 2nd (15:17), and with this performance, following his 15:21 at the St. Xavier (KY) Tiger Run a few weeks ago, Thomson has leaped into that elite group of underclassmen. Even more impressive was the way that Thomson achieved this, as he was struggling for a bit late in the race, dropping off the back of the lead pack for awhile before responding nicely. “I didn’t feel very good, I felt pretty tired around that two mile mark and figured I’d just try to stick with the back of that pack. I knew that if I could get towards the end with them I could hang with them, but at the 4k I was still in 7th…. Right around that last turn (about 600-800 meters to go), I took the lead of that pack right then and just hammered it in from there.”
Thomson had talked about wanting to make a run at Walden, but saw early that he couldn’t hang and then turned his attention to the man he specifically focused on beating, in Burcham. Thomson will make his way to the Midwest Catholic Championships in Ohio next week before hitting up Great American in a few weeks and will look to battle with some of the best in the Southeast there. He and Burcham will most likely face off again at Foot Locker South in about two months, when both will be looking to gain the respect of their elder competitors and add a berth to the national championships to their growing list of accomplishments.
Jake Wildenman of host Trinity (KY), was 10 seconds back of Burcham in 4th after having edged Thomson in an epic duel three weeks ago, while Montgomery Bell Academy’s Michael Peters was 5th in 15:30. LaSalle senior Travis Hawes kicked of his team’s scoring with a 6th place finish and that helped their group to a 2nd-place finish overall, scoring 166 to Carmel’s 93, while Kentucky’s St. Xavier was a strong 3rd with a score of 177. It came to light later that LaSalle was missing their #3-runner for the second meet in a row and after a 44-88 win for Carmel last week, this week LaSalle may have closed the gap a bit. Montgomery Bell Academy (TN) was a close 4th with 178 and Burcham’s Cabell Midland squad was 5th overall with 191.
Sacred Heart Academy’s Emma Brink won a close decision over Carmel’s Renee Wellman last year and entered as the favorite this year, but lightning striking twice against this Carmel crew is a bit much to ask. Brink was aggressive at the start, though, and the pace she put down in the first mile was so quick that she almost single-handedly strung out the entire field to single-file in the early going. Only Kaitlin Snapp of Danville, a perennial standout in Kentucky, was willing to hang with Brink, and she stayed right with her through 2k, but Brink just continued to press the pace and earned a well-deserved victory, pulling away late to win in 18:01. Brink, as always, was very humbled by the experience, but noted the rising talent from the in-state ladies, “I’m thankful to win. I’m thankful to have all this great competition, and all the Kentucky girls really running strong. Coach (Rick) Heim and I had a gameplan going in and I think I got a little too excited and ran the first mile about 10 seconds faster than we wanted it.” Having just committed to becoming a North Carolina Tarheel this week, Brink sounded relieved after making the decision. “The schools I really looked at were obviously UNC, University of Tennessee, Ohio State, NC State, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Florida… When it came down to it, I’ve been doing this process for awhile, starting a year and a half ago with unofficial visits and I had about 10 coaches come to my house over the summer… I did an official visit at Tennessee and one at UNC and after the official visit I was like, ‘This is really where I want to go.’ It’s a huge emotional excitement because I love the team, I love the coach, and I think it’s a fabulous school in a great location. Just everything I was looking for in a college.” Brink will definitely be looking to leave her mark in Kentucky history as she aims for yet another Class AAA state title this fall before looking to improve upon 18th and 13th place finishes at Foot Locker South the past two years and, hopefully, claiming a national championship berth.
Snapp really helped make the race by forcing Brink to keep pushing for more than the first half of the race, but she ran out of gas a bit at the end and was edged out by 8th-grade phenom Maddox Patterson of Sayre and Carmel’s Sarah Bennett (2nd and 3rd both in 18:10). Patterson has been a fast riser lately in Kentucky and had a very strong showing in her first match-up with Brink. Like Thomson, she was very impressive as she appeared to move up in a big way late after battling with the Carmel girls and a pack of about 4 or 5 for most of the race. Patterson was visibly fatigued, though, looking as if the race took a heavy toll on her frail body, but if she can continue to race smart and put herself in good position, like she did early today, she will continue to be a threat not just locally, but nationally.
Bennett was the catalyst for a very talented Carmel crew that followed with 5th, 11th, and 13th-place finishes from harriers Renee Wellman, Alex Chitwood, and Allison Jacobsen before Ellen Schmidt rounded out their team score with a 26th place finish in 19:16. That made for an impressive score of 58 along with an 18:36 team average for a squad that continued to impress, beating 2nd place DuPont Manual (KY) by 77 points (135). Manual won this battle against Class AAA rival Assumption 135-164, though, Assumption clearly had some issues with #1-runner Ashley El Rady finishing 4th for them today in 42nd place. It will be interesting to watch both squads going forward as they will likely not face each other much in the coming weeks as both will make trips out-of-state to find some stronger competition.
Oak Ridge’s ladies opened up their season in impressive form, laying down a score of 188 ahead of Bowling Green (KY) who used a very solid 1-2-3 to put together their score of 206. With six of the top ten ladies being from Kentucky, the race definitely had a local feel and Brink’s sentiment about the impressive showing by group has echoed by plenty of coaches throughout the day. Snapp’s 4th-place finish was followed by a 6th-place finish by Christian Academy of Louisville’s Jenna Rogers (18:13), Kristen Hale of DuPont Manual was 7th in 18:14, and Collins High School’s Caterina Karas was 9th in 18:26.
As for the other races on the day, Carmel’s ladies swept the first nine spots in the open race, with Nicole Thinnes leading the way, taking the win in 19:24. The boys were not nearly as impressive, but still won easily with Zach Rutherford’s 16:31 win leading a 1-2-3-5-10 finish for the JV squad. One of the fun parts of the meet is that the day finishes with freshman races that have hosted the likes of Walden and Thomson of the course of the past four years and Kelcy Welch may just be one to watch in the future after her 18:57 win for Carmel, leading her group to an easy win. The boys race was won by Bobby Browning of Carmel in 16:41 ahead of Sayre’s Nicolas Waltman (16:49) and Carmel finished the sweep of the titles on the day.
It was yet another great day of racing with great conditions, though many athletes did mention the dust that the dry conditions led to throughout the day. Walden’s meet record might be safe for this year, but with three sophomores in the top ten finishers, it may not be for too many more years. With the season still only a few weeks old for many teams, there is still plenty of action to unfold throughout this season. It was noted by meet director Chad Waggoner of Trinity that we can expect to see more than a few of these athletes on this course again in two years, when the NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships make their way to Louisville for a one-year hiatus. With the performances that Walden and Brink threw down, it seems almost assured that they will feel right at home.