She successfully defended her regional title, winning in 17:02.5 and doing it by passing Morgantown’s Athena Young in the dying stages of the race at the WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary, North Carolina.
It was a 16-second personal best for Neglia, and it came just one week after she had another personal best on the track, running 10:17 at the KYA Postseason 3,200-meter time trial at Hardin Valley.
Winning the race meant that Neglia automatically qualified for her third consecutive Nike Cross National Championship race in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday since she was one of the first five individuals that was not part of a qualifying team. The Lady Indians did run as a team and finished fourth, the highest-ever finish for a girls team from Tennessee.
Neglia finished 15th at last year’s race, earning “All-American” honors by finishing in the top 21 overall. She finished 24th in her sophomore year.
She said last week in the post-race interview that her goal is to do better than last year.
Saturday’s race will be at the Glendoveer Golf Course yet again.
The Nike nationals 5-kilometer course is known for some long straightaways, some turns and lots of rolling hills. It is not known as a course to run a personal best, but it is a fair course.
Just before the final finishing straight, there is a bit of an uphill.
The course is spectator-friendly and is extremely well marked.
WHO ELSE IS IN THE RACE?
The event is mostly team-based and both defending national team champions for the boys and girls will be in the field on Saturday.
Loudoun Valley (Purcellville, Virginia) is looking for a third straight team title, which would be unprecedented at such a high level. Summit (Bend, Oregon) is looking to repeat on the girls side and has been ranked No. 1 all season.
On the individual side, New York “all everything” senior Katelyn Tuohy is a favorite to win her third consecutive title. Last season, she ran a course record 16:37.8 and won by 17 seconds. She led from the gun, and no one was even close.
This year’s race should be no different, but Pennsylvania’s Marlee Starliper may be a potential contender. The senior won Foot Locker Northeast last weekend in 17:03 at the historically tough Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx over defending Foot Locker national champion Sydney Masciarelli by 12 seconds.
Virginia High’s Kelsey Harrington accepted an at-large individual bid early this week and will be the first Virginia runner to compete in both Nike Cross Nationals and Foot Locker Nationals in the same season.
HOW WILL NEGLIA FARE?
Neglia has been consistent all season and started the fall faster than she ever had done before, running 17:34 at Knight’s Crossing. She placed second in that race to Harrington.
Neglia historically has done well at hillier local courses like Trailblazer and Steele Creek. One of the reasons she has been able to win back-to-back Southeast regional titles and three TSSAA cross country state titles is because she is primarily a strength runner. Hillier courses tend to favor strength over speed.
Simply by taking out all of last season’s seniors that were in front of her, Neglia finishes in the top 10 overall amongst a deep field. However, it is not that simple.
Saturday’s weather looks to be typical Oregon late fall weather, with a high of 50 and rain the day of the race and on the day before.
Prediction: Top 8.
Why: Neglia has been on this stage two previous times and had a 45-second improvement from her sophomore to junior year on the same course. She also has set two personal bests in the last two weeks. She is peaking at the right time and has improved nearly every race this season.
HOW TO WATCH
There will be a live stream via www.nikecrossnationals.com that will begin at 12:30 p.m. (EST) and will include previews of both the boys and girls championship races.
The boys race will be up first, beginning at 1:05 p.m., followed by the girls at 2:35 p.m.
The awards ceremony for each gender will follow the race. The top three individuals will make the podium.