SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, December 11 — True to form, prerace favorites Gavin Sherry of Connecticut and Riley Hough of Michigan battled for the top prize at the rechristened Eastbay (formerly Foot Locker) National Championships. But a hometown hero nearly flipped the script.
Hough upheld the modus operandi of a phalanx of former champions, unleashing a decisive move along the second ascent of the 5000m course’s genuine climb to peel away from early leader Sherry en route to a 3-second victory in 15:11.4.
“I knew making my best move there would be the key to winning,” said Hough, the Hartland HS senior and Michigan State commit whose only loss this year came during a 5th-place performance at the previous weekend’s Garmin RunningLane Championships in Alabama, the other “national championship” meet after Nike Cross Nationals canceled this year’s Portland event due to pandemic concerns.
“I did some research and knew that the big hill is where things happen, especially (on) the second (circuit of the double-loop challenge),” added Hough. “But what I didn’t expect was for the steep downhill in the last half mile to take so much out of me. By the finish, I really had nothing left.”
Hough was patient from the outset and didn’t take the lead until the final mile. “No one was going to run away with it,” said the 2-time State champion who placed 19th at the last national meet held in ’19.
Sherry arrived as the slight favorite in a straw poll before the meet while riding an unbeaten season and sporting 4:01.88 credentials for the 4-lapper on the track. The top returnee (14th) from the ’19 race, he set a brisk early pace to position among the leaders, but become vulnerable on the key final climb.
Kenan Pala, a senior at nearby Parker High who quietly dazzled on the Golden State scene with a series of breakthroughs this fall, nearly authored a perfect final chapter on the national landscape, yet still overtook Sherry to take 2nd.
“I ran exactly as I planned to, but it just felt short,” said Pala, who will attend Yale in the fall. “I collapsed at the finish and that’s all I could ask for, to give it all I had. I don’t think people out of state knew my name before the season. Hopefully a few more people do now.”
Notably missing from this year’s meet were the elite runners from California’s Newbury Park, a group distinguishing itself by multiple metrics this fall as perhaps the greatest lineup in prep cross country history. They won at Running Lane rather than compete in the Eastbay regional that would have qualified them.
EASTBAY BOYS RESULTS
Teams: 1. Midwest 32; 2. Northeast 49; 3. West 53; 4. South 85.
5000: 1. Riley Hough (Midwest) 15:11.4; 2. Kenan Pala (West) 15:14.8; 3. Gavin Sherry (Northeast) 15:17.3; 4. Zane Bergen (Midwest) 15:20.2; 5. Kole Mathison (Midwest) 15:22.3; 6. Tyrone Gorze (West) 15:26.4; 7. Shane Brosnan (Northeast) 15:27.9; 8. Izaiah Steury (Midwest) 15:27.9; 9. Marco Langon (Northeast) 15:28.1; 10. Emmanuel Sgouros (South) 15:29.4;
11. Kevin Sanchez (South) 15:30.1; 12. Michael Maiorano (West) 15:33.7; 13. Aidan Puffer (Northeast) 15:33.9; 14. Peter Baracco (Midwest) 15:34.0; 15. Charlie North (West) 15:34.6; 16. Sahil Dodda (South) 15:34.9; 17. Gitch Hayes (Northeast) 15:36.7; 18. Jefferson McMullin (West) 15:36.8; 19. Nick Falk (Midwest) 15:39.9; 20. Luke Athay (West) 15:40.3;
21. Zachary Ayers (West) 15:44.6; 22. Max Sannes (West) 15:48.2; 23. Ethan Ashley (South) 15:52.3; 24. Michael Bohlke (Northeast) 15:53.1; 25. Luke Venhuizen (Midwest) 15:53.4; 26. Luke Anthony (Northeast) 15:53.7; 27. Myles Hogan (Northeast) 15:54.3; 28. Owen McArdle (South) 15:54.6; 29. Sam Burgess (Northeast) 15:56.4; 30. Michael Toppi (South) 15:57.4;
31. Gabe Hinrichs (Midwest) 15:58.8; 32. Caleb Jarema (Midwest) 15:58.9; 33. Hunter Jones (Midwest) 16:00.7; 34. Ferenc Kovacs (South) 16:01.1; 35. Keegan Smith (South) 16:02.8; 36. Mark Trammell (West) 16:10.7; 37. Patrick Koon (South) 16:14.1; 38. Jack Gregorski (Northeast) 16:14.8; 39. Nathan Solomon (South) 16:23.0; 40. Caleb Lakeman (West) 16:27.1.