On Saturday, the best runners from the west, midwest, south and northeast regions of the United States will converge at the 40th annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in Balboa Park, San Diego. This year, the podium will feature new faces with several high school runners on the rise this fall.

While two-time defending champion Claudia Lane recuperated from an injury and will not be returning, the stage has been set for a new winner to emerge.

Midwest Brings Top Returners

The top returner this year is 2017 runner-up Katelynne Hart who travels to Southern California after finishing third at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional. In muddy course conditions in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Washburn’s (Minnesota) Emily Covert won the title in 17:58 over Taylor Ewert of Beavercreek (Ohio) and Hart who competes for Glenbard West (Illinois). Hart earned a No. 3  ranking on MileSplit’s national list after winning the Nike Cross Nationals Midwest Regional Championships, as well as the Illinois state meet in a personal best of 15:59 for three miles. Her most recent performance was a 16th-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 1.

Covert proved her durability in challenging conditions when she won the Midwest Region title. That performance was just the latest victory for the senior who has been undefeated this season with the exception of a fourth-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals, the second highest finish of the runners who will compete at both NXN and the Foot Locker championships.

Ahead of Covert at NXN was Ewert who finished third in 17:06, a breakthrough run for the junior who finished 18th at the championship last year. Also a talented race walker, Covert earned a 10th-place finish at the 2018 IAAF World U20 Championships in July. This Saturday will mark Covert’s first time competing at Balboa Park.

Another competitor to watch will be Ericka Vanderlende of Rockford, Michigan. Returning from an eighth-place finish at NXN, Vanderlende earned her place at Foot Locker after finishing fifth in the Midwest.

Culbreath Returns from NXN to Complete Historic Season

In September, London Culbreath shocked the local running community with a 5K personal best of 16:36 to win the McNeil Invitational in Round Rock, Texas. The performance stands just outside of the top 10 all-time list for high school girls. Katelyn Tuohy broke the national record this year when she ran 16:06. As the season progressed, the junior from McKinney, Texas maintained an undefeated streak from the state championship through NXN South and Foot Locker South. Her most recent performance was a 49th-place finish at Nike Cross Nationals. Saturday will mark the first time Culbreath competes in both championships, and she will likely be aiming for redemption.

A Newcomer Could Be the Dark Horse

A potential dark horse for a title could be newcomer Sydney Masciarelli who won the Northeast regional in a time of 17:12.6. Her victory was the fourth-fastest time ever recorded at the historic Van Cortlandt Park course in New York. The sophomore has flown somewhat under the radar as her high school, Marianapolis Preparatory doesn’t compete in the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. But in her first year of cross country, she has managed to turn heads with a fourth-place finish at the Mayor’s Cup and a victory at the Jacober Invitational.

Also emerging from the Northeast region are runners Marlee Starliper and Grace Connolly. From Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, Starliper finished second to Masciarelli and won her state’s championship. Currently ranked No. 6 by MileSplit, Starliper has been undefeated this year with the exception of Northeast. From Natick, Massachusetts, Connolly recently finished third in the region.

The Road to Redemption for a Hometown Hero

Two years ago, Kristin Fahy turned in a notable performance with a 14th-place finish at the Foot Locker Championships. Just a sophomore at the time, the Carlsbad, California native was well on her way to becoming a contender at the championship in 2017, but a fall during the West Region meet forced her to drop out of the race. This year, Fahy made her comeback with a sizeable victory over Allie Janke of Spokane, Washington. The winning performance will bring her back to the championship on her home course in San Diego.