The two fields will be fast and heavily decorated when runners in the 2012 DODDS-Europe cross country take their marks Saturday afternoon at Baumholder’s Rolling Hills golf course.
Nowhere is that more true than in the girls’ field, where two champions, Patch teammates Morgan Mahlock, the 2010 winner, and Baileigh Sessions, the reigning titlist, top the list of hopefuls.
Not nearly as star-studded in terms of highly finishing returnees – Patch’s Tyler Gamble, No. 3 in 2011, is the only one of last year’s Top 5 back for 2012 – the boys’ field nevertheless boasts speed and endurance in industrial quantities, particularly in the person of Kaiserslautern’s Michael Lawson, the reigning European 1,500-meter champ.
Lawson, who was second last May in the European 3,200 finals, has taken to the 5,000 meters Saturday’s race will cover with a vengeance. He has posted three of the Top 10 boys’ times this season, including a season-best 16:29 last Saturday at Ramstein.
Lawson will be closely pursued Saturday by Ramstein’s George Hyde; Patch’s Gamble, Mitchell Bailey and Samuel Taylor; Lakenheath’s Chase Noorda; Wiesbaden’s Alex Wieman, and Vilseck’s Ben Nelson, all of whom are under 17 minutes this season.
For their parts, Sessions and Mahlock won’t be racing just each other. The Lakenheath duo of Mykayla Boden and Marra Yancey have posted the two fastest girls’ times so far this year, and their Lancers’ teammate Zoe Lopes also has cracked the Top 10.
The races for the team titles in Divisions I, II and III also figure to be competitive. According to DODDS officials, 28 teams consisting of 317 runners are expected to participate.
Patch’s girls just missed a 1-2-3-4-5 sweep last year in running away with the D-I trophy; their boys also prevailed among the big schools. This year, however, Vilseck’s boys have twice posted team victories over the boys, and are in the title mix with Kaiserslautern, Patch and Ramstein.
Patch’s girls still rate as the team to beat, and Lakenheath, Ramstein and Wiesbaden will be looking to do just that.
In Division II, Naples swept to the boys’ and girls’ titles, and Chip Noonan’s Wildcats figure to contend again. This year, however, SHAPE, down from Division I this year, will test them significantly.
Division III, always a crap shoot because of the unknown runners from places such as Ankara, Incirik, Lajes, Bahrain and the like, figures to be the province of the Alconbury boys and Brussels girls this time around.
Brussels’ girls, led by Ali De Fazio, and Alconbury’s boys, led by that other Ben Nelson, are battle-tested against big-schools runners.
For the first time in recent years, the site of the European championships has moved. Heidelberg’s Tompkins Barracks clover-leaf course is a casualty of the drawdown, and Baumholder stepped in with the Rolling Hills site.
That’s fine with Noonan.
“A golf course is a great venue for a championship race,” Noonan emailed on Tuesday. “Heidelberg had too many issues. The start was not wide enough and funneled way too early. There was not enough room to pass at many points of the race. This new course will be friendly for spectators and more suitable for a big race of 150 runners. Overall, I think it is a positive change.”
See if you agree this Saturday. The girls’ race is scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. start; the boys go to the line an hour later. There is no admission charge.