NEW YORK -- The end of her seasonlong unbeaten streak in cross country on Saturday still resulted in Staples sophomore Hannah DeBalsi earning a berth in a national championship race in San Diego later this month. DeBalsi finished third at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional championship race Saturday afternoon at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
A half-hour earlier, Fairfield Prep senior Christian Alvarado, of Fairfield, earned a return trip to the nationals by finishing runner-up in the boys race. Saturday's meet was the first competition for Alvarado after his undefeated status came to a halt when he placed fourth at the New England Championships on Nov. 9 in Manchester, N.H.
DeBalsi could not catch Tessa Barrett, of Waverly, Pa., who covered the five-kilometer (3.14 miles) course in 17 minutes and 32.3 seconds. DeBalsi finished in 17:39.4 and was caught by Anoush Shehadeh, a junior from nearby Larchmont, N.Y., just before the finish line. Shehadeh's time was 17:37.3. Alvarado was caught and surpassed in the final 400 meters by Mickey Burke, of Henrietta, N.Y., which is just outside Rochester. Alvarado's time over the 5,000 meters was 15:21.5, Burke's 15:18.8. Alvardo edged Darien junior Alex Ostberg, who was a second behind in 15:22.5. Ostberg was second at the New England Championships.
The Foot Locker National Championship race is set for Balboa Park's Morley Field in San Diego on Dec. 14. The top 10 finishers from each of four regional meets qualify for the Nationals. Alvarado was ninth at Van Cortlandt Park in 2012 to gain his ticket.
"I gave her a run for her money in the last part," DeBalsi said. "I'm not that upset about it. She had to work hard, too. I've been training really hard. I was not fully rested. I knew I would be giving something up for this race. Hopefully, it pays off."
DeBalsi has run few meets this season in which she has been challenged for more than a few meters at any point in a race. She does not have much experience with a finishing kick, and DeBalsi said she might not have timed it properly, beginning her surge too soon. DeBasli had worked out on the Van Cortlandt Park course a few weeks ago as part of a hard training run and said it wasn't going to be easy.
"Hannah's strengths are her endurance and her pain threshold," said Staples girls cross country coach Amanda Parrish. "It works for her to press early in a race. This was a learning experience for Hannah. She doesn't have the speed late that Tessa has," said Parrish, who admitted a kick is not DeBalsi's strength at this point of her career.
DeBalsi and Parrish's strategy for her is to peak for San Diego. One of her racing attributes is being able to excel along long, steep downhills, which is part of the Morley Field course's features. DeBalsi said recent workouts have focused on building her quickness. She believes her kick is improving.
Recent training had been a key to Alvarado's success, too, but in a different way. A sinus condition had hampered his run in the New England meet, and Jesuits coach Bob Ford said Alvarado experimented with nasal strips during a particularly "cold, terrible" day for running outside. They were comfortable with his performance in those test conditions.
Alvarado could not break free from a congested start at the New Englands, which did not help him three weeks ago. On Saturday morning, Ford told Alvarado to move from the far inside of the wide starting line to the middle. From that position, Alvardo was able to sprint into the front pack within the first few hundred meters. From there, he was well positioned.
Ostberg said he and Alvarado maintained the slightest of leads -- not more than a few meters -- in front of the next pack that included Burke, Liam Mullett, of Madison, N.J., Scott Meehan, of Sparta, N.J., Josef Holt-Andrews, of Bethel, Maine, and Daniel Curts, of Ellsworth, Maine. Ostberg said Burke made his move to join Alvarado and him in the final half-mile. With 500 meters to go, Alvarado and Burke were side-by-side, with Ostberg but a few strides behind.
"That's a long (finishing) straightaway," Alvarado said. "I could feel him with 100 meters to go. He kind of got a little space between me. I tried one more `go' but I couldn't decrease his lead. I want to beat him even more in San Diego."
Alvarado and Burke each said they have developed a friendship from when they were on the same recruiting visit together to the University of Virginia recently. Alvarado says he is planning a hard week of training in the first week of December before the following week when he "will begin tapering to conserve energy," he said.
"I'm pumped," Alvarado said of the opportunity to return to the Nationals.
"I'm very pleased," said Ostberg, whose primary goal this year was to stay healthy after a broken bone in the 2012 FCIAC championships.
"I knew if I could stay healthy, there would be some big accomplishments," Ostberg said.
"I really didn't feel his presence," Ostberg said of Burke, "until he went to go. He was just biding his time. He dominated the last 800 meters."
Ostberg was the 2013 FCIAC runner-up to Trevor Hopper, of Ridgefield. Ostberg won Class L and was third in the State Open before placing second in New England. Alvarado won the SCC conference championship, Class LL and the State Open before his fourth-place finish at the New Englands. DeBalsi won the FCIAC, Class LL, the State Open and the New England titles.
Her Staples teammate, junior Eric Hefnawy, was 43rd on Saturday. Gabrielle Richichi, of New Fairfield, placed 23rd, Sarah Healy, of Wilton, 32nd; Carly Schuyler, of Bethel, 50th; Laura Hergenrother, of Ridgefield, 54th; Anne Johnston, of Darien, 60th. On the boys side, Zachary Anderson, of New Fairfield, was 59th, Fairfield Warde's Aidan Fiol finsihed 62nd, and Hythem Al-Mulla, of New Milford, 68th; Michael McGonnigle, of New Fairfield, 70th.
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