Billington, Smith favored in European H.S. cross country championships
Based on this season’s results, the trophies for the individual winners of Saturday’s European high school cross country championships could go to the engravers today.
Barring bad luck, injury or illness, returning champs Greg Billington of Lakenheath and Colleen Smith of Kaiserslautern, both undefeated this year, are shoo-ins to repeat in the Divisions I-II big schools — and for DODDS-Europe overall.
“Nobody’s going to catch Greg,” Ramstein coach Dennis Edwards said.
Statistics back up Edwards, who coaches several runners — led by Kyle Southard and his son, Kevin — who in an ordinary year would be vying for the title.
Billington, who ran a course-record 15 minutes, 52 seconds on the championship course at Schwetzingen, Germany, last year, set two course records this season and has failed to break 16 minutes only once.
Smith, who won the European title by five seconds last year, prepped for this year’s championship by running a record 19:27 on her home course last week. She outran rival Maggie Redmond of Patch by 37 seconds.
“She and Maggie were coming down the final hill almost together,” Kaiserslautern coach Marty Kollar said of Smith’s record run.
“Colleen got to the bottom of the hill, saw the staightaway to the finish and downshifted. She left Maggie behind.”
Just because there are heavy favorites for the Divisions I-II individual titles doesn’t mean there won’t be drama on Saturday. The four team championships and the small school individual winners are up for grabs.
Defending big-schools champ Ramstein faces a dogfight for its seventh straight crown, Edwards said. He sees Nicholas Rogers-led Patch; Mannheim, which features the Spicer triplets — Matt, Tim and Brandon — plus Bobby Diaz and Davonte Cook, and Billington’s Lakenheath Lancers in the mix.
“We’ve run against Mannheim twice and Patch twice,” Edwards said. “They were all very close.”
Ramstein’s girls, led by Lorraine Tucker and Alexis Gomez, edged defending big-schools titlist Kaiserslautern last Saturday, but Edwards isn’t putting too much stock in that. “They were missing their No. 2 runner (Joy Hrushka),” he said.
Hrushka, who was part of Kaiserslautern’s 1-2-3 finish in last year’s Europeans, was held out of the race by her coach to see how other girls would do but will be back Saturday, Kollar promised.
“Joy Hrushka is alive and well,” he said. “We’ll be competitive.”
The Brussels boys, defending champs for the small schools — Divisions III-IV — also return a strong nucleus in Nathan Malinski and Jimmy Russel. Brigands coach Chris Vahrenhorst knows he has something special.
“Our goal is to have four runners under 19 minutes,” he said.
Sigonella edged Milan for last year’s small-school girls title, but Vahrenhorst isn’t sure what to expect this year from the far-flung field.
“If you haven’t seen them, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You just go in knowing you have to run your best.”
The same could be said of the race for individual winners, with a wide-open field looking to succeed last year’s champs, Landon Kemp of Alconbury and Ericka Anderson of Sigonella.
The girls’ races at Tompkins Barracks begin at 12:30 and 1 p.m., with the boys’ at 1:30 and 2. There is no admission charge.