September Startups: How Much Will Teams Grow in Two Months?

Every year the early rankings for NY XC come out in mid September in a chaotic dawn fog through which we can see through a glass darkly the shadowy figures of teams. Some of those teams have run hard already, some have done leg stretchers, some are just beginning to gel, some have run without key members, and some are still waiting to hit the trails. Making sense out of who should be ranked high, low or not at all is a bit of a challenge.

But the early rankings are mere specks of fluff quickly blown away in the season's tempest of heavy action that follows during the next two months. Speed ratings (TRs) are trotted out for the teams that fill the early season rankings, and a bigger question is how much higher can we expect those numbers to rise as teams work their way through the rigors of major and minor invitationals, league and county meets, and then the state qualifier events? If say the coach of a boys Class C team sees his team start off the year with a 140 TR average, how much can he expect his team to improve under normal circumstances?

Usually but not always, a team's speed ratings average will increase between its first kick-off meet and a later peak performance, often at Sectionals when everything is on the line. The degree of the increase varies widely though, because teams start the year in different circumstances and sometimes also end off in different situations during their best meet. The Corning guys for instance started last year without top runner Quinn Nicholson, and their Starting Speed Rating (SSR) was decent but not what it could have been. The Hawks' Monster Speed Rating (MSR) at Section 4 SQs did include Nicholson and he probably boosted the number by 5 extra points over the natural increase from the SSR. Teams that lost key runners to injury during the season got a dent in their increase however.

Each point of a runner's speed rating is equal to 3 seconds of a 5K race, so each point for a team TR is based on five runners averaging a 3 second gain in speed. Of course a team can also gain a point if four runners are stuck on the same plateau and one runner slices 15 seconds (5 points) off his rating.

Among the factors that can weigh in on how much a team's TR goes up (usually) from the inital SSR to the MSR apex are:

  • Date of initial meet. SSR scores for meets on the weekend before Labor Day tend to be lower than for those held on the second or third weekends.
  • Prominence of SSR meet. Score for bigger competitions such as this year's Chittenango meet tend to be elevated as teams push a little harder than they would at a small meet. However, last year's Wayne Pre-States meet was generally a sinkhole for TR scores due to various reasons, so some supposedly major events may not live up to expectations.
  • Injuries. Season-ending or debilitating injuries can diminish a big MSR score, but some runners return from early season ailments to boost an MSR big time.
  • Leg-stretchers and back-in-the-groove SSRs.  Some initial meets are not much more than a jog for some teams, which is all fine but does lower those early season TRs.
  • Size of school.  Large schools tend to have higher expectations in their first meets, while the smallest schools are sometimes wondering if they can get five runners across the line for an SSR.
  • Team formation issues.  Early in the year, some teams keep their top runners out for whatever reason and let the middle-of-the-pack runners carry the load. Maybe the elite runner has a tender hamstring, or maybe the coach wants his top runners doing a stronger practice workout than they would get in a meet. In any case, some teams don't get fully together until the McQuaid weekend.
  • End-of-season meet issues. Sometimes the meets that teams expected to run their bests at turn into mud slogs, or some other bollox turns up to bring down those big numbers that were supposed to happen in November.

Still, over the last three years we can say that the average rise in the TR speed ratings for the team 1st, 5th, and 10th spot in the Week 1 rankings to the same spots in the Final rankings for each class are  as follows. The first number in the rankings spot is the Week 1 three-year average, the second number is the Final ranking's average, and the number in the parentheses is the difference between the two.

1st171.3--179.7 (8.4)
169.2--174.7 (5.5)
161.0--168.0 (7.0)
150.7--158.1 (7.4)
125.7--141.2 (15.5)
106.8--116.1 (9.3)
98.2--106.8 (8.6)
93.4--103.6 (10.2)
5th164.7--172.0 (7.3)
156.4--160.4 (4.0)
143.1--153.9 (10.8)
142.2--146.9 (4.7)
106.7--117.7 (11.0)
90.3--107.1 (16.8)
60.8--86.1 (19.3)
65.4--82.1 (16.7)
10th160.3--167.3 (7.0)
149.7--157.8 (8.1)
133.1--146.9 (13.8)
128.9--139.8 (11.1)
10th98.2--109.8 (11.6)
86.9--96.9 (10.0)
68.4--82.5 (14.1)
53.8--73.8 (20.0)

The important number is the one in parentheses, which remains fairly consistent as a marker of the difference between the early season speed rankings and end-of-the-year scores. For instance, the boys top ranked team in Class C ended the year at 177.0 in 2015 while in 2017 the TR was 158.2, but in both years the average difference from beginning to end was about 7. In most cases except for the 1st spot in the rankings, it is a different team that was in the spot at the beginning of the year than the one occupying it at the end of the year.

What the numbers show us is that the scores for the Top 10 rankings spots for the boys' A and B classes tend to have a rise of between 4 to 8 points, while there is much more variability for the C and D classes, which also have larger changes from 4 points up to about 14. The bigger schools tend to be a little more settled at the beginning of the year, while the smaller schools often see big changes as they develop squads.

The girls' number have some parallels with the boys' big and small school differences, but the increase in speed ratings for the girls is about double for the A and B teams than the boys A and B squads. Girls teams are generally less intact at the beginning of the year and they get many more young new runners joining teams and rapidly upping the TRs. The girls' 1st spot in A has an unusually large increase, but Fayetteville-Manlius occupied that spot all three years and did not necessarily put on all the after burners in their first meet, but it had a higher than standard ceiling on the route to three national championships.

This year the boys teams in the top spots of the A, B, C, and D classes started the year with speed ratings of 178.2, 174.8, 143.4, 156.0, respectively. If the team at the top of the rankings gets the same average increase that teams had between 2015 and 2017, the final TRs for the top teams would be 186.4, 180.3, 150.4, and 163.4. Last year's national champions Loudon Valley had a 182 TR average entering NXN and upped it to 185 at the meet. Fayetteville-Manlius in 2nd at NXN had a TR of 180. So if the top Class A and B teams can actually finish the year at 186 and 180, they will be sitting pretty.

Below are the listings for how the top 20 teams in 2017 in each class that had an early September meet started off the year with an SSR score and went on for a peak MSR score later in the year. These tables show how the top teams have extremely variable experiences, with some having big jumps in speed rating during the year while others tend to have more limited rises. The tally for average change in the SSR and MSR scores for each class are compiled from the middle ten teams, eliminating the top and bottom five marks (girls D has only 18 qualifying teams and eliminates 4 from top and bottom marks) to get rid of the more unusual teams and hew closer to the more normal mark.

Some teams ran in both the September 9th and September 16th weekends last year, and for many of these teams I have noted the first meet's TR followed by a (1) and the second by a (2). Scores generally tend to get better for the second weekend opener in most years. One big note about the early SSR marks last year was that for a lot of teams the speed rating came at Wayne Pre-States. For many reasons, it was not a great meet for posting big scores, so the 2017 TRs for the SSRs may have been lower than usual. Many teams that ran at Wayne had better marks the previous weekend.

Results for Top 20 Teams

Boys A

Girls A

Boys B

Girls B

Boys C

Girls C

Boys D

Girls D

Boys Summary

Girls Summary