Champs National XC

When La Jolla High’s Chiara Dailey qualified for Saturday’s Champs National Cross Country Championships, her parents were more than a little proud.

After all, Adam and Jessica Dailey had been telling their daughter what a great experience this event was, from firsthand knowledge.

Adam, running for Austin (Texas) High, competed in the 1993 and 1994 events when it was sponsored by Foot Locker.

Jessica, who was Jessica Koch out of Round Rock High near Austin, ran in 1994 and 1995.

Now both will be in the crowd cheering when the girls kick off the event at Balboa Park at 9:15 a.m., followed by the boys at 10 a.m. And just like when they ran, the course is a tough 5,000-meter distance featuring the top boys and girls out of four regionals.

“It was a really big deal for my wife and I,” said Adam by phone. “It was an amazing experience. What it meant was you had a chance for a full scholarship, then you were running against the 32 best in the nation and you even got to stay at the Hotel Del.

“There’s a ton of nostalgia for both of us.”

It was just a couple of years later that the field expanded to 40 competitors and this year meet headquarters were moved to the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, just a short sprint from La Jolla High.

Basically, though, it’s the same experience that is now in its 43rd year, all but seven of them over the Morley Field course.

For Jessica, it was a little different.

“In Texas, we only ran two miles for cross country,” she said. “When I qualified as a junior, it was tough but as a senior I won the South Regional. I got caught up in all the hype as the South Regional champion and didn’t run very well.

“I went to the University of Texas as a freshman and then transferred to Arkansas where Adam was running. We both did well in college.”

But neither pushed Chiara — far from it.

“We held her back because from our experience, you have maybe 10 good years, so you don’t want to push them too early,” said Jessica. “Chiara played soccer and was really good, but she knew she wanted to run cross country as a freshman in high school, so the summer before we got her into a camp (Marie Davis’ Wildwood Camp outside of Portland) and she loved it.

“We just wanted her to have fun, to support her.”

Actually, they got a glimpse of how good Chiara might be when she and some friends ran in a Turkey Trot in Austin. They could see her potential.

They still had no idea how good Chiara was until after her first race.

By season’s end she would become the section Division IV champion, finish second in the state meet and qualify third at the West Regional, one spot behind La Costa Canyon’s Gioana Lopizzo, joining Liberty Charter’s Micah Sanchez, who qualified for the boys race.

“She said she wanted to beat her teammate and finish in the top five,” said Adam of that first race. “If she had been 10th in 19 minutes, that would have been fine with us, but she is very competitive. Then we realized she was really good.

“After telling her how good Foot Locker was, for the first time I was really nervous before the West Regional. I wondered, ‘what if she didn’t make it,’ but then I realized that while qualifying would be great, even if she didn’t, the experience would be good.

“Then she made it and now she’s in a much better position than her mom and I were. We were juniors and seniors and had a lot of pressure on us. She can just go run and have fun, although again, she’s competitive. A top-10 finish would be fantastic or a top 15 (All-American).

“She still has three more years, so there is no pressure on her.”

Adam was next to last as a freshman, and Jessica, after finishing 20th as a junior, was three spots back of that as a senior.

This time they’ll get to watch and enjoy.

43rd Champs Cross Country National Championships

Where: Morley Field at Balboa Park

When: Saturday. Girls: 9:15 a.m. Boys: 10 a.m.

Regional Champions: South — Boys: Rockery Hansen, North Carolina; Girls: Ciara O’Shea, Kentucky; Midwest — Boys: Hunter Jones, Michigan; Girls: Tatum David, Illinois; West — Boys: Samuel Hansen, Utah; Girls: Sadie Englehardt, California; Northeast—Boys: Drew Griffin, Pennsylvania; Girls: Ellie Shea, Massachusetts.

Who: The top 40 high school runners from four regionals battle for the national title.

Boys to watch: Seniors have always done quite well here and based upon last year’s race, fifth-place finisher Kole Mathison of Carmel, Indiana, would be the early front-runner after placing second in the Midwest. As a junior he was only 11 seconds behind the race winner. South runner Kevin Sanchez of Austin, Texas, was 11th a year ago and he qualified third. All of the regional champions are considered ones to watch.

Girls to watch: It’s really no surprise that last year’s top finishers did not win the regionals. They didn’t need to as it was qualifying. That makes Karrie Baloga of New Windsor, N.Y., who was fourth a year ago, 14 seconds back but a comfortable second in the regional and Indianapolis senior Sophia Kennedy, seventh a year ago and second in the regionals, the top returnees. Ventura High sophomore Sadie Engelhardt was 15th a year ago but has battled illness and injury.

Locals to watch: A year ago, Francis Parker’s Kenan Pala finished second and this year Micah Sanchez, from tiny Liberty Charter in Alpine, is hoping the home course and crowd will help him. On the girls’ front, La Costa Canyon junior Gioana Lopizzo is as tough a runner as you’ll find while La Jolla High freshman Chiara Dailey has absolutely nothing to lose.


DEC. 7, 2022 3:19 PM PT Union Tribune