By Chris Lotsbom
(08-Dec) -- The American high school cross country season came to an end earlier today at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego, Calif., where Edward Cheserek successfully defended his national title and Anna Rohrer won her first championship after breaking from the field late in their respective races.
The Boy's Championship race began as a pack affair with nearly all of the 40 qualified athletes together through 800 meters. With many pre-race favorites playing it safe through the early going, Cheserek was content tucking in behind the leaders as they approached the first mile.
Battling up the largest hill of the 5-kilometer course for the first time, Virginia's Sean McGorty picked the pace up, creating a lead group of four. Responding to McGorty's move was Cheserek, who trailed by less than a meter -- just what the leader wanted.
"Knowing Edward has a great kick, I sort of wanted to do the best I could to take it out of him," McGorty told Deena Kastor in an interview following the race's webcast.
Joining McGorty and Cheserek were last week's Nike Cross Nationals champion Sam Wharton and New Balance Nationals Outdoor 5000m champion Jake Leingang, both of whom wore gold vests as representatives of the Midwest Region.
Nearing halfway, McGorty, whose mother ran at the Foot Locker National Championships, still maintained a one-meter edge on Cheserek, with Leingang and Wharton holding onto the Kenyan's coat tails.
Still intact at two miles --hit in 9:45-- the pack was well ahead of the rest of the field. Ascending the large hill for the second and final time, McGorty led the group of four.
But going downhill was another story, as Cheserek took the lead for the first time. Trying to break McGorty and Leingang, Cheserek injected a burst of speed, causing Wharton to fade from the pack. Barely holding on was Leingang.
"I tried to stay with them and work up the hill, but the downhill is what killed my legs," said Leingang, who is from North Dakota.
Passing three miles in 14:30, Cheserek again used his 1:48 800-meter speed, ultimately separating from the chasing McGorty.
"I wanted to stay back with these guys and at the last minute kick because that was my strategy," said Cheserek.
Hands above his head, Cheserek broke the tape in 14:59, becoming only the fourth repeat champion in Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships history. He broke 15 minutes both times on the storied Balboa Park course.
"Right now I feel good," said the quiet champion, who joins Abdirizak Mohamud, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Lukas Verzbicas in the two-time winners club.
In second came McGorty, who was still pleased with his effort.
"I gave it my all trying to beat him, but he's a great athlete and he deserves this national championship," said the Stanford-bound McGorty.
Leingang rounded out the top three, a significant improvement from his 59th place showing at last week's muddy Nike Cross Nationals meet.
Rohrer Gets First Title
To begin the Girl's Championship race, California's Marissa Williams took the pace out ferociously, just as she did a week ago at the Foot Locker West Regional. Hitting the 400 meter mark in an unofficial 66 seconds according to the web stream announcers, Williams was nearly ten meters up on the field.
The quick pace soon caught up to the sophomore, who would end up finishing eighth. Caught by a slew of Midwest athletes clad in their gold vests, Williams and the lead pack passed the mile in 5:18. In gold were Maria Hauger, Jordyn Colter, and Taylor Werner.
Missing briefly from the lead pack was Midwest Regional champion Anna Rohrer, a sophomore from Mishawaka, Ind., Rohrer had been tripped within the first 400 meters of the race, falling to the ground and scuffing her knee. Despite the spill, she remained calm.
"I got right back up and I knew the race wasn't over," Rohrer said minutes after the race. "I just got up and made sure to keep a level head."
Rejoining her Midwest teammates at the front, Rohrer looked poised through two miles, passed in 11:10. That's when she knew it was time to go, pulling ahead of the field.
Despite Hauger and Colter's efforts to gain ground in the final 400 meters, it was all Rohrer. Sprinting around the final bend, Rohrer was all alone in front. Breaking the tape in 17:25, Rohrer became the first sophomore since Kathy Kroeger in 2006 to win the Foot Locker National Championship.
Rohrer said running alongside her Midwest teammates helped her immensely during the race.
"It was fantastic, really comforting," she said. "It was great to be racing with people that I am really good friends with."
An added edge for Rohrer was her toughness, brought out in a temporary tattoo resembling barbed wire on her left upper arm.
"It's just something fun that my team did a couple times [during the season]," Rohrer said with a laugh. "It makes you feel a little tougher I guess."
Behind Rohrer, Massachusetts's Catarina Rocha finished with a hard charge to catch both Hauger and Cloter in the final meters before the line. Rocha, who is from Peabody, Mass., is coached by her father Joe, also a Foot Locker Cross Country Championship alum.
"I just tried to stay with them," said Rocha. "The last 200 [meters] I just kinda felt good and started kicking to hopefully catch them and I did."
Rocha's time of 17:29.0 was just two-tenths of a second ahead of Hauger (17:30) and a half second up on Colter (17:29.5). Rounding out the top five was Karis Jochen of College Station, Texas.
PHOTO: Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., wins the 2012 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships (photo courtesy of Foot Locker)
NOTE: The complete finish list is at FootLockerCC.com --Ed