FL NE: Haile leads start to finish in a hurry to get to warmer weather. Jersey boys help each other.

By Geoffrey Decker

BRONX, N.Y., Nov. 29 -- If cold weather bothers Solomon Haile, it didn't appear to affect him yesterday in New York City, which should bode well for his chances in San Diego. The relatively mild conditions - calm, sunny, temperature in the 40s - at Van Cortlandt Park for the Foot Locker Northeast Regionals was enough for Haile to bundle up in long sleeves but not nearly enough to deter him from a dominating performance.

Leading the pack at the 2k point (photo by Rachelle Clinton)

Leading wire-to-wire, Haile, who moved here from Ethiopia last year, won comfortably in 15:21.9. After the race, he was as excited about San Diego's temperate weather as he was about qualifying.

"The challenge now for training is that it's cold," said Haile, a senior from Sherwood, Maryland. "I don't like the cold. I'm happy about [the race being in San Diego] too."

Haile was a unanimous pre-race favorite and didn't disappoint. He set the pace early, leading at the mile in 4:21. From there, he never looked back. By the 2-mile mark, his lead opened to 30 yards and he finished with a 14-second margin of victory.

"There was a little bit of pressure [being the favorite]," Haile said. "But my past results gave me more confidence to prepare myself for the final races."

Tyler Udland, of Millburn, N.J., ran in second for most of the race and finished that way, in 15:36. Following closely behind was Joe Whelan, of Hamburg, N.Y., in 15:38.

Below: Left to right-Andrew Springer, Tyler Udland and
Joe Whelan with about 650 meters to go (photo by Don Rich)

Outside of first and second, the race order shuffled quite a bit in the back hills. At the 2-mile mark, it was Haile, Udland, Phil Wood (NJ), Ben Furcht (PA), and Whelan in the top five. Michael Moverman (MA), Andrew Springer (RI), Neil Berman (PA), Doug Smith (NJ) and Phil Galebach (MA) rounded out the potential top-10 qualifying spots at that point.

But of course the race doesn't end in the back hills and there was still much racing to be done. Coming out of the hills with 600 meters to go, Wood had dropped to fifth and was passed by Whalen and Springer, the first-year XC harrier with exceptional mile speed.

High school teammates Furcht and Berman, of Lower Merion, PA, would drop all the way to 10th and 11th, respectively after coming out of the woods in 6th and 9th. Moverman and Galebach, both from Massachusetts, held relatively steady, finishing in sixth and seventh, respectively.

Out of contention for much of the race, New Jersey runners Brett Johnson, of Ocean City, and George Galasso, of Holmdel, surged in the final mile, passing several runners to secure spots. Johnson moved up from 15th place to 8th and Galasso moved from outside the top-20 to 9th.

Below: Johnson leads with Galasso giving chase of his fellow Garden-stater at the 4k mark (photo by Rachelle Clinton)

The three qualifiers from New Jersey - Udland, Johnson and Galasso - are also in this year's dominant classification on the boys' side, Group III, and race each fairly often.

"Coming down the stretch, it was Brett [Johnson] and I pretty much working off each other, and I know for a fact, if he wasn't there, I wouldn't be passing as many people," Galasso said.

Smith, the top returning runner from the Northeast regional last year and a preseason favorite to qualify, faded to 44th, a disappointing finish to what has been an up and down cross country season.

All ten of the Northeast regional qualifiers will be making their first trip to San Diego as participants in the national meet. On hand this year as spectators were Donn Cabral and Brian Leung, two top qualifiers from 2007 and now teammates at Princeton University. Asked if they could offer any advice for the 2008 Northeast representatives Leung said that the Foot Locker trip and race is the experience of a life time. "Just go out there, run hard and enjoy it."