Foot Locker Boys XC — Griffith Outlegs Future Teammate

Pennsylvanian Drew Griffith (52) attacked the final climb and held on to win. Indianan Cameron Todd (73) backed up his NXN 2nd in 8th. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, December 09 — The cat is officially out of the bag: Drew Griffith has what it takes to be a national champion.

But will it lead to a new kitten for him to keep? More on that later.

In an era of mega-meets, anticipated showdowns and soaring airline miles, the homebody from western Pennsylvania ventured out of his comfort zone and trekked cross country to snare top honors at the 44th Foot Locker Championships meet in San Diego.

Undoubtedly prepped by the notoriously hilly race layouts in the Quaker State — including on his home course — Griffith made his move along Balboa Park’s famed final steep climb to seize the lead, eventually holding off fellow Pennamite and future Notre Dame teammate Ryan Pajak for the 5-second win. Griffith ripped the tape in 15:06.9.

“I just had a feeling that things lined up well for me,” said Griffith, the Butler High senior who placed 8th here last year. “I like hills and the hills on this course are just like on my home course. Everything played out and I couldn’t ask for anything more. To win Foot Locker in my senior year is just amazing.”

Unlike most top preps who dot the national map in search of competition, Griffith has opted for the course less traveled.

“I find enough competition near me,” said the Class 3A state champion; Pajak won the 2A crown in a time that was 2 seconds faster on the same course and same day.

“To have him push me today and knowing he’s going to be my teammate in college, that’s very exciting,” added Griffith.

West Virginian Ty Steorts tried to steal the race from the front, breaking from the pack near the 2000-meter mark to eventually open a 3-second margin at the halfway point of the double-loop 5K course.

Steorts, 3A state champion in his state, kept the lead over the next mile, but as the numbers in the chase pack were increasing and he began glancing back, one sensed the race was about to break open. Griffith was the first to make a move, grabbing the pole position.

Just when it appeared Griffith would sew up a near-perfect season with victory — his lone loss of the campaign was to Pajak at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional — Virginian Berkley Nance slid into the clear on the final sharp descent along Upas Hill. But Griffith responded quickly to regain the lead, then had to withstand a fervent surge from Pajak with less than 200m remaining.

“I thought I could get him again,” said Pajak. “But losing to a future (college) teammate… that made it bearable.”

Massachusetts’ Tamrat Gavenas stamped himself as the early favorite for the 2024 meet as the Andover Phillips Academy junior claimed 3rd in 15:16.5. The Division 1 NEPSTA runner-up to New Hampshire’s Byron Grevious (11th at Nike Cross Nationals), Gavenas also placed 7th at the Manhattan Invitational.

It remains to be seen whether Griffith landing the big prize in San Diego leads to another big prize back home.

Well before the meet, Griffith had asked his mom if he could have a kitten as a reward if he won at nationals. That’s a bundle of yarn still to be resolved.

Indiana prep Cameron Todd, 6th here last year, placed 8th in 15:30.0. The Brebeuf Jesuit senior tried tackling the NXN-FootLocker double for the first time, with favorable results; he was the lone male harrier with Top 20 finishes in both meets after taking 2nd at NXN.

In the bragging rights for regional supremacy, the South edged the Northeast on a 5th-runner tiebreaker (the meet used USATF rules, which differ from the sixth-runner tiebreak under high school rules) as both regions deadlocked at 38 points. The Midwest scored 54 while the West, which had the top 9 Californians and most of the top Utah runners compete at NXN, checked in with 101 points.


Teams: 1. South 38; 2. Northeast 38; 3. Midwest 54; 4. West 101.

Individuals (5K): 1. Drew Griffith (NE) 15:06.9; 2. Ryan Pajak (NE) 15:12.1; 3. Tamrat Gavenas (NE) 15:16.6; 4. Berkley Nance (S) 15:17.5;

5. Brayden Marshall (S) 15:18.4; 6. Ty Steorts (S) 15:21.2; 7. Paul Bergeron (NE) 15:25.3; 8. Cameron Todd (MW) 15:30.0; 9. Benji Anderson (MW) 15:32.1;

10. Juan Gonzalez (MW) 15:32.4; 11. Jake Liebert (S) 15:34.1; 12. Colin Eckerman (S) 15:35.1; 13. Micah Blomker (MW) 15:36.2; 14. Tony Provenzano (MW) 15:37.5;

15. Patrick Koon (S) 15:38.8; 16. Gabe Schmid (S) 15:41.6; 17. Connell Alford (MW) 15:43.9; 18. Riku Sugie (S) 15:44.8; 19. Jack Sheesley (W) 15:44.9;

20. Zach Hillhouse (W) 15:45.0; 21. Grant Morgenfeld (W) 15:48.1; 22. Raghav Gopalakrishnan (S) 15:48.5; 23. Josh Chu (W) 15:49.7;

24. Ben Crane (MW) 15:50.1; 25. Trey Caldwell (W) 15:51.9; 26. Grayson Milne (W) 15:53.3; 27. Jack Bertram (NE) 15:54.6; 28. Davis Rydman (W) 15:56.1;

29. Matthew Edwards (MW) 15:56.3; 30. Jack Graffeo (NE) 15:59.9; 31. Thomas Westphal (MW) 16:03.5; 32. Peyton Shute (NE) 16:03.9;

33. Devin Ibarra (W) 16:06.1; 34. Alex Fisher (NE) 16:06.4; 35. Soheib Dissa (NE) 16:07.2; 36. Carter Spradling (W) 16:07.7; 37. Colin Whitaker (NE) 16:13.4;

38. Kade Brownell (W) 16:15.6; 39. Matt Ryan (S) 16:24.3; 40. Isaac Rivera (MW) 16:28.5.