Foot Locker Girls XC — Leachman Plays Follow The Leader

Front-running aficionado Elizabeth Leachman (21) switched tactics and passed early leader Rachel Forsyth midrace. (BILL LEUNG)

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, December 09 — Not so fast, my friend. Not so fast.

That’s exactly how a speed merchant finally cashed in on her first national title.

Texas prep Elizabeth Leachman, perhaps still waterlogged from a soggy epiphany at Nike Cross Nationals the weekend prior, adjusted her strategy masterfully to win the 44th edition of the Foot Locker Championships from off-the-pace fashion at the venerable Balboa Park course.

In a role reversal, the Boerne (say it “Burn-nee”) Champion soph exercised early-race patience to eventually reel in ultra-fast starter Rachel Forsyth of Michigan with 2000 meters remaining, clutching that sole lead change all the way to the finish to win the 5K challenge in the fastest time (16:50.7) by a sophomore winner in nearly three decades.

“This [pacing] approach was way better for me than last week,” Leachman quipped. “Trying to run away with it [at NXN] in the mud was a bad move.”

Leachman, who torched 2 miles on the oval in 9:57.65 last spring as a 9th-grader, conceded that starting fast is something she subscribes to, but trying to run away from a loaded NXN girls’ field that featured 28 state champions while trudging on rain-saturated thick grass was strategic suicide.

“I just didn’t trust myself. It was like I was running scared,” she added after placing 15th in the 204-runner field in Portland. “This week, it was just about believing in myself, keeping contact, then letting the race come to me before making my move. I felt more confident going into the race this time.”

The lesson learned? At current-era national meets, it’s near impossible to run away from fields with unmatched depth of talent unless one is a true generational phenom.

Although Leachman doesn’t yet fit the bill, she’s quickly closing in. Her only other loss this season was by 0.1 to Utah’s Jane Hedengren — who did not race in the postseason — at the nation’s largest prep meet (the Woodbridge Classic in Irvine, Calif.).

As she hones her racing craft, Leachman has 2½ years to take aim at the record books.

“As long as I keep learning and improving, it’s exciting to see what happens,” she said.

Forsyth, also an early leader at NXN, was caught adhering to Leachman’s rabid racing clip from NXN here, forcing an aggressive early pace to cross the 800-meter and mile points in stunning times of 2:23 and 5:00. As evidenced by her progressively flailing gait, her pace was unsustainable.

It was just before the two-mile mark that Leachman began shadowing her. Courting a 10-second lead on the field at the mile, Forsyth gave back nearly half a minute to eventually finish 3rd in 17:08.3. Virginian Allie Zealand took 2nd in 17:04.5.

Massachusetts prep Ellie Shea, last year’s runner-up in San Diego as a junior, placed 14th.

In the era of dual championship meets, Forsyth achieved the best “double” over the two weekends after also taking 5th at NXN. Zealand notched 13th at NXN to finish with the second-best placing aggregate among girls, followed by Leachman.

Sparked by Leachman and Zealand’s 1–2 finish, the South Region won the regional ‘team’ competition over the Midwest, 22–48. With much of the year’s Northeast talent and nearly all the top West talent opting for NXN — the latter which directly conflicts with the Foot Locker West Region qualifier date — the Northeast (76) and West (94) lagged in the scoring column.

The clear exception was “hometown” entry Chiara Dailey of nearby La Jolla HS as she placed 11th, well shy of her goal of a top-5 finish, but still a celebration moment in front of the throng of supporters donning bright yellow “Team Chiara” t-shirts along the course.

Rebranding itself back to the Foot Locker title name (after prior naming stints as the Kinney, Foot Locker, Eastbay, and Champs Sports championships over the years), the meet also attracted a new footwear partner (HOKA) and saw a 9-percent year-over-year positive bump in participant finishers across its four regional meets.


Teams: 1. South 22; 2. Midwest 48; 3. Northeast 76; 4. West 94.

Individuals (5K): 1. Elizabeth Leachman (S) 16:50.7; 2. Allie Zealand (S) 17:04.5; 3. Rachel Forsyth (MW) 17:08.3; 4. Mary Bonner Dalton (S) 17:28.1;

5. Addison Knoblauch (MW) 17:43.0; 6. Ruth White (NE) 17:43.1; 7. Jayne Halterman (S) 17:43.4; 8. Samantha Humphries (S) 17:44.5;

9. Jessica Jazwinski (MW) 17:45.9; 10. Zariel Macchia (NE) 17:49.3; 11. Chiara Dailey (W) 17:53.1; 12. Reese Dalton (S) 17:55.4;

13. Abby Faith Cheeseman (S) 17:56.3; 14. Ellie Shea (NE) 17:56.5; 15. Maddie Gardiner (S) 18:05.6; 16. Payton Meineke (MW) 18:08.4;

17. Addison Dorenkamp (MW) 18:09.1; 18. Sophia Rodriguez (W) 18:15.0; 19. Libby Dowty (MW) 18:17.5; 20. Victoria Garces (MW) 18:18.5;

21. Katie Bohlke (NE) 18:21.5; 22. Emily Cohen (MW) 18:22.1; 23. Ruby Ihmels (W) 18:26.4; 24. Maya Luna de Brouwer (W) 18:26.7;

25. Shea Volkmer (W) 18:30.1; 26. Melisse Djomby Enyawe (W) 18:32.7; 27. Nicki Southerland (MW) 18:33.6; 28. Reena Hsieh (W) 18:34.3;

29. Cailey Bracken (W) 18:34.6; 30. Zoie Lamanna (S) 18:40.3; 31. Dylan McElhinney (NE) 18:44.5; 32. Aoife Shovlin (NE) 18:49.7; 33. Liliah Gordon (NE) 18:49.8;

34. Logan St. John Kletter (NE) 18:54.5; 35. Eleanor Raker (W) 18:57.2; 36. Liv Phillips (MW) 19:08.5; 37. Lily Lyons (NE) 19:13.4; 38. Olivia Williams (W) 19:24.9;

… dnf—Claire Stegall (S);… dnc—Virginia Kraus (NE).