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When it comes time to become a professional athlete Illinois’ 16-year-old Lukas Verzbicas will likely have his choice in sports. Verzbicas is the reigning U.S. junior triathlon national champion, junior triathlon world champion and world junior duathlon champion. The young star has also proven he is one of the best high school runners in the country, taking the title at the Foot Locker High School Cross Country Championship in San Diego, Calif. on Saturday. Matt Fitzgerald recaps the entire boys’ race below.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
Lukas Verzbicas may have been the youngest runner in the race, but he ran like a man among boys Saturday at the Foot Locker High School Cross Country Championship at San Diego’s Balboa Park. The Carl Sandberg (IL) High School sophomore dominated the boys’ race, winning by 15 seconds in 15:08 under a steady downpour. In the 31-year history of the event, only two non-senior boys had ever won previously, and both of those exceptions were juniors.
While Verzbicas was a consensus favored contender for the victory based on his past accomplishments, which included a national high school record for 5000 meters indoors (14:18.22) set as a freshman last year, few could have predicted that the Lithuana-born runner would win as handily as he did.
In the early part of the soggy, muddy 5K affair, the race took shape as an anticipated showdown between Verzbicas and junior Craig Lutz of Highland Village, TX, who won last weekend’s Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, OR. Verzbicas led a tight pack of all 40 qualifiers through the first half-mile in 2:22. Lutz was right on the sophomore’s shoulder as they passed the 1-mile mark in 4:48.
Verzbicas looked relaxed and seemed to patiently await a chance to break open the race at the very end. But Brian Shrader, a senior out of Sinagua High School in Flagstaff, AZ, decided to take a flier on a steep and slick downhill portion of the course just past the halfway mark. Verzbicas immediately responded, and the two suddenly found themselves with a gap on the other 38. Verzbicas shrugged off Shrader on a hill approaching 2 miles, and I would say he never looked back, but actually he looked back repeatedly as he grew and grew his advantage over the closing mile of the race.
Things remained tight in the distance behind Verzbicas. Matthew McElroy, as senior from Edison High School in Huntington Beach, CA, outsprinted fellow senior Wade Meddles of Sierra Lutheran High School in Gardnerville, NV, 15:23 to 15:24, for second. Lutz held on for fourth place.
Verzbicas insisted that it was harder than it looked. “That was not easy,” he said. “There were so many great competitors. I had to work very hard to get away from them. That’s where all the training comes in; it all paid off here.”