Paladino & Drazba – WV’s First Females to Qualify for Foot Locker Nationals

McAlpine Greenway Park - Milesplit photo

West Virginia’s top two high school female distance runners competed at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship - South Regional on November 24, 2012 @ McAlpine Greenway Park in Charlotte, NC. Competing in the Seeded Girls Race was Maggie Drazba, a senior at St. Marys High School in St. Marys, WV, and Amelia (Millie) Paladino, a junior at University High School in Morgantown, WV.

The Foot Locker Cross Country Championships are four regional cross country races held annually to determine the best prep high school male/female runner in the country.

There are a total of four regional qualifying races that are held in late November/early December. These qualifiers lead up to the National Finals being held at Morley Field/Balboa Park in San Diego, CA on December 8th, 2012 with the Girls Race at 9:15 a.m. and the Boys Race at 10:00 a.m.

The Regionals are comprised of runners from: the Northeast Region (CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, DC) on November 24, 2012 @ Van Cortland Park in Bronx, NY; the South Region (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, PR, SC, TN, VA, WV, VI) on November 24, 2012 @ McAlpine Greenway Park in Charlotte, NC; the Midwest Region (CO, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI) on November 24, 2012 @ Univ. of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, WI; the West Region (AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, VT, WA, WY) on December 1, 2012 @ Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA; and U.S. overseas Military installations.

The Foot Locker National Cross Country Championship has a total of 40 elite cross country runners both in the Girls and Boys Championship Race competing on a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) course for individual and regional standings.

Maggie Drazba finishing in 3rd - Photo by John Olson

Drazba is the greatest female high school distance runner in West Virginia history. Going into this race she was ranked the US Mile Split #12 high school girls cross country individual runner. She owns the West Virginia high school girls all-time best in the 1600m, 3000m, 3200m and 5000m. Drazba is a three time AA/A State Cross Country Champion and went undefeated her 2012 cross country season, and if that weren’t enough, she’s a three-time 800m State Champion, three-time 1600m State Champion, two-time 3200m State Champion, and a one-time 3200m State Runner-up in track & field. Her Personal bests are: 1,600 Meter Run (4:51.88); Two Mile Run (10:37.81); 3,000 Meter Run (9:55.66); 3,200 Meter Run (10:27.42); 400 Meter Dash (1:04.14); 5,000 Meter Run (17:10.00); 800 Meter Run (2:18.55); One Mile Run (4:53.67).

Amelia Paladino -finishing the race in 10th Photo by John Olson

Having a break-out cross country season, Paladino is the #2 ranked high school girl cross country runner in West Virginia. She received honorable mention in the US Mile Split girls cross country individual rankings. Paladino is the current AAA Girls West Virginia State Cross Country Champion. During the 2012 track season she became the AAA Girls 1600m State Champion, while placing her #4 all-time at the West Virginia High School Girls State Meet. Her Personal Bests are: 1,600 Meter Run (5:01.29); Two Mile Run (10:46.36); 3200 Meter Run (10:47.92); 5,000 Meter Run (17:32.00); 800 Meter Run (2:18.08).

Having talked to Max Mayo, the regional coordinator, he felt that Maggie Drazba was a potential top returnee from 2011. Many had Drazba predicted to finish seventh. I went on to ask him if he had heard about Amelia Paladino of University High School. He said, “Yes!” I told him that he needed to put her on his watch list. In fact, I went on to boldly say that West Virginia would not only have one, but two girls crack the Top Ten. He seemed surprised. I explained to him that we have never had a female runner ever make it to Foot Locker Nationals, but this was our year. Both girls had put in the miles and training to compete at such an elite level. He shared in my enthusiasm, but was still disappointed that Jacob Burcham of Cabell Midland High School didn’t compete at Foot Locker. Burcham instead chose to participate with his Ona Elite teammates at Nike Cross Country Nationals in Cary, NC being held on the same day. Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) serves as the unofficial team national championship of United States high school cross country, though you can still qualify as an individual.

The Time was nearing for the start of the Girls Seeded Race, which started at approximately 10:00 a.m. I waited anxiously near the starting area in hopes to wish both Maggie and Millie good luck. Other girls began to make their way over to the starting area. This year Foot Locker did something different by making a corral around the start area. In times past someone could hold your place on the starting line in order to gain an advantage over your competitors. The position that many runners wanted to have was the path as opposed to being on the grass.

Nerves were running high as I watched one girl lean over a trash can to puke. Officials came to her aide to see if she was going to be alright. She appeared to have that dear in the head light look.

Finally they allowed the runners to enter the starting area. I must admit that I began to get a bit worried because both Maggie and Millie had yet come to the starting area, but to my relief Drazba smiling with confidence came running towards were I was standing. I stopped her to wish her good luck. She said with a shy voice, “Thanks!” I said this is your year girl. She grinned and said “I hope so!” I missed ever seeing Paladino to wish her good luck. Many felt she had an outside shot at cracking the Top Ten. I really wanted to let her know that she could do it.

In all my years of going to the Foot Locker South Regional, I had never seen so many spectators lining the course for the Girls Seeded Race. Excitement was building as the girls toed the line in hopes to become one of the lucky ones to qualify for Nationals.

The potential top returnees from 2011 were Sophie Chase of Virginia who was the top returnee from last year’s race by placing second in 17:06. Chase is ranked #9 nationally according to the Mile Split US rankings. Next you have Alexa Cruz of Fort Lauderdale, FL (US Mile Split Honorable Mention), Bridget Blake of Orlando, FL (US Mile Split Honorable Mention), Alana Hadley of Charlotte, NC (US Mile Split #5), Karis Jochen of College Station, TX (US Mile Split #18), Maggie Drazba of St. Marys, WV (US Mile Split #13), Caroline Alcorta of Springfield, VA (US Mile Split #16), and Alexa Womack Of Marietta, GA (US Mile Split Honorable Mention).

You couldn’t have asked for better racing conditions, under clear and sunny skies with a temperature of 52 degrees with no chance of precipitation.

Start of the girls seeded race with Drazba on the far right with bib #609 - Photo by John Olson

The starter raised his arms and fired the gun. Sandie Raines of Texas and Sophie Chase of Virginia set the early pace coming through the mile in about 5:27. At this point I had Drazba in third, while Paladino was about eight seconds back in fourteenth. Sophie Chase took the lead coming to the hill. I had Drazba in the lead pack in seventh place, while Paldino was in the chase group in thirteenth place which was about ten to thirteen seconds back. Coming off the descent was Karis Jochen of Texas, Bridget Blake of Florida and Sophie Chase of Virginia. Drazba remained in seventh place, while Paladino was twelve to fifteen seconds back from the lead group. Coming around the lake for the first time at about 3,000 meters Jochen made her move. I believe it was then Raines, Blake and Chase. Drazba had moved into fifth place, while Paladino remained in thirteenth about sixteen seconds off the lead group. After completing the back loop and coming around the lake for the final time with approximately 600 meters to go - I had Sophie Chase in first, Karis Jochen in second, and Drazba in third, while Paladino rounded out the top ten and was about thirty seconds back from the leaders. Both Drazba and Paladino held on to their positions to the finish.

The Top Ten finishers of the Girls Seeded Race were Sophie Chase (VA) who held off Karis Jochen (TX) down the home stretch in a time 17:05 to 17:07. Next was Maggie Drazba (WV) 17:10, Alex Davis (OK) 17:11, Carmen Carlos (AL) 17:12, Bridget Blake (FL) 17:12, Sandie Raines (TX) 17:12, Caroline Alcorta (VA) 17:19, Allie Klimkiewicz (VA) 17:29, and securing the final spot was Amelia Paladino (WV) 17:32.

Congratulations to Maggie Drazba and Amelia Paladino for becoming the first West Virginia females to ever qualify for the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championship in San Diego, CA! We wish you the best of luck!

Source: parts of this article were compiled from the Foot Locker web-site and video footage that we took.