Moment #4 - NY Takes Both Titles At Nationals
Two parallel storylines. One word to describe them both. Dynasty.
On the one hand, you had Katelyn Tuohy (North Rockland), the most accomplished Cross Country Runner of All-Time. Even before the National Meet, Tuohy had captured nearly every major Course Record in the Northeast, went undefeated in the sport for nearly three years straight, and built a resume bigger than any other athlete, male or female, in the sport of High School Cross Country. For her, only one thing was left. No athlete had ever won Cross Nationals three years straight, male or female. And only one had ever came close.
On the other hand, you had the Girls' Program at Saratoga Springs. They were the pioneers of female, team-oriented distance running. They had dominated the National Scene in the late-80's through the early 2000's. In 2004, they achieved what many still call to this day, the best female Cross Country team of All-Time, culminating with the first ever win at Cross Nationals. And, despite the rise of Fayetteville-Manlius alongside them out of New York, they managed to make five more podiums in the following years. But that fight for the top, would never be extinguished. Anything was possible.
Touhy's Season was business as usual. Selective scheduling, team focused, and fast efforts when needed. She opened her Season at Great American, setting the Course Record by over 20seconds, a record set the year prior by Kelsey Chmiel (Saratoga). Oddly enough, it was the first year in quite some time that Saratoga wasn't at the meet. They were a young team. Nobody in their Top 7 were older than their lead Sophomore, Ella Kurto. But their coaching team was storied, and despite her age, Kurto had four years experience under her belt, and was quickly becoming a Top 5 contender in the State.
The Season continued. At Manhattan, Tuohy outlasted the deepest field in history, giving way to our Moment #6 (click here). It may not have been faster than her Course Record, but it was still 20-seconds faster than any other athlete in History before that day. As is typical, Saratoga was racing at SPAC that day, displaying a 25-second compression from their 2nd runner through their 6th, with Kurto winning by 20-seconds. They were good, a pack team, but the key would be how fast their collective back-end could get. Manlius was showing strength again at Manhattan, after losing to Saratoga by 1-point the year before at the 2018 State Meet. The battle for New York was as strong as ever.
Come Championship Season, both Tuohy and Toga were rounding into form. Tuohy casually dropped two more All-Time performances at Bowdoin, winning her Sectional, then going on to an unpredictable State Meet, as detailed in Moment #7 (click here). There, she ran away from the field for another dominating win. A return to Bowdoin the following two weeks brought another Fed and Regional win, both right near 17mins even. For Saratoga, the journey to Nationals was not as smooth. On October 26th, at Suburbans, after nearly a month of no racing, the Saratoga Girls came out with a dominating performance, putting them back on the National Radar. One week later, at Sectionals, the gloves came off. The Girls of Toga put together one of the best collective performances in SPAC history, the second fastest team average of All-Time, no small feat. It was a glimpse at a National Title-winning program.
But the story gets complicated. At the State Meet, Saratoga saw a reverse of fortune as compared to the year before. Flipping the script, it was Manlius that came away with the upset at States. The story repeated at Regionals, with Manlius back on top. Saratoga had the pieces, they had proven it on their home course. They could compete with any team in the Country, but they just happen to be geographically next to the one who can perennially challenge. Once again, it was off to Nationals, as the second place team at the Regional. Just for reference, no team had ever won the Title, after losing the Regional. But as always, the Streaks would not be deterred.
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The 2019 Cross National Course at Glendoveer was damp, and dreary. Such is typical for early-December Portland, Oregon. On the starting line was the New York regulars. Katelyn Tuohy was looking to make history, but had the regular slew of challengers she had vanquished before. The cold never helped Tuohy, constricting the circulation in her legs, slowing her down. As for the team battle, Saratoga was still in the hunt, but not as the favorites. 2018 Defending Champs Summit, OR fit that role. This was their turf, but the meet had always belonged to New York. The gun goes off.
Tuohy quickly established herself as leading the way. Ahead of the crowd, she was setting the pace. However, for the first time in her campaign in Portland, the field was within reaching distance. Much of that was calculated. After dropping 5-min opening miles in years prior, Tuohy had planned on going out more reserved for a more distinct close. At 1mile, the team race was shaping up. As is usual, Manlius blitzed the field to an early pack race. But in contrast, so did Saratoga. They led the team scoring at 88points, Manlius at 111, the field some 80-points back.
And then, Manlius began to fade. At 2miles, Saratoga was holding strong, improving to 84 points, a strong compression among team runners. The gap on the field was increasing, and the Streaks were compressing. Mid-race, they were returning to Sectionals form on the biggest stage. Up front, Tuohy was seeing the same. At 2miles, she had opened up a six second gap on the field. But the conditions were starting to take their toll.
Saratoga would see their athletes cross the line, one-by-one, with a three-second compression 2-4, and a thirty second compression 2-5. It was over, and a dominating win, by nearly 100 points total. But before they could be crowned the winner, Katelyn Tuohy was seeing the biggest battle of her life. At three miles, she mantained her 6-second lead. But that last 400m at Cross Nationals is brutal, throwing a steep incline before a long finish. Tuohy threw in a surge in the final bend before the incline, trying to break the field. Taylor Ewert (Beavercreek, OH) and Sydney Thorvaldson (Rawlins, WY) did what many others couldn't: they responded. The surge had been too early, and drained Tuohy's legs. The incline hit like a brick wall. Within moments, Tuohy was dead even.
100m to go, and it was a sprint to the finish for the ages. Taking glimpses over her shoulder, Tuohy could tell they were gaining. It was more a matter of how much she could prevent the gap from closing in time to cross the finish, rather than running away for the win. With legs numb from the cold, the line grew closer, and the gap grew smaller. The crowd rose to their feet, and cheered them on. Exhausted, and still pushing, Tuohy drove her arms to the tape, and outlasted the two challengers, winning by the smallest margin for her since 2016, and becoming the only girl to ever win three consecutive National Cross Titles. She joined Saratoga on the podium, who in themselves set history, becoming the second girls team to ever win more than one National Title, doing so 15-years apart. For many on the team, they weren't born the last time they rose the trophy. But for now, they reigned supreme.
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Tuohy would go on to race her first Professional XC Race at the 6k distance two weeks later, placing second to former NY XC Star Aisling Cuffe (Cornwall). Tuohy would go on to commit to NC State, and set a Meet Record in the 1500m at the Indoor State Meet. Saratoga would see success on the track as well, with a near upset in the 3000m by sophomore Ella Kurto. Saratoga brings back their entire team for the 2021 season, but prospects look dim with the first ever cancellation. No worries, they'll all be back for the 2022 Season as well.