Addendum To The Merge: Thoughts On Mt. SAC, CA vs. NY, And Winning An NXN Team Title

Welcome to the 10/26 addendum to the Speed Rating National Rankings. I chose to keep this as a separate piece to delineate between Objective and Subjective opinions. The merge is purely objective; I don't make the numbers, I simply sort them. The below are my own subjective opinions on those rankings, resulting from my own experiences. Being a New Yorker, I have a clear bias (reading this on MileSplit NY should have been your first hint), but because a few people have posed questions in the past week, I thought I'd respond as factually as I could.

The bulk of this article is about New York and California. The reason for that is simply because three of the four possible national titles currently have both NY and CA ranked either 1st or 2nd.  The outlier here is the other Boys Individual title, which seems to be up in the air for whichever event Brody Hastey doesn't pick.  It also seems a bulk of those potentials for the Boys Individual nod is from the middle of the country, so I'll let our National Team delve into that one.  Now onto the opinions!

Thoughts on Mt. SAC Speed Ratings

Like many other people, I too was watching the Mt. SAC results to see if Claudia Lane would approach the course record.  She's been an impressive athlete to see compete, and it is always exciting to watch anyone attempt a course record. Alongside that, the Team Sweeps were relevant to the Speed Rating Merge, with nationally ranked programs on the lineup.

It was immediately evident from the initial results that something was "off." Athletes were running significantly faster than projected, based on known Speed Rating Profiles heading into the meet, and applied course corrections from 2016. For whatever reason, be it weather, course adjustment, or the level of talent, there was a definitive shift in the results, uniform across all athletes..  While it was most evident for me with the top finishing teams, as I had the data for them readily available, the middle of the pack runners were also running faster.

The biggest indicator of "something up" was the team time average secured by Great Oak. The mark was previously held by Great Oak 2015, and it seemed unusual that the 2017 team would capture that mark by such a margin.  The 2015 Great Oak team that would go on to win NXN, is one of the Top 3 Teams ever to have run from 2008 to Present.  As an aside, those same teams would be hard pressed to find the top of the podium from 2007 and back, but there has been a clear decrease in team performance at the National level over the past decade.  But regardless, many teams would be hard pressed to break the Mt. SAC record on even footing.  That isn't to say Great Oak 2017 isn't up to par with their 2015 team or can't get there before the end of the season, but simply the data hasn't indicated that fact up until this point.

Bill Meylan adjusted the Course Correction to account for this change, and provided an explanation in his ratings. The sweeps races were dropped, on average, 3 points for girls, and 4 points for boys. These numbers are correct, based on more data than my simple original hypothesizing, which was looking at around a 21-second improvement per runner.  These are also the numbers I used for our Speed Rating National Merge, to keep things consistent. However, there was something weird about the adjustment.  And not simply that this was the first year in many that a boy hadn't broken 190 at Mt. SAC.


In my opinion, I had initially thought the boys rankings could be dropped by another two points. Of the Top 3 finishing teams, 20 of the 23 individuals had their best, or exceeded their best Speed Rating of the year.  Conversely, on the girls side, that number dropped significantly, to a more reasonable 25%. Simply put, the girls raced more predictably, especially on a course that was drastically harder than most CA teams have attempted earlier in the season. You would expect some to run faster on the hills, and some to run slower.

The point differential between first and second being as close as it was, was another flag. Coming in, Loyola was ranked 16th in the country, and Great Oak 1st.  Great Oak won the meet, with Loyola only 36 points back, despite their projected 1st and 4th runner finishing 6th and 7th on the day. It would make you wonder what the team results would have been if Dublin, ranked 5th in the country, would have been in the race.

Realistically, whether or not the points are adjusted more from this point is irrelevant. Great Oak would still be US #1 based on Speed Ratings regardless, and California would have just as many teams in the Top 22 overall.  We'll look at that more later in the article, as well.

Thoughts on Tuohy vs. Lane

Claudia Lane would go on to run 15:49 at Mt. SAC, breaking Sarah Baxter's record of 16:00.  There are people who believe the mark should have an asterisk next to it, because of the course adjustment.  Removing the Speed Rating adjustment, Lane still would have run 15:58 or so, under the record anyways.  Many believed that Sarah Baxter's course record was the best run in XC history.  I disagree with that statement, but before you call me a "homer,"  I believe that title of "Best Run Ever" belongs to another Californian: Amber Trotter at the 2001 Foot Locker Finals.  Trotter would have finished ahead of two boys in that Foot Locker Race, when Foot Locker was bringing the top individuals in the country, unimpeded by NXN. So, in theory, Trotter was the 30th fastest runner in the country that year, boy or girl.


But I digress. As Lane was running at Mt. SAC, on the other side of the country, Katelyn Tuohy was running #3 All-Time at Bowdoin..... in a workout. After the race, Tuohy divulged she was doing a Fartlek workout of 30-seconds on, and 30-seconds off, and then proceeded into a deeper workout immediately following the race.  For Tuohy to go #3 All-Time at Bowdoin (one second off #2 AT), while doing a workout, it is almost a performance that supersedes her Van Cortlandt Park Record. As I had mentioned prior, the VCP record could be considered "soft".  A major reason for that is because of where the Manhattan Invite falls on the schedule.  No truly Championship Season-peaked athlete ever ran at VCP, a big reason why the previous course record came with a Speed Rating of only 152.87. Tuohy's mark simply puts the record on par with others across the country.


But I am digressing again. Naturally, with two athletes at both ends of the country setting up impressive marks, the question arises: who would win head-to-head. Unfortunately, both announced their Post-Season plans, and neither are going to the same event.  So it leaves only speculation. Personally, I think both athletes have run in a way this season that merits a National Title. Both will have the opportunity to earn that, with plenty of girls who could also be in the mix.

There are those who say that Lane should be the defacto "National Champ" until Tuohy comes to Foot Locker and races her. The statement seems silly to me.  Both Tuohy and Lane have run more impressively this year, than Lane  herself had last year. For Tuohy to go to Foot Locker, it would be putting her at a major deficit coming into the race.  Lane lives about a two hour drive from the Foot Locker Nationals Course.  Tuohy would be flying across the country, to a unfamiliar course, with unfamiliar weather at that point in the season.  It could be argued that no athlete from one Coast has ever been higher than 85% of full strength at a National Meet on the opposite coast. The same could be said for CA teams that go to NBON in NC.  Foot Locker wouldn't be an even playing ground, which is something you want when decided the "best."

Personally, I think that the fairest race between the pair would be at NXN. Tuohy would have to deal with the time change, while Lane would have to deal with the temperature change. Both are handicapped in as equal a way as you are going to get.  But I am not sure that will ever happen. Lane has the change to become a three time Foot Locker National Champion, while Tuohy could set herself up to be one of the first to win a NXN and Foot Locker title in HS. Both signs point to a potential meeting at Foot Locker next year, but who knows besides them and their coaches. Until then, it's all speculation.

Thoughts on CA vs. NY

As we mentioned earlier, three of the four National match ups pit California against New York in the first and second positions. It is an age-old battle, that seems to have lasted since the birth of prep XC.  Being a New Yorker, I have a clear bias (reading this on MileSplit NY should have been your first hint), but it interests me more in how New York can keep up, when statistically, it shouldn't even be close. California has a population of 39,000,000 where New York is the third largest state at around 19,000,000. That means the California has nearly twice as many people, and theoretically, twice as many HS athletes competing. Yet, in the National Rankings, that discrepency isn't as apparent.  On the girls side, there are four teams from both NY and CA. On the boys side, it's a little more true to form, with 7 boys teams from CA, and 2 from New York.  The explanation for that comes from a subject I've spoken about at several clinics, on why it's easier to win a boy's national title than a girl's one, but that's a story for another day. To grossly oversimplify, it comes down to two things, the predictability of male athletes, and the effects of enrollment.

ENROLLMENT is one of two major factors that play into the National Rankings, and a team's ability to win a National Title.  A big question this season on the boys side of competition is, how good is your fifth man?  The top three Boys teams in the country are about dead even through four athletes, but it's that fifth man where Great Oak takes the jump.  What's the biggest reason why Great Oak has that fifth man?  Their enrollment is 250% greater than that of Loudoun Valley, and 415% greater than that of Burnt Hills.  Statistically speaking, there is no reason it should even be close.

Loudoun Valley compensates for the discrepancy utilizing the second major factor to play into a team's ability to win Nationals, but lets look at Burnt Hills for a minute. They follow a long tradition of undersized schools from New York being able to compete with the best, and biggest, in the country.  With BEDS numbers of about 750 (students 10th through 12th), and a total enrollment under 1000, they are dwarfed by schools out west. 

The same is true on the girls' side of the competition. Fayetteville-Manlius is highly ranked, despite being one of the smallest schools in the NXN field, annually.  This statistic anomaly is what interests me. There is no reason NY schools should be able to compete. And yet, with 900 kids, Burnt Hills is vying for a national title. Somehow, like other NY schools in the past, they have beaten the odds to becoming nationally relevant.

Speaking anecdotally, the highest placing Small School at NXN prior to this year would be the East Aurora Girls placing 4th in 2010, with around 500 students in the building at the time, coincidentally also a New York School.  Burnt Hills would look to one up that effort, even if they have nearly 125% more enrollment.

Check out the graph below to see the enrollments of the Top 4 Ranked Schools in either gender to further demonstrate the disparity (based on wikipedia #'s).

The second major factor that plays into the ability to compete at the National Level is the occurrence of TRANSFERS. There has been a high rate of transfers in 2017, which is distorting the National Rankings. Of the teams in the Top 4 in either gender, Loudoun Valley (Affolder, Wells), Springville (Pancake), Keller (Clark) and Great Oak (Gaitan) are only podium contenders because of their transfers. Adding in key transfers is not a negative. It is understandable that when kids move, they want the best opportunities they can get, athletically and academically. However, to say they are not relevant to a team's success is bypassing the truth. If you were to remove all transfers from teams within the above criteria, none of them would land within the Top 5 teams in their respective gender. There are several teams outside the Top 4 in each gender which have also benefited from transfers (Shen Girls, Manlius Boys, Milton Boys).  It's a growing trend in the rate at which we are seeing this in High School, and is slowly changing the landscape of the sport.  But the trend is nothing new.

Below is a list of the past six National Champions on the boys side. Of them, only one was a public school, without a transfer in their Top 7 (coincidentally again, it was a NY school). Before that, the data gets sketchy, but I know their were recruiting allegations against the 2010 Arcadia team that were disavowed by the coach.

Boys NXN Team Champs

Bozeman (16) - Transfer

Great Oak (15) - Transfer

Fay-Man (14) - No Transfer

Gig Harbor (13) - Transfer

Arcadia (12) - Transfer

CBA (11) - Open Enrollment


Now the question remains. How can New York teams keep up with a country that has increasingly larger schools sizes, as well as the creation of "power teams" through transfers. Trying to answer this question is a big reason I started the Speed Rating National Merge. I wanted to collect data over multiple years to find an explanation. So far, I haven't gotten that answer. That isn't to say the venture has been a waste.  Significant trends have developed in the data over the past five years, in which the predictability of teams is becoming more clear.  Rate of improvement varies from region to region, and being able to identify national contenders has shifted to far earlier in the year. So we will continue to collect the data, and analyze the results.  There is plenty still to be learned, and we look forward to always improving our rankings.

Happy running, and see you next week.