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Identifying Teams That Might Contend at NTN

Bill Meylan (June 25, 2007)



A previous article presented some basic statistics that apply to the top finishing teams at NTN ("NTN-Teams That Finish Best-One Statistic They Have in Common") ... To summarize:

(1) Every team that has finished in the top four places at NTN has had at least two finishers in the top 25
(2) Every team that has finished in the top four places at NTN has had at least one finisher in the top 10

These numbers simply suggest the following: ... To finish at or near the top at NTN, a team needs at least two runners capable of finishing in the top 20% of all runners and one runner in the top 10% (or close to those rounded percentages) ... There may be exceptions in the future, but it has not happened yet at NTN (and it happens only rarely in other high quality cross country races)  ... Since NTN is a very high quality event, it means a team needs some high quality runners capable of finishing high-up against other quality runners.

This is not a new concept by any means ... Teams with top runners have always had an advantage in high quality races ... Low scores from individual runners really help!

When considering scoring at NTN, a related question might be "How well do top teams score at NTN?" ... Here is a table of the actual team scores of the top four finishing teams at NTN thus far:

Some Team Scores at NTN

 Boys     1st Place   2nd Place   3rd Place   4th Place
   2004      92          127         146         173
   2005     111          134         134         176
   2006     126          148         162         169

 Girls    1st Place   2nd Place   3rd Place   4th Place
   2004      51          125         154         211
   2005      85          112         123         133
   2006     128          178         187         200

Teams scores certainly vary, but NTN has been fairly consistent in the number of teams, runners and selection process, so maybe it's possible to extract some interesting information from the scores.  For starters, the highest team score in the table above is 211 ... that corresponds to an average individual score of  about 42.  The lowest team score is the Saratoga girl's 51 in 2004 ... that corresponds to an average individual score of  about 10 (I doubt we'll ever see that again).

Looking at the boy's scores ... The average winning score is about 110 (average individual=22) ... The average 4th-place score is about 173 (average individual=34.5) ... Since team scoring can vary a lot, it's hard to pay attention to the specific numbers ... However, to finish in the top four teams, a boy's team average scoring runner had to average around 35th or better ... Interestingly, with a typical 140 runners in an NTN race, 35th is the 25th percentile ... Which suggests that to finish in the four teams at NTN, your average scoring runner needs to be near the top 25%.

The Number 5 Runner

Of course, there is no such person as the "average scoring runner" ... The Team Average Score is simply the Team Score divided by five ... The highest individual score always comes from the #5 runner on each team, so the #5 runner is very important ... How Important is the #5 runner?? ... Here's the statistic that should not surprise many people:

** In the first three years of NTN amongst both boys and girls, there have been six winning teams ... The #5 runner for all winning NTN teams has been either the first or second #5 runner to finish the race (four have been first, two have been second) ... Looking at the NY Federation Championships for the past eight years, 14 winning teams had their #5 runner finish first among #5 runners (one winning team's #5 was second and one was third).

Since we are looking at the top four finishing teams at NTN, here is a table of where the #5 runner finishes in the race:

Finishing place for the #5 Runner for top four teams:
(number in parentheses is place amongst all #5 runners):

 Boys     1st Place   2nd Place   3rd Place   4th Place
   2004     43 (2)      35 (1)      50 (3)      53 (4)
   2005     52 (2)      47 (1)      69 (6)      74 (7)
   2006     45 (1)      57 (2)      58 (3)      78 (7)

 Girls    1st Place   2nd Place   3rd Place   4th Place
   2004     23 (1)      59 (2)      60 (3)      97 (8)
   2005     33 (1)      39 (2)      65 (4)      43 (3)
   2006     46 (1)      70 (3)      78 (4)      81 (5)

The #5 runner for all 1st or 2nd-place teams has been no worse than the 3rd-best #5 finishing runner ... To be in the top four teams, the #5 runner has never been lower than the 8th-best #5 finisher (all well within the top half of all teams) ... This is not surprising.


Identifying Possible NTN Contenders - Some Examples

The numbers show us that the top teams at NTN have at least two runners capable of finishing in the top 25 and a good #5 runner (and a team average score near the top 25%) ... Saying a team needs some top runners and a good #5 is fairly obvious ... The object of gathering these stats and concepts is to help identify contenders before NTN is run, so let's examine several examples from last year.

The first two examples look at the top two teams from Pennsylvania in 2006 (Coatesville boys & Radnor girls) ... Here is the logic I used in evaluating these teams before the NY Federation or State meets were run.

Coatesville PA Boys

I followed the Coatesville boys the entire season.  They had been running fast enough to be a real contender, not only in the Northeast region, but at NTN itself.  The NTN Selection Committee supposedly puts great emphasis on performance at State Championship races, so Coatesville (and Radnor's) performance at the PA State Meet was important in the NTN selection process (and it had implications which might affect the New York teams).

Looking at the results of the PA State, I evaluated the PA teams with respect to the criteria outlined in this article and previous article ... I also looked at other criteria including speed (no surprise there).

Entering the PA State Meet, Coatesville and Radnor were the only two highly ranked teams in PA ... PA had a number of very good individual runners at the State Meet (including Footlocker Finalists); these runners are useful for comparison purposes.  But in terms of teams, Coatesville and Radnor had been ranked well above other PA teams ... In that regard, I was expecting something of a "dominating" performance from both teams.

PA runs two Class races at their State Meet (Class AAA and Class AA) ... Coatesville and Radnor are both Class AAA ... Each class race has about 280-285 runners, so a "merge" contains about 560-570 runners.

Coatesville's results from the boy's merge are absolutely remarkable ... and this does not exclude the individual runners:
.... Coatesville: 3 - 7 - 9 - 13 - 20 - 67 - 80  ... Here is a partial listing from the merge:

Boys PA States Merge 2006:
 1   Jason Weller, Sr       Boyertown (1)         15:04    (199.7)
 2   Paul Springer, Sr      Unionville (1)        15:06    (199.0)
 3   Kyle Dawson, Sr        Coatesville (1)       15:17    (195.3) *
 4   Vince McNally, Jr      Conestoga Valley (3)  15:29    (191.3)
 5   Chris Aldrich, Jr      Wc Henderson (1)      15:29    (191.3)
 6   Lucas Zarzeczny, Sr    Avonworth (7)         15:37    (188.7)
 7   Tom Panulla, Sr        Coatesville (1)       15:38    (188.3) *
 8   Scott Van Kooten, Sr   Pittsburgh C C (7)    15:42    (187.0)
 9   Owen Dawson, Sr        Coatesville (1)       15:47    (185.3) *
 13  Sean Ward, Sr          Coatesville (1)       15:54    (183.0) *
 20  Jason Leonard, Sr      Coatesville (1)       15:59    (181.3) *
 67  Chris Rosato, So       Coatesville (1)       16:32    (170.3) *
 80  Andrew Mahoney, Jr     Coatesville (1)       16:36    (169.0) *

All five Coatesville scorers finished in the top 20 of all runners (including individual runners) ... This is very dominating ... It more than satisfies every criteria I have for identifying top teams (including two top runners and a good #5) ... Simple time comparisons with the top PA runners (Jason Weller, Paul Springer) indicate the Coatesville guys not only finished high-up, but they ran fast as well (which was confirmed by my other speed evaluations) ... All five Coatesville scorers finished within a minute of the winning runner (and the 2nd-place finisher (Paul Springer) later qualified for Footlocker finals) ... This race clearly identified Coatesville as the top team in the Northeast and a real contender to win NTN.


Radnor PA Girls

The Radnor girls were definitely one of the top NTN prospects in the Northeast entering the 2006 season ... I had Radnor ranked #3 pre-season in the Northeast behind Hilton and Saratoga (I had Fayetteville-Manlius #7).  Radnor performed well during the season, including a close race with Hilton at the Warwick Valley Invite (Hilton won by a score of 59 to 68 after a recount) ... the merged results from Warwick had: Hilton 120, Radnor 140, and Greenwich 202.  At this point, Radnor certainly looked like a possible NTN prospect to me ... But the final test is performance at the PA State which was more than month after Warwick.

Radnor won the Class AAA division at PA States ... here's the Class AAA team scoring for the top teams:

  1   Radnor (1)               81    9   12   15   18   27   36  147   19:17      0:44
  2   Emmaus (11)             102   10   16   22   24   30   41  128   19:26      0:44
  3   Manheim Township (3)    175   13   14   26   54   68   71   77   19:46      1:23
  4   Wc Henderson (1)        198    3   23   38   61   73  105  115   19:50      1:50

The places above do not include the individual runners (only team runners).  I can see two very positive stats in the team scoring table: (1) Radnor is the PA Champion and (2) Radnor's team spread of only 44 seconds is very good (and will certainly satisfy the criteria of having a good #5 runner) ... However, for the team spread to be truly meaningful in terms of top performance at a national level, the lead runner must finish relatively high in the finish order ... the top Radnor finisher was actually 19th overall in the Class AAA race.

Now look at a partial listing from the PA State girl's merge (which includes individual runners):

Girls PA States Merge 2006:
 1   Kacey Gibson, Jr       Neshannock (7)        17:59    (146.3)
 2   Carly Seymour, Jr      Central Cambria (6)   18:01    (145.7)
 3   Neely Spence, Jr       Shippensburg (3)      18:07    (143.7)
 4   Lara Crofford, Sr      Big Spring (3)        18:22    (138.7)
 5   Chanelle Price, Jr     Easton (11)           18:28    (136.7)
 6   Natalie Bower, So      Latrobe (7)           18:30    (136.0)
 7   Allison Sikora, Sr     Council Rock North    18:31    (135.7)
 8   Kate Ross, Jr          Central Bucks East    18:34    (134.7)
 25  Liz Milewski, Sr       Radnor (1)            18:56    (127.3) *
 36  Hannah Granger, Sr     Radnor (1)            19:07    (123.7) *
 50  June Farley, Sr        Radnor (1)            19:18    (120.0) *
 61  Kelyn Freedman, Fr     Radnor (1)            19:24    (118.0) *
 81  Shannon Holm, Sr       Radnor (1)            19:39    (113.0) *
 110 Katie Lally, So        Radnor (1)            19:54    (108.0) *
 472 Nicole Eriks, Jr       Radnor (1)            22:14    (61.3 ) *

The top Radnor runner was 25th in the merge ... The Coatesville boys had all five scorers in the top 20 of the boy's merge (that's dominating) ... Radnor had nobody in the top 20 (that's not dominating when evaluating performance at a national level). 

PA had some very good individual girl runners in 2006 (including Footlocker finalists Carly Seymour and Nelly Spence).  BUT just how well would the 25th place finisher in PA State Meet project into the NTN Championship Race?? ... NTN has multiple Footlocker finalist-caliber runners and most of the best teams in the nation ... I'm sorry, but I can't come up with any realistic logic that would project two Radnor runners into the top 25 top at NTN, let alone anybody into the top 10.

Using Coatesville again as a comparison, all five Coatesville scorers finished within 55 seconds of the fastest runner ... Radnor had nobody finish within 55 seconds of the fastest runner.

Just for grins, assuming the top Radnor runner finished 25th at NTN 2006 (which is possible) and Radnor kept the exact same spread as PA States, Radnor would have finished 8th at NTN (but most teams had larger-than-normal spreads at NTN in 2006 because the condition of the running surface was not good).

I also evaluated other Radnor races throughout the season ... the PA State was not their best race (it looked average to me).  The best Radnor performance in 2006 was probably the PIAA District 1 race ... the top Radnor finisher had a good performance (speed figure in low to mid-130s), but overall it still did not meet the "two top runner criteria" for a top four NTN finish.

Bottom-Line ... Based on performance at PA States, Radnor was not a contender for a top finish at NTN ... Looking at their season as a whole, they were a good team that appeared capable of finishing in the top ten at NTN with a good performance, but not in the top four.


New York State Girls

Here are the relevant results from the NY Girls Federation Championships in 2006:

NY Federation Team Scoring:
  1.   Fayetteville-Manlius    103     6   7   28  29  33    (19:33.9)
  2.   Hilton                  128     5   10  30  35  48    (19:40.3)
  3.   Saratoga                142     1   9   21  55  56    (19:32.8) *
  4.   Burnt Hills             144     8   14  26  43  53    (19:45.0)
  5.   East Aurora             157     12  13  32  37  63    (19:51.5)
  6.   Greenwich               189     3   19  25  41  101   (19:55.0)

Overall Finishing Places:
  1.   Fayetteville-Manlius            7   8   47  48  55   58   63
  2.   Hilton                          6   12  49  57  74   108  172
  3.   Saratoga                        1   11  30  84  85   96   122
  4.   Burnt Hills                     9   18  44  68  80   109  121
  5.   East Aurora                     15  16  54  60  93   119  123
  6.   Greenwich                       4   28  39  66  142  151  157

NY Girls Federation Top 12 Finishers:
  1      Hannah Davidson     JR  Saratoga               18:05.7     (156.1)
  2      Shelby Greany       SO  Suffern                18:27.7     (148.8)
  3      Callie Hogan        SR  Bay Shore              18:29.4     (148.2)
  4      Caitlin Lane        JR  Greenwich              18:29.7     (148.1)
  5      Liz Deir            SR  Honeoye Falls-Lima     18:30.4     (147.9)
  6      Allison Sawyer      SR  Hilton                 18:45.4     (142.9)
  7      Kathryn Buchan      SO  Fayetteville-Manlius   18:49.3     (141.6)
  8      Mackenzie Carter    FR  Fayetteville-Manlius   18:49.9     (141.4)
  9      Sam Roecker         SO  Burnt Hills            18:52.8     (140.4)
 10      Emily Lipari        FR  Roslyn                 18:54.7     (139.8)
 11      Cassie Goutos       FR  Saratoga               18:57.1     (139.0)
 12      Caroline Schultz    SR  Hilton                 18:58.1     (138.6)

NY Girls Federation Results By Teams:
  7    6 Kathryn Buchan      SO  Fayetteville-Manlius   18:49.3     (141.6)
  8    7 Mackenzie Carter    FR  Fayetteville-Manlius   18:49.9     (141.4)
 47   28 Jessica Hauser      SR  Fayetteville-Manlius   19:57.4     (118.9)
 48   29 Molly Malone        FR  Fayetteville-Manlius   19:59.8     (118.1)
 55   33 Hillary Hooley      SR  Fayetteville-Manlius   20:13.0     (113.7)
 58   36 Courtney Chapman     8  Fayetteville-Manlius   20:13.5     (113.5)
 63   38 Catie Caputo        SR  Fayetteville-Manlius   20:16.6     (112.5)

  6    5 Allison Sawyer      SR  Hilton                 18:45.4     (142.9)
 12   10 Caroline Schultz    SR  Hilton                 18:58.1     (138.6)
 49   30 Sarah Ritchie       SO  Hilton                 20:00.6     (117.8)
 57   35 Shelby Herman       JR  Hilton                 20:13.4     (113.5)
 74   48 Ashley Jones        JR  Hilton                 20:24.1     (110.0)
108   75 Lindsay Crocetti    SO  Hilton                 20:51.9     (100.7)
172  124 Chelsea Abrams      SO  Hilton                 22:01.0     (77.7 )

  1    1 Hannah Davidson     JR  Saratoga               18:05.7     (156.1)
 11    9 Cassie Goutos       FR  Saratoga               18:57.1     (139.0)
 30   21 Alysha McElroy      SR  Saratoga               19:36.7     (125.8)
 84   55 Brianne Bellon      FR  Saratoga               20:32.3     (107.2)
 85   56 Liz Ochse           SR  Saratoga               20:32.3     (107.2)
 96   66 Kaitlin O'Sullivan  SR  Saratoga               20:41.3     (104.2)
122   86 Katelyn Lowe        SO  Saratoga               21:02.7     (97.1 )

  9    8 Sam Roecker         SO  Burnt Hills            18:52.8     (140.4)
 18   14 Meaghan Gregory     SO  Burnt Hills            19:10.6     (134.5)
 44   26 Molly Pezullo        8  Burnt Hills            19:54.6     (119.8)
 68   43 Rachael Cyrus       FR  Burnt Hills            20:19.0     (111.7)
 80   53 Carolyn Herkenham   SO  Burnt Hills            20:27.7     (108.8)
109   76 Alyssa Drapeau       7  Burnt Hills            20:53.5     (100.2)
121   85 Martha Brown        JR  Burnt Hills            21:02.1     (97.3 )

 15   12 Jenna Hulton        JR  East Aurora            19:05.4     (136.2)
 16   13 Catherine Lusardi   JR  East Aurora            19:07.8     (135.4)
 54   32 Kirsten Weberg      SO  East Aurora            20:09.8     (114.7)
 60   37 Erin Crawford       SO  East Aurora            20:14.8     (113.1)
 93   63 Marla Kelley        SR  East Aurora            20:39.5     (104.8)
119   84 Tara O'Conner       JR  East Aurora            21:01.5     (97.5 )
123   87 Paige Pelton         8  East Aurora            21:03.3     (96.9 )	

This is a very high quality race ... Five of the top twelve finishers qualified for Footlocker Finals  (Hannah Davidson, Shelby Greany, Liz Deir, Allison Sawyer and Caroline Schultz)

Here are some observations:

(1) All top five finishing teams (FM, Hilton, Saratoga, Burnt Hills and East Aurora) had two runners in the top 20 of all runners including individual runners ... In a race of this quality, that pretty much meets the criteria for two top runners!

(2) The best one-two scoring finish by two runners from any team was Saratoga (Hannah Davidson & Cassie Goutos)

(3) The team score through three finishers was as follows:

  1. Saratoga              31  
  2. Fayetteville-Manlius  41  
  3. Hilton                45  
  4. Burnt Hills           48  
  5. East Aurora           57 

Burnt Hills #3 finisher finished ahead of the #3 finisher of both FM and Hilton ... Saratoga's #3 was the first #3.

(4) The best team average time was Saratoga ... I posted an article discussing team average time several years ago ... Team average time may not be the greatest method of evaluating team strengths, but it has its place ... The team with a best average time in a race must have done something better than the other teams.  I look at it like a 5x5000 relay race on the track ... if that's the case, Saratoga finished first.

(5) Fayetteville-Manlius won the race based on the strength of their #4 and #5 runners (and the same thing happened at NTN) ... In the NY Fed race, the #5 FM runner finished ahead of the #4 runner of all other teams.

(6) The #5 runner for the top five teams met the criteria for a good #5 runner (adequate for a top four finish at NTN).

Considering Saratoga (since much of this evaluation is being focused in their direction), their #4 through #7 finishers did not have their best races of the season ... actually, they were below average (easily demonstrated by time comparisons among the Saratoga runners or speed ratings), and anybody closely following the NY teams would know that (and you don't need seed ratings to figure that out) ... Despite the below average performance levels, the performance level of the #5 runner was still good enough to be equal to the #5 runner performance levels of the teams that actually finished 3rd and 4th at NTN in 2006.

Interesting side-note: ... The #6 Saratoga finisher at Feds (Kaitlin O'Sullivan), started out the 2006 season with a very good 18:09 time Saratoga Park in mid-September (2nd best on the team) ... she then missed nearly two months of competition (reportedly due to mono) and made her first competitive come-back at Feds and finished only 9 seconds behind Saratoga's #5 ... only a week after NTN (which was two weeks after Feds), she ran 10:48 (3000m) at the first indoor track meet.

Bottom-Line on the NY Girls: ... NY had at least five teams capable of finishing at (or near) the top at NTN ... The top three teams (FM, Hilton and Saratoga) were identifiable as potential winners of NTN before the final NTN rankings were formulated.

Just my opinion ... The "at-large" selections to NTN should focus on teams that are legitimate contenders for top finishes ... Saratoga was a legitimate contender, Radnor was not ... I assume Radnor was ranked ahead Saratoga because because Radnor was a State champion and Saratoga was "only third" in NY.

I have absolutely no problems with Colts Neck NJ being ranked 2nd in the final Northeast rankings ... Colts Neck had a great performance at the New Jersey Meet of Champions ... They also had two superstar runners (Ashley Higginson and Brianna Jackucewicz) and a good supporting cast ... Colts Neck was clearly a contender for a top finish at NTN.

The "Only Third in NY" thing ... I heard the "Saratoga was only third" comment multiple times immediately following the race (from coaches, knowledgeable observers, and people involved with NTN) ... I heard it many times following the posting of my article "NTN Selections 2006 - Some Thoughts" (which I can summary as follows: "teams that have proven themselves should be given the benefit of the doubt").

Saratoga finished 3rd to the two teams that finished 1st and 2nd at NTN ... Of course, we did not know FM and Hilton would finish one-two at NTN (Who could possibly think NY teams would ever run one-two at NTN??) ... I predicted FM and Hilton would finish "only 3rd and 4th" ... Maybe finishing 3rd is a good thing sometimes! ... It all depends on who finished 1st and 2nd.


Supplemental Discussion

The first article ("NTN-Teams That Finish Best-One Statistic They Have in Common") generated a number of similar questions from coaches and viewers ... In general, the question was "Is it really that important to have at least two top runners as opposed to a conventional pack-team??"

The short answer is:  that's what the stats and observations from NTN and other high quality races indicate ... There are exceptions, but few.

I believe one of the reasons involves the density of finishing runners ... Here's a histogram graph of the boy's NTN race in 2004 that depicts the number of finishers for each 20 seconds of the race.

For example, there were only 2 finishers between 15:40 and 16:00 ... between 16:00 and 16:20, there were 8 finishers ... between 16:20 and 16:40, there were 14 finishers (that a running total of 24 runners finishing between 15:40 and 16:40) ... However, between 16:40 and 17:00, 32 runners finished in that 20 second interval and 28 finished in the next 20 second interval ... This histogram is typical of NTN and other high quality races.

Now if we consider Steve Murdock in 2005 (when he was still running for the Saratoga boys) ... Steve was one of the favorites to win NTN ... In all honesty, Steve had an "off-day" at NTN in 2005, BUT Steve's "off-day" still allowed him to finish 16th.  This is an advantage top runners have over other runners ... they finish in a lower density region of the race where performance has much less impact on scoring.  Since Steve was roughly 30 seconds slower than his typical performance, his "off-day" added a maximum of maybe 12 points to the team score ... If he was not a top quality runner, his 30 second "off-day" could have added 40-45+ points to the team score!

The same argument can be made for Eric Dettman of the winning Kroy team (aka York) in 2004 ... he may have been 35 or 40 seconds off his normal race, but he still finished 29th (which would be a great finish for most runners).  And most of the winning teams at NTN have had the added bonus of having more than two "top runners" on the team which allows some runners to have off-days at NTN.

So having two "top runners" at NTN gets the team scoring started with two relatively low scores ... In contrast, a conventional pack-team will already be trailing any team with two top runners after only two runners, and if any one runner of pack has an off-day, it will most likely be in high-density finishing region of the race which will greatly raise the team score. Exceptions are possible, but looking at the range of winning NTN scores above, a pack team better have at least one runner in the "top runner" category to have any chance to win.