The Nike Cross Nationals is the ultimate cross-country experience, and when runners from all over the nation took to the course Saturday, Dec. 7, in Portland, Oregon, all eyes were on Great Oak and Newbury Park high schools.
This year marked the 16th anniversary of the event and included individual and club qualifiers from eight regional championships that came together to compete to be crowned national champion. Fields of 22 seven-person clubs and an additional 50 individuals, both males and females, put their best foot forward in the quest for the sport’s biggest prize, the coveted Winged Goddess of Victory statue.
The Nationals course at Glendoveer Golf Course offers athletes a premium, challenging championship venue for putting it all on the line. It also gives spectators great viewing options whether they want to follow the race around the course or sit in the grandstands near the finish line.
Almost every year, the weather plays a huge role, and this year was no different as a cold front brought heavy rain to the area, making conditions that much more mentally and physically tough. In the boys’ race, the battle for the top spot came down to two of the top teams that both not only won division titles this year, but also won at the state level: Newbury Park and Great Oak. Newbury Park won the Southern Section Division 2 title and for the sixth straight year, Great Oak won the Division 1 crown, so fans knew this race was going to be an exciting match up.
In fact, it was too exciting as the race literally came down to four seconds between the two programs, with Newbury Park edging Great Oak, to win their first national championship. Great Oak, competing as Temecula since NXN is not a sanctioned CIF event, felt the pressure from Newbury Parks’ Nico Young, who once again proved that he is one of the top distance runners in the country, winning the 5-kilometer race in 14 minutes, 52.3 seconds.
Fellow senior Jace Aschbrenner, who has been running closely with Young all season, placed 18th in 15:29.1. Colin Sahlman was 53rd in 15:51.9.
Great Oak has long established itself as California’s premier cross-country program, winning six consecutive state titles, a national title at NXN in 2015 and now, consecutive runner-up finishes. The Wolfpack needed just a few more points to close the door on Newbury Park, but their loss was in no way due to a lackluster performance. Great Oak was led by senior Gabe Abbes (54th, 15:52.0), Aric Reza (59th, 15:54.8) and Leandro Candray (63rd, 15:58.3).
The finish was razor close, as the Panthers won with 128 points to 132 for Great Oak. It was the third head-to-head meeting between the two teams; Newbury Park won at the Woodbridge Invitational, Great Oak responded to win a month later at the Clovis Invitational.
“At the end of the day, you focus on the journey,” Abbes said. “You got out and try to race the best you can. Some days, it comes for the better. Some days for the worse, and some days by four points.”
Both programs had their girls’ teams competing Saturday. The Great Oak girls were led by Kelli Gaffney (57th, 18:49.5) and Aubrie Nex (81st, 19:08.9), who helped lead the Lady Wolfpack to a ninth-place team finish with 266 points.
Newbury Park was led by Hailey Golman (84th, 19:10.2) and Sam McDonnell (85th, 19:11.2) and placed 17th in its first appearance at the NXN meet. More information can be found at www.nikecrossnationals.com.
JP Raineri can be reach email at firstname.lastname@example.org.