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NTN - Teams That Finish Best - One Statistic They Have in Common

Bill Meylan (December 20, 2006)


My recent article concerning NTN Selections resulted in a number of e-mail inquiries ... Many questioned my "subjective opinion" as to which teams can viewed as capable of winning NTN.  It was clear that most people sending e-mails did not believe the 2006 Saratoga girls were "capable" of winning and the NTN Selection committee was correct in not inviting Saratoga.  This article presents just one of several statistical characteristics I use to identify teams that can finish well at NTN ... the identification is statistical in nature (not subjective).

Teams That Finish Best ... For the purpose of this article, "teams that finish best" refers to teams that finished in the top four places ... the reason for "top four" will be obvious from the numbers shown below.

An Important NTN Consideration ... NTN brings together 20 of the best boys and 20 of the best girls teams in the nation.  NTN is a very high quality race that is different from nearly all State Meets and invitational races in terms of the number of quality teams and the corresponding number of high quality individual runners.  Typically, 140 runners compete in each race ... so any runner that finishes in the top 25 has done very well (in the top 18%) ... and any runner that finishes in the top 10 has done even better (top 7%).


Remember - The following are just single statistics out of many possible statistics ... Before presenting the stats, Here are the conclusions:

(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

Here are the actual numbers for all three years of NTN:

 Boys NTN - Finishing Team Places  Girls NTN - Finishing Team Places
 (at least two runners in top 25 finishers)  (at least two runners in top 25 finishers)
 2006 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11  2006 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11
 2005 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10  2005 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
 2004 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 14, 15  2004 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 14

  ... (Table updated Dec 24, 2006)

 Boys NTN - Finishing Team Places  Girls NTN - Finishing Team Places
 (at least one runner in top 10 finishers)  (at least one runner in top 10 finishers)
 2006 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14  2006 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 11
 2005 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15  2005 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10
 2004 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 15, 17, 18  2004 - 1, 2, 3, 4, 11, 14


Placing at least two runners in the top 25 ... Less than half the teams coming to NTN have been able to accomplish this  (only 38% actually) ... and more than half of the teams that did accomplish it were teams in the top four places ... This is a very telling statistic in predicting which teams might have a chance to win at NTN ... I have used similar criteria for many years (long before NTN), and the concept is simple - starting a team score with one low score is great, but it's even better if it starts with two low scores!

Placing at least one runner in the top 10 ... After the first two years of NTN, I found this to be an interesting stat (and mildly surprising to some degree).  It has more statistical significance at NTN than any other race I have seen before, and here's the reason ... In many top invitational races and State Meets, it is not uncommon to see a "purely pack-team" finish at or near the top (by purely pack-team I mean all five team runners with a tight compression time and none of the five holding back to make it an artificial compression) ... In the first three years of NTN, no pack-team has been able to crack the top four spots ... Three years of results is a decent statistical sample, but I still find it surprising that any team without a runner capable of finishing in the top 10 (or near the top 10) has a diminished probability of winning NTN based on past results.


PREDICTABILITY ... These two statistical criteria for identifying potential top NTN teams are based on past results ... But are they useful for predicting future results?? ... The answer is YES ... But it requires a knowledge of the teams likely to be competing at NTN and even more importantly, a knowledge of individuals likely to be at NTN.  Past results are a useful barometer in identifying performance levels for top 10 and top 25 finishers ... and current seasonal results of individuals are necessary.

For the purposes of prediction, I do not require that an individual shows "absolutely-positively" that he/she will be top 10 or top 25 ... I look for at least one race performance level to be close (and that's usually good enough).

Important Note ... For the majority of teams that finished in the top four at NTN, it was predictable that two (or more) runners might finish in the top 25 and that one runner might finish top 10 ... BUT there have been exceptions, and that will always be the case when dealing with predictive statistics.



At-Large NTN Selections for 2006 ... Boys ... The four at-large selections were Jesuit CA, Danbury CT, LaSalle OH and Cheyenne Central WY ... Entering NTN, the only team that fit either of the two statistical criteria above was Jesuit CA (my pre-race predictions were posted) ... two Jesuit runners were predicted to finish in the top 28 (and that's close enough); in addition, the top Jesuit runner (Evan Watchempino) had shown prior races approaching a top 10 finish ... No offense, but the other three teams were not close ... So based strictly these two statistical criteria, the only at-large team appearing capable of a top four finish was Jesuit CA ... In addition, Jesuit had several other criteria in their favor (such as an acceptable performance level for a #3 runner and a good prior performance at NTN in recent years) ... So Jesuit CA finishing 4th at NTN 2006 was not a big surprise.

One boys team that was not invited to NTN was Central Valley WA ... Central Valley had two top runners that easily satisfied the two statistical criteria (Tylor Thatcher and Sean Coyle ... both finished in the top ten at WA States against Ferris and Mead) ... Although Central Valley did not meet several other criteria I look for in a top NTN team, they did appear strong enough to receive an invitation ... The Other California Teams Not Invited - again, based strictly on the two statistical criteria, Jesuit was the best selection despite them finishing behind other teams at CA States.

At-Large NTN Selections for 2006 ... Girls ... The four at-large selections were Hilton NY, Carondelet CA, Iowa City IA and Tatnall DE ... Entering NTN, the only team that fit either of the two statistical criteria above was Hilton NY (my pre-race predictions were posted) ... Hilton had two runners who could be predicted to finish not only top 25, but both in the top 10 (Allison Sawyer and Caroline Schultz) ... Hilton had virtually every other statistical criteria I look at in their favor as well ... That's why I thought Hilton was a serious contender to win NTN for the second straight year ... So Hilton finishing 2nd was predictable.

The other three at-large selections did not meet the criteria for a potential top four finish at NTN (and that was predictable as well).

One team not invited to NTN, but meeting both statistical criteria (and others) was Marian Nebraska ... top runner Emily Sisson  finished 3rd at Footlocker Finals.

Colts Neck NJ ... when I posted the article concerning NTN Selections (which talked about Saratoga and Hilton and their historical success at NTN), a fair number of people thought I was "putting-down" Colts Neck for being an automatic NTN selection ... Nothing could be farther from the truth ... Colts Neck has two elite runners that more than satisfy the two criteria being discussed here (Ashley Higginson and Briana Jackucewicz) ... when I saw their #3 runner meeting performances for that criteria, I knew Colts Neck was a top contender (and said so at the time) ... Colts Neck finishing 4th at NTN was not a big surprise.

Saratoga ... Immediately after posting the NTN Selections article about Saratoga, it was clear from my e-mail that many people thought I was over-rating Saratoga and picking them "just because they are Saratoga" ... For those e-mails thinking I wrote the article because I am somehow connected with the Saratoga program - I have never had a conversion with the Saratoga coaches (Linda and Art Kranick) ... also, no e-mail or other correspondences ... similarly, I have never had a conversion with any member of a Saratoga team ... so there is no connection at all.

I thought Saratoga was a potential winner at NTN 2006 for one primary reason ... Saratoga satisfied every statistical criteria I use to identify top teams in important races (NTN, NY Federations or any similar big race) ... The two statistical criteria discussed in this article are just two of a number of criteria I look at ... For these two criteria, Saratoga easily had two potential runners in the top 25 (Hannah Davidson and Cassie Goutos) and Hannah Davidson would have been a favorite to win ... Alysha McElroy more than satisfied the performance criteria for a #3 runner ... likewise for their #4 through #7 runners and several other criteria ... Based strictly on 2006 performances, I thought Saratoga would have to run below an "average" race not to finish in the top five at NTN ... and that's based on statistics.

The focus of the NTN Selections article was that success in the previous years can be used to predict performance in the current year ... This concept is really disliked by many people (obvious from my e-mails) ... The common phrase was "What they did last year has nothing to do with this year!" ... Well, I'm just an old horseplayer, and any experienced horseplayer knows you better darn well keep track of how good specific horses and specific trainers perform from year-to-year in specific races.

Consider the Southlake Carroll TX girls at NTN ... 8th in 2004, 3rd in 2005, 3rd in 2006 ... In 2005, Southlake Carroll had two Footlocker finalists and were predictable as a potential top four NTN team ... In 2006 (with both Footlocker finalists graduated), my raw 5K speed ratings predicted Southlake Carroll to finish last at NTN ... even if I used their 3200 meter ratings (TX girls normally  race 3200 meters in XC, including States), the best I could have predicted was a 10th-place finish at NTN  ... Southlake Carroll was not ranked in the Nike Super 25 rankings before NTN ... They did not meet the pre-race criteria for placing two runners in the top 25 (they are one of the very few exceptions who actually finished in the top four teams), although it was predictable that their top runner (Tara Upshaw) could finish in the top 10 ... BUT Southlake Carroll did have a history of running well at NTN and it continued big-time in 2006 when it wasn't very predictable based on 2006 results ... Most likely the coach deserves much credit for having the team prepared for NTN ... So next year, I would give any benefit of the doubt to the Southlake Carroll girls (but that's something old horseplayers do).


No statistical criteria is set in stone ... There will be exceptions ... But for the first three years of NTN, every team that finished in the top four places at NTN had at least two finishers in the top 25 and one finisher in the top 10 ... Stats like these help identify potential top teams at NTN before the race is contested.