Who’s Coming to 2018 NBNI? Part 4: The DISTANCES

by Steve Underwood

Fourth in a 4-part series, co-published with Runnerspace.com/DyeStat.com, on some of the leading athletes registered for the 2018 NBNI.

Jacqueline Gaughan – Granite State star eyes distance double

Over the past three years, Jacqueline Gaughan has emerged from New Hampshire – not known as a hotbed of national distance running elites – to become a national class force from the mile through the 5,000. Now after an outstanding 2M PR at the New England Champs last weekend – a meet record and US#1 10:09.20 to dominate the field – she may be set to win her first NBN title. Gaughan is entered in both Friday’s 5,000m – where she looks like the favorite – and Sunday’s 2M, where Katelyn Tuohy is the girl to beat. The way Gaughan is peaking, however, don’t count her out in either race.

Now an Exeter, NH senior, Gaughan won her first state title as a sophomore and made a national impression with a 10:24 3,200 PR and then a 16:53.82 5,000 for 5th at NBNO. The next fall, she made her first national XC final – 11th at Foot Locker – then was 7th in the NBNI 2M over the winter. Outdoors, Gaughan got down to 10:05.71 for 3,200 at Loucks in a runner-up finish behind Kelsey Chmiel. This past fall, she improved to 5th at Foot Locker Finals, then an early-season 10:20 2M indicated she was ready to move into true contention for a national title.

Dustin Horter – Picking right back where he left off

The indoor season gets going in Ohio in early January with the OATCCC series that leads to its indoor state champs. But 4:07 miler Dustin Horter (Lakota East senior) was in no hurry after a long XC season where he won every meet but two and finished a fine 6th at NXN Finals. At the U of Kentucky HS Invite in mid-February he made his debut in the mile, leading the field early. When Scott Thompson from Tennessee, who’d already run 4:08 during the season, took the lead midrace it appeared the outcome was set. But Horter unleashed a killer kick in the final half lap. With his 4:08.24 triumph, there was no doubt he was picking right up where he left off.

Horter showed his talent early, running 4:20/9:13 for 1600/3200 as a freshman – one of the best 9th-graders in the country. He improved each season, getting down to 4:07 and 8:56 for the same distances last spring. Horter’s NBN debut came in the outdoor 2M in ’16 (9:22.16 for 10th), then he improved to 8th in last winter’s mile with 4:12.61. But following his UK mile, plus a 4:07.52 1600 at indoor state, he’s in a position to win here. Thompson is also in the field and it will be a treat to see how these two fare in their rematch and with several other 4:08-4:10-types in the field.

Athing Mu – Running, racing to her own beat

If during the indoor season you want to keep up with Athing Mu, the uber-talented sophomore middle distance runner from Trenton Central HS (NJ), you have to follow the youth, club and open results from meets at the Armory that are scheduled on odd nights in-between mega-meets like the Millrose Games, the Dr. Sanders or the Eastern States. That’s because Mu does not compete for her HS team, but rather the Trenton Track Club. Her talents range from the long sprints to XC, but her specialty is the 800, where she ran 2:10 as far back as 2015 – her 7th-grade year!

Mu’s biggest national impact prior to this winter came at NBNO, where she had a big 2-plus-second PR to take the runner-up spot behind Sammy Watson in 2:07.70. This winter, she made her impact national lists starting in mid-December with a 55.79 400 and 2:11.00 800 at the Armory Youth Classic. Then at the Feb. 19 Armory Youth Champs, she rolled a 2:06.88 to retake the national lead. Now, in a field packed with several 2:07-2:09 types, she’s got a great shot to claim her first NBN title

Alfred Chawonza – St. Bene’s tradition living on

Some of the spectacular memories of the NBNI meets since the NSAF indoor championships moved to The Armory involve the great Edward Cheserek – and his St. Benedict’s Prep teammates. Cheserek produced some epic individual performances in the early 2010s, both hard-driving near-solo victories as well as heart-stopping battles with Lukas Verzbicas. And there were outstanding relays, too, specifically back-to-back sprint medley championship wins in 2012-13.

The new generation of elite distance and middle-distance talent at St. Bene’s, so to speak, is led by juniors Alfred Chawonza and Lewis Ngwenya. Chawonza, heralding from Zimbabwe, was 7th in last year’s NBNI with 1:53.65, then reached 1:52.44 in the spring – later advancing to the semis at the World Youth Champs. This winter, he recently clocked the national leader at 800, 1:52.43 to win the Fastrack Last Chance, so gets the favorite’s nod. St. Bene’s is also one of the top two entrants in the sprint medley, with a US#2 3:30.90 from early in the season and a great chance to win the school’s 3rd title in that event.

Marlee Starliper – Fast improving Pennsylvanian the mile favorite

It’s fair to say the Marlee Starliper, a soph at Northern HS in Dillsburg, PA, might not have expected at season’s start to be the leading entrant in this weekend’s NBNI mile. But after a pair of PRs in recent weeks, including a spectacular winning 4:43.49 in the PTFCA state champs two weeks ago, she finds herself in just that spot. Starliper started her freshman XC season in ’16 at Northern, quickly getting under 19:00 for 5k and eventually finishing as the state AAA runner-up. In track, she was a 4:56 miler indoors, but improved outdoors to 4:49.68 for 1,600 and 4:51.78 for a full mile – plus 10:31.09 for 3,200.

This past fall, however, a spectacular sub-17 at Carlisle announced Starliper’s true arrival as a national class contender. She was unbeaten through Foot Locker Northeast, finishing 13th in the Final. In early January, she qualified for the Millrose Games, then ripped an impressive PR 4:44.97 at the Games for the runner-up spot behind Gabby Wilkinson. Now after her state meet double of 4:43.97 and 9:45.92 for 3k, she’s in a position to make or even top the podium here at NBNI.

Thomas Fafard – Canadian back for a crack at 2M title

It’s quite common for a big handful of outstanding Canadian athletes to venture down to the Armory for NBNI each winter, often coming home with “All American” honors if not national titles. One of those who contended strongly for a victory last year before settling for a runner-up finish was Thomas Fafard of Repentigny, Quebec – just north of Montreal. He clocked a 14:56.12 in the 5,000m, 2nd only to champion Ben Varghese of Tennessee, and also ran 9:11.83 in the 2M –winning the morning section and 9th overall.

Outdoors, Fafard got down to an outstanding 14:15.80 for the distance in Quebec and then was the Pan Am Juniors runner-up in Peru. Indoors this winter, his final year as a Canadian prep, he’s run a recent PR of 8:38.01 – obviously just a hint of his potential. Given his 5k PR, it stands to reason that he should be a top contender in the 2M, where he’s entered this weekend.

Taylor Ewert – Greatest prep RW ever status within reach

It turns out that what Taylor Ewert (Beavercreek HS, OH soph) did in her first two NBN outings in 2017 were just the tip of the iceberg. Her prep championships racewalking career began impressively with a runner-up finish last winter in the mile RW at NBNI behind Lauren Harris’ title defense and second national record. Then tackling the 3k distance last spring at NBNO, as it was contested at the meet for the first time, she strode a 14:24.63 that not only won the title but also took down the freshman class mark and was good for #7 all-time HS.

But now this winter, she has moved to a new level. Over the mile distance at the Millrose Games, she not only beat Harris’ national record with a stellar 6:45.38 clocking, but she beat Harris herself (now a collegian) and all but two in an elite USATF field. She returns here now for the mile again this weekend and the only question seems to be how well she can execute what will likely be a near-solo effort – and how far she can take down the record. Ewert is also notable for being an excellent distance runner, in addition to her walking talents, having run 10:40.38 for 3,200 this winter after finishing in the top 20 at NXN Finals in XC.

Alex Maier – First indoor meet ever for talented Texan

It’s always exciting when athletes with stellar outdoor credentials finally make their debut on the indoor oval. Such will be the case this weekend with Alex Maier, a Flower Mound HS (TX) junior who has excelled in XC and outdoors, but has never competed undercover. Maier was a decent runner as a freshman in track, getting down to 4:27 1,600 and 9:32 3,200. But he made stunning progress in XC as a soph in fall of ’16, becoming one of the top harriers during a loaded Texas season and then nailing top 5 finishes at BOTH NXN and Foot Locker Finals.

Maier’s performances were just as impressive outdoors last spring, as he hit 4:10.88 for 1,600m and 8:52.30 for 3,200 – eventually finishing 2nd in the 6A 3,200 and also winning the Meet of Champs 1,600. He also ran 14:25.60 for 5,000 on the track. The fall ’17 XC season has left him wanting, however, as he entered the state meet unbeaten but had to drop out due to a respiratory infection. He came back for 2nd at NXN South and 14th in the NXN Final, but it’s clear his potential is well beyond that. This weekend his season begins at NBNI and distance fans eagerly await what this super talent can do.


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