The rabid boys scene at the NXN MW will look similar to this on Sunday afternoon
Additional storylines by Tony Jones
Downers Grove North looks to be a shoe in to punch their ticket to Portland for a second straight year. The Trojans easily won their first state championship (3A) last weekend scoring 74 points over previous title holders Neuqua Valley. Illinois races over the three-mile terrain for most of its meets, not much different than 5K. Downers North's 1-5 spread has been impressively low all season and there is not a reason for it to change now. The Trojans are led by the rock solid Jacob Ridderhoff who should be in the top 20 overall. If he can that on Sunday coupled by their killer bee attack, they will be packing their suit cases to Portland.
Defending team champion Neuqua Valley graduated six of their top seven runners from a year ago, but yet this squad is still a favorite to place among the top three. In their only two losses to state champ Downers Grove North, one was a 1 point set back at the Naperville Twilight Invite and the other was a suprising double-digit loss that on paper seems like a blowout. The Wildcats did not have their best race at state, one in particular, may have been because of usual #3 man Chris Keeley fell strangely ill during the race and placed 197th. Keeley's season and personal best was 14:59 (3m). No excuses were made and the Wildcats are happy to have another opportunity to show that they are one of the elite teams in the country
Carmel, the top team in Indiana. They have the most experience on this course, having raced here for their state meet just a couple weeks ago. Also, their team comes out to the course a couple times a year just to practice on. These guys have a mean spread 1-5 over 5K, with just 29.5 seconds between them. Their number 5 guy will need to find a spot right with their #4 for as long as he can to help bring that split down just a little and help them get an auto-bid. These guys were 7th last year, but look to have no problem jumping up this year and hopefully getting themselves to Portland.
Missouri big school champion Blue Springs will give it their best shot on Sunday. Look for the Wildcats who are led by emerging elite Victor Mugeche to lead the charge. They have top 5 written all over them. The tough Terre Haute terrain may also be to their liking.
The individual race could be one for the record boards or at least for the competitive spirit. Four of the top NXN competitors return. Illinois big school champion and NXN MW defending champion Dan Kilrea appears to be back in the driver's seat for Sunday. Kilrea has raced fast over the 5k distance as well when he won the Culver Academies Invite in Indiana. Dylan Jacobs was favored to win last week against Kilrea may not run because of a lingering viral infection. Unfortunately, for him is that he has not been able to complete any indicator workouts this past week. If Jacobs is out look for Indiana champ Gabe Fendel to step forward as an imminent threat to Kilrea. Fendel has only one last this season and that was to Cole Hocker. He avenged that loss at state. One dangerous runner to keep an eye on is Clayton Mendez. He is the Stanford University bound senior from Chicago Whitney Young. Mendez has run extremely well over the past month. His runner up finish in the 3A championship was not a fluke. If his mental game is as strong as his physical game, he will be punching his ticket to Portland. Ohio has the devastating tandem of last year's finalist Dustin Horter and this year's challenger and national 5k leader Zach Kreft. They will bring a punch like no other from the Buckeye state.