As Thunder Ridge junior Stetson Moss’s cross-country season ended Saturday, Idaho Falls senior Zach Erikson’s season was extended by a week.
Competing one state apart, the two state medalists had notable finishes at prestigious meets. Moss ran 15:13.1 to place 11th in the boys race at Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Ore.., and Erikson ran 15:48.7 to place 10th at Foot Locker West Regionals at Walnut, Calif., to advance to this weekend’s Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego.
It was the second consecutive appearance at Nike Cross Nationals for Moss, who was 17th there last year in 15:32.3. His top 11th place finish not only landed him All-American honors for the second consecutive year, but led Northwest finishers. Moss said his strategy was similar to last year, but he guessed he likely ran 3.2 miles instead of 3.1 due to running on the outside of the pack.
“I just kinda stayed up in that front pack, 10 to 15 places back just kinda sitting right there,” Moss said Tuesday by phone. “I was on the outside for almost all of it just because (Northwest runners) started in box 31 out of 32. I was in a good position but on the outside.”
Moss said after placing third at this year’s Nike Cross Northwest Regional Championships in November at Eagle Island State Park that he felt like the atmosphere of NXN got to him a bit last year. He said this year, he treated it like any other race and the result was an unusual, but good sense of calm.
“It was really weird because this was the first race I’ve ever run where I wasn’t nervous,” Moss said. “It was like an overwhelming calm.”
Racing one state south of Moss, Erikson had what he described as the craziest finish of his career to become District 6’s first Foot Locker Nationals qualifier since 1999 Bonneville graduate Jed Barta. The top 10 boys and girls finishers from four Foot Locker regional meets advance to Foot Locker Nationals, and Erikson’s strategy was to move into the top 15 by the mile one and then the top 10 by mile two. With a half mile left, the race got more dramatic when three runners passed him.
“I was in 13th and I had to sprint all out and catch back up and barely got it,” Erikson said Tuesday by phone. “As of now, it’s the most memorable finish I’ve ever had because I had to make up about three seconds in about 150 meters. I crossed the finish line and they slapped a lanyard around my neck saying ‘No. 10’ and they put me in a van to go sign some paperwork. It happened so fast. It was awesome.”
Having raced at Foot Locker West before, Erikson said he knew how tough the Mt. San Antonio College course was with its hills and switchbacks. He took time off to rest after Nike Cross Regionals Northwest, where he placed 19th, and he said that rest was a big help.
“The course is probably one of the hardest--if not the hardest course--in the country,” Erikson said. “I knew I had it in me to qualify. I’ve been struggling with my recent races, but I took that rest and felt a lot better and was able to feel good during the race. It finally came together and I was able to run fast when it mattered.”
At NXN, where the top two teams and top five individuals from eight regional meets, top two teams and top five individuals from California and four at large teams and 10 at large individuals from around the nation compete, participating runners receive custom-made Nike uniforms to run in, as well as shoes. Participating runners also get to practice at Nike World Headquarters and meet Nike sponsored athletes--including ones from the Oregon Project. Furthermore, NXN provides ample opportunity for runners to meet other runners from all around the country, including ones they had only previously read about.
Having been to NXN twice now, Moss said he has formed a tight bond with the other northwest runners.
“The whole atmosphere is kinda like the next level running,” Moss said. “A new level that everyone’s on when you make it to nationals. Everyone who is there deserves to be there. These northwest guys were all amazing guys. We all just kinda click. We all acted like we we’re best friends from grade school.”
In a few days, Erikson will be experiencing a similar atmosphere at Foot Locker Nationals. Participating runners receive custom New Balance gear and get to meet New Balance sponsored athletes, and jumping in the Pacific Ocean has also become a post-race tradition. The girls race is at 10:15 a.m. Mountain Time Saturday and the boys race follows at 11 a.m. at Balboa Park in San Diego.
Erikson said he leaves today for Salt Lake City, where he will stay overnight before flying out Thursday morning to San Diego. Since his Foot Locker West finish, Erikson said the overwhelming feeling he has had is disbelief.
“It’s been a dream of mine to quality for a national championship my entire career,” Erikson said. “I just want to take in this experience and have a fun time. When the race comes around, just try to run my hardest and whatever happens, happens.”
Idaho had a strong showing at both NXN and Foot Locker West. Running in their first NXN appearances, Borah sophomore Nathan Green was 18th in 15:20, Twin Falls junior Mattalyn Geddes was ninth in 17:28.3 and Eagle junior Ashley LaJoices was 47th in 18:03. The Boise girls, Idaho’s 5A state champions who received an at-large bid to NXN, placed 10th with a score of 273 points for the highest finish by an Idaho girls team at NXN.
At Foot Locker West, Bishop Kelly senior Nick Russell placed third in 15:35.3 in the boys championship race and Mountain View junior Lexy Halladay was fourth in the girls championship race in 18:11 to also qualify for Foot Locker Nationals. Per Sugar-Salem cross-country head coach Brett Hill, Idaho placed third in the boys team standings behind California and Utah. Also competing in the championship races were I.F. sophomore Mitchell Athay (27th in 16:12.2) and Sugar-Salem senior Kooper Williams (49th in 16:25.6). Russell and Erikson are the first male Idaho qualifiers for Foot Locker Nationals since Pocatello’s Elijah Armstrong went in 2013 and 2014 and Halladay is Idaho’s first female qualifier since Vallivue’s Mikayla Malaspina in 2013.
Both Moss and Erikson said they are grateful to have been part of a historic year for Idaho high school cross-country that has included runners and teams making national rankings and doing well at elite meets.
“It’s like pretty freaking awesome what we can prove to the rest of the nation,” said Moss, who was third at this year’s 5A state meet. “The northwest gets underappreciated, especially Idaho. It’s pretty incredible we have some awesome runners.”
“It’s really cool to be a part of,” added Erikson, a BYU signee, two-time 4A individual state runner-up and member of back-to-back 4A state champion Idaho Falls boys teams. “To even be in the conversation with all these great runners around the state, it’s really awesome. I’ll definitely remember this season for probably the rest of my life.”