Werner and Long will cap phenomenal seasons at Foot Locker Nationals


Werner and Long
cap season with Foot Locker Nationals
Girls Race 11:15 a.m. CST Boys Race 12:00 p.m. CST
In their short careers, Eureka High School sophomore Hannah Long and Ste. Genevieve High School freshman Taylor Werner are already included in the conversation about the all-time best in Missouri High School distance running with their performances. Saturday the duo will join elite company by being just the 24th and 25th Missourians to race at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships. The pair will make the 33rd and 34th appearances by Missourians at the meet, which began as the Kinney Cross Country Championships in 1979.
Long and Werner will toe-the-line at San Diego’s Balboa Park Saturday at the meet’s
34th edition. The duo from the Eastern side of the state are just the 3rd and 4th underclassmen from Missouri to qualify for the meet, which currently brings together the top 10 finishers from each of four regional meets. The meet is dubbed as the first high school national
championship competition of any sport, and one of the few that can actually be determined in competition and not subjectively by voters or polls.

The meet is probably the most prestigious event in high school cross country and
track and field. The meet’s past participants include athletes that have gone
on to earn collegiate national championships and set collegiate records, win USA
Track and Field national titles, set American records, qualify and compete in
the Olympics, and earn an Olympic medal.
Long
and Werner are the first underclassmen from Missouri to qualify for Foot Locker
Nationals since 1989 when William Chrisman sophomore Megan McGrath ran to a 26th
place finish. The 1989 meet also featured two Missourians as Hazelwood Central
senior Megan Thompson joined McGrath and became the first and only four-time
Missouri finalist. Werner joins Thompson as the only Missouri freshman to
qualify and Long joins Thompson and McGrath as the only sophomores from the Show-Me
State to qualify, girls or boys. Emily Sisson is a four-time qualifier, but her
freshman and sophomore years were spent at Omaha, Nebraska schools before
qualifying as a junior and senior at Parkway Central in 2008 and 2009.
While it’s a long way to look ahead, especially in the sport of distance running
where the smallest injury, time missed training, or a fraction of a second can
make a huge difference, the pair could become three and four-time national
qualifiers. Those possible achievements would surpass all but one of the 17
Missouri girls to qualify in total number of appearances with three and four
opportunities.
It’s hard to imagine any Missouri girl having had better starts to their high school
careers than Werner and Long since Megan Thompson’s late 1980’s high school
days for Coach Paul Enke at Hazelwood Central.
This year’s meet marks the fifth straight a Missouri girl has qualified and brings
the total number of appearances in the time to eight. The trend is just one of
the many of signs that cross country and track at the youth, middle, and high
school levels has drastically strengthened in the state over the last decade.
The state is producing top quality athletes year after year and the most recent
college cross country national championships prove that. Last month’s NCAA
Division I National Championships featured what has to be a record 15 athletes
that prepped at Missouri high schools. The number of Missourians qualifying for
the NAIA and NCAA Division II meets each surpassed the Division I total.
The 2012 seasons couldn’t have gone much better for the couple. But before the fall
cross country season, the two faced off for the first time at the end of the spring
track season.
The pair squared off against each other at the end of last May at the Big River
Running Company’s Festival of Miles MOMileSplit High School Girls race. Werner
was following in Long’s footsteps as a talented middle schooler invited to run
with some of the state’s best high schoolers. Werner had already bested Long’s
top 1600 meter time as an eighth grader, having run 5:01 last spring. The two
finished 1-2 as Werner improved to 5:00 for the full mile while Long won in 4:56.
The victory for Long capped a freshman season that was full of amazing performances
as well as runner-up finishes and close misses at the year’s biggest
competitions. Long was runner-up to Blue Springs South All-American Samantha
Nightengale at the 2011 State Cross Country Meet’s Class 4 race. Long and her Eureka
teammates came up just short or a team trophy with their fifth place team
finish. A few weeks later, Long finished 11th at the Foot Locker
Cross Country Midwest Regional, just missing a spot to Nationals. After a
strong 13th place finish at the 2012 USA Cross Country Championships
Junior Women’s 6k in St. Louis in February, Long was undecided about whether
she would run track or play soccer in the spring.
Track eventually got the nod, to the joy of track fans and more so the Eureka track
and field coaches. Long only improved on her cross country season during her
freshman track season. In just her second race of the season, Long posted one
of the best all-time performances at the Parkway Central Henle Holmes meet, which
boasts some of the best meet records of any in the St. Louis area. In just her
second race of the season and her high school 1600 debut, Long scorched the
track in 4:55. Then at the Kansas Relays, Long put the country on notice that
she was one of the nation’s top freshman. After a runner-up finish in the 800
in 2:14.11 on Friday, Long returned to the track Saturday to anchor the Eureka
squad to a the Kansas Relays 4×880 title in 9:34, then blasted to a 4:53 1600 for
third place in a loaded field that finished with five women under 4:58.
At the 2012 State Track meet, Long added three more runner-up finishes to go with
her state cross country 2nd place finish. Long took second in the
800, 1600, and anchored Eureka to a runner-up finish in the 4×800.
The 2012 cross country season began with easy victories for Werner and Long in two
mile or just over two mile races. Then came the Forest Park Cross Country Festival,
September, September 8th. It was an epic battle that began with a
trio that included Kaitlyn Fischer of Herculaneum. But halfway through the race
it was down to Werner and Long. Long pulled a few meters ahead in the last mile
before Werner caught and passed Long in the final half-mile. Werner crossed the
tape in 16:59 in front of an astonished crowd, while Long wasn’t far back in
17:08. The performances will not soon be forgotten, especially by those there
to witness.
The pair went on to dominate races and post amazing times. Werner shocked crowds at
the Paul Enke/Hazelwood Central and Hancock Invitationals, posting easy
victories in record times. Long headed east for the Great American Cross
Country Festival and moved her way up throughout the championship race all the
way up to second for the best finish by a Missourian at one of the best regular
season high school meets in the country.
The pair cruised through the rest of the season and were looking good headed into
state
It will be a big day for the Long family as Hannah’s brothers will race in the USA
Track and Field Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships in New Mexico
Saturday.

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