Welcome to the greatest Halloween cross country preview by W, ever. Get excited, jump up and down a couple times, grab a drink, pull up a chair and let's rock. Uhh... or, let's rock. This Halloween is going to have everything you could ever ask for in life. We've got candy, we've got ridiculously revealing girl's costumes, we've got A-10s, we've got Conference USAs, we've got Big Easts, we've got The State Meet and we've got W... all of which are essential to happiness. Let's get it on...
Atlantic 10 Conference Championship - St. Louis, Mo - 10:00am EST - Steve Taylor leads the Richmond Spiders into the battle for A-10 supremacy. Levi Grandt (Doddridge Co. '08) [EDIT: reportly a medical redshirt]. Emma Berry (Morgantown '08) runs for the Spiders on the women's side, but has had a tough 2009 campaign and I don't know if she'll be in the meet.
Conference USA Championship - Houston, Tx - 10:00am EST - Matt Schiffbauer (University '08) and the Thundering Herd are aiming to improve on their 4th placed finish from last year. Marshall's history in C-USA is 6th, 6th, 4th, 4th. This year they are a strong contender to finish 3rd if they all run their race. Last year Eric Frohnapfel (University '07) and Schiffy were 14th and 15th. If Marshall is to capture third, they'll need a third person (I'm looking at you David Caldwell [South Charleston '09]) to crack the top 20. Look for this race to be Schiffbauer's coming-out party. If he's going to nationals, he better be able to run with the big dogs in C-USA. The person with the most pressure on his shoulders is probably Cory Hampshire (Jefferson '09) who gets his first shot at the Marshall team. Running for the Pirates of East Carolina, Mr. Hampshire has to know that this race will be used for current bragging rights within the '09 class.
Big East Championship - Kenosha, Wisc. - 12:50am EST - WVU v. 'nova, round 37. In what should essentially be a dual meet, The Mountaineers and Villanova go at it for the umpteenth time. Last year, the Wildcats stole the championship 40-48. Considering the emphasis WVU puts on Big East championships, I know that Cleary wants this one badly. This is a very deep Mountaineer squad led by Keri Bland (North Marion '06), Clara Grandt (Doddridge '05) and Marie-Louise Asselin. The question will be where #4 and #5 end up. They have to be with Villanova's #4 and #5 or else the numbers will not add up. This will be the most pressure the women have on their shoulders until Terra Haute, so we'll have to wait and see who shows up to fill those last two scoring spots. I've got faith in Cleary-magic, but 'nova has some mighty powerful voo-doo of their own.
The West Virginia State Meet - Ona, West Virginia - 10:00am EST - All previews subject to swine flu and weather nullification. Seriously, this State Meet has the highest possibility I've ever seen of "Oh Em Gee, the pre-race favorite is out with (insert problem here)!" There's a strong possibility that a team with a lock on winning the state meet could wake up on Saturday with their #2, #4 and #5 runners unable to get out of bed and throwing up. And if everyone is healthy, there's a real possibility that the weather is going to wreak havoc and major players in the individual and team races could take a random fall in the mud and be out. I'd be amazed if blind luck didn't dictate at least one of the following 8 titles...
AAA Girls - "Propst can't lose States." "Dent has steamrolled the state." "No one respects Boucher, Nickerson and the panhandle." You could scratch out Dent for Kasprowicz and mark out Boucher, Nickerson for Yeager and we've got 2008 all over again. I see this as a four girl race, with only Chelsea Clark being the possible dark horse. Nickerson is a gamer with a pedigree (3rd '09 1600m, 6th '08 XC) as strong as Dent's. Boucher has run with Nickerson all year and Jefferson always has their people trained tough. Dent is the South's great hope for 2009 XC. She dominated the WV-contingent of GEICO and hasn't really had much of a challenge by an in-state runner. But, she also hasn't run against the #2, #3 and #4 runners on RunWV.com's CC Runner's Rankings on a typical cross country course. Letitia Propst is the most destructive force in West Virginia high school running today. She cannot be properly quantified. If you don't fear her, you should. I do not know if she can be beaten by any person of similiar fitness, in a big-time race. She has kicked down Allison Pettit for the '07 XC title, kicked down Alex Dent for 4th in the '08 3200m, kicked down Courtney Yeager for the '08 XC title in The Comeback, kicked down Sarah Martinelli for 2nd in the '09 3200m and kicked down four girls for the runner-up spot in the '09 800m. She only loses championship races when people have drastically better fitness than her (Crouch in '08 and '09, Kasprowicz in the '09 3200m). So, the question is, did her injury this Fall sap enough of her fitness that Dent & Co. can run away from her and avoid her closing speed? I don't really know, but I have to doubt it. My crystal ball says Propst pulls away from Nickerson right before going onto the track, but the injuries, mud and the swine flu cloud the picture. While Propst is the solid favorite, any of the above girls have a real shot at winning with the right race execution. (Note: the last eight AAA individual girls champions were from the NCAC.)
In the team competition, it's been Hurricane all year long. They dominated University at GEICO by nearly 40 points. Jefferson has looked strong and they only lost to Hurricane by 15 at Forest Festival. Both of these results, however are from mid-September. I think Jefferson is one girl short of a championship squad. If that one girl shows up, Jefferson could steamroll. University is mystifying right now. They left the North Marion NCAC meet as one team and showed up as a completely different team at the NCAC Championship meet two weeks later. They obviously got much better at the #3, #4 and #5 spots, but did they improve enough to take on Hurricane? My crystal ball says maybe. University is going to need some help from Hurricane to pull off the upset. If Hurricane runs the race they ran at MSAC and Regionals, I don't think University can beat them. If Hurricane runs the race they ran at GEICO and any of their top-3 runners slightly slip up, I think University or Jefferson will get out of town with another championship. Barring the swine flu, Hurricane should win the 2009 AAA title. (It should be noted that no team outside of the NCAC (13) and Parkersburg (3) has won a AAA girls title since 1992. Also, the AAA girls title has not left Monongalia County since 2003.)
AAA boys - Cody Pelliccioni should win the 2009 AAA championship. He put together the most impressive four week streak of meets that we've seen in a long time. He's undefeated in real meets this season and has been torching the competition. But... the barbarians are at the gate. His times in-state have not been jaw-dropping. Both his Mountaintop and his NCAC times were on par with member of the Class of '09, and therefore certainly beatable. Dayton McVicker has been getting better at a monstrous pace over the last 45 days and was within 10 seconds of Cody at NCACs. Cody hasn't faced Jacob Burcham this year and [EDIT] only faced Doughty once, in a large meet in Virginia, back in September. Burcham has been toying with his competition down south and has only been soundly beaten twice, both in Ohio. Doughty was the guy who ran 7:27 at Knight Night, 9:43 at '09 Track and won Forest Festival with ease. I would be stunned if someone outside these four won the '09 AAA title. Cody is the obvious favorite. He has gone out at a hard effort most races this year and I think he will stick to that down in Ona. It's a question of the tactics of the other three that will dictate just how much Cody is favored. I do think that no matter how well Cody races, he'll likely have multiple guys within 15 seconds of him at the 2mile mark for the first time in WV this season. How he reacts in that situation will dictate his success or failure. I anticipate Cody to be the 2009 AAA State Champion, but they run the race for a reason. (Note: six of the last nine boys AAA champions were from the NCAC.)
In the team competition, there's a two-horse race between Cabell Midland and West Fairmont. West Fairmont took Round 1 at GEICO, but it's this Saturday that really matters. Cabell Midland has one of the deepest teams I think I've ever seen and they've exerted their yearly, vast superiority over their portion of the state. West Fairmont has also dominated its portion of the state. It really is almost unknown how these two teams matchup. I know that they faced each other at GEICO, but those were completely different teams than the ones that face each other now. At GEICO, the spread from Burcham to CM's #5 was 1:35. It has narrowed considerably on a consistent basis since then. If any of West Fairmont's top-5 are off, they are crippled and would need a miracle to win. I have to say that the odds favor a Cabell Midland victory, if only ever so slightly. (Note: Since Cabell Midland was established in 1994, it has never gone this long [4 years] without a AAA boys cross country title. Since 1992, only the NCAC , Wheeling Park , St. Albans  and Cabell Midland  have won the AAA boys title.)
AA-A girls - The top-3 in RunWV.com's 2009 CC Runner Rankings were ranked (NR-8th grade), 30th and (NR-8th grade) in 2008. Maggie Drazba of St. Mary's is the favorite to win. She's crushed the AA-A portion of the state and I don't recall her losing this entire season. Sarah McCauley ran her close at GEICO and has looked very strong at times, while Sami Harris and Erica Hayes have done very well for themselves this year. These four have appeared to separate themselves from the field, but there's always someone lurking to spring the trap. I think the real battle will be between Drazba and either Hayes or McCauley. How Drazba reacts to the myriad of variables (pressure, inexperience, weather, pressure to win the team title) will dictate her chances. I like Maggie to win, but if either Hayes or McCauley are really "on," then all bets are off. (Note: Since AA-A was started in 1986, there have been three 4-time state cross country champions on the girls side. No other category has one.)
In the team competition, it looks like a three-way race between St. Mary's, Grafton and Berkley Springs. When all three went at it at GEICO, St. Mary's squeaked out on the strength of their top-3. There's room for huge jumps by all three team's #4 and #5 runners, leaving the window wide open for one runner on a team to completely change the course of the meet. One runner will likely do just that, but which runner is impossible to predict. (Note: In the last twenty years, there has been only one team to repeat as girls AA-A state cross country champion: Grafton '99 and '00.)
AA-A boys - John Mundey faced just about every foe he has when he went down to GEICO and he emerged victorious with a :17 victory. The host of guys that can upset him goes nearly 10 deep and we will just refer to them as "the field." I think that Mundey's obvious composure and experience that he displayed at GEICO will certainly nullify any butterflies. I'm sure that many in the field will try to take him down, it's a question of if any of these almost dozen guys can do it. So far this year, they've shown that they cannot. (Note: Berkeley Springs has won an individual AA-A title [boy or girl] every year starting from 2002 to the present. Ravenswood AA-A boys team winning streak is only two years longer.)
In the team competition, it's the closing of one of the most dominant stretches in the history of WV cross country. The last time a team other than Ravenswood won the AA-A boys team title, I was in high school and it was Doddridge that had just won their fifth out of sixth years. Considering that a high school team must completely turn over every four years, a nine year run of dominance is just incredible. This year, Ravenswood is out of the hunt, but Berkeley Springs, Grafton and Phillip Barbour all have the title within their grasp. It'll take a great race from Phillip Barbour's #5, and if they can't pull that out, they'll be hurting. Berkely Springs and Grafton are very evenly matched. Both have a big gun and both are at least 6 deep. The point-counting at the line will be furious for the parents of both sides. Best of luck. (Note: Only Magnolia, Doddridge County and Ravenswood have ever won a AA-A boys cross country team title. Ever.)
I hope everyone has enjoyed this, or at least enjoyed a part of this. There really is something special about having so many big-time races cooincide on one day. I hope everyone stops by RunWV.com's prediction zone, he does a much more indepth (and better) analysis than I do. And, as always, feel free to slag me on the message board for whatever bias you can find. Hope to see everyone down at Midland on Saturday.