2019 was the type of cross country season we have all yearned for the last few years.
It did not disappoint.
Such a thrill to see the runners putting their all on the line from start to finish with no need for some committee deciding who gets to run and who doesn’t.
Picking a runner of the year can be a real agonizing decision some years but Colton Swinth and Harper McClain made it real easy as not only could no locals touch them but at the state level they were just as unstoppable.
One thing I did with this years All-Empire that I will probably never do again is what I did in the boys.
Rory Smail had a year that is as praiseworthy as about any boy our area has ever turned out. Swinth will now be in the debates anytime people talk about who the best boy runner we have ever had is but that might have been said about Smail if it were not for his teammate. That is why this year rather than just put him with the other outstanding runners on the first team I felt it was worth making an exception this year and listing him in his own “First Team plus” category.
For those of you new to All-Empire picks I’ll give you a little history on it.
It used to be something published by The Press Democrat newspaper. During my 23 years working for them I was assigned to put the teams together for cross country and track. I believe we went through five or six Sports editors during my time there and each one would want to change the set-up. Some would demand the teams be seven runners, others wanted it more in quality levels, meaning first team could be anywhere from 5-10 runners. Some would allow co-runners of the year and others said only one. A couple of years after they stopped sponsoring my running web site they also stopped doing All-Empire picks. I of course have continued it.
I prefer the seven to a team format but some years, like this one, there are two or three runners that I feel had equal seasons and to have one above the other on teams because of a strict 7 rule seems to cheat some, so this year warranted a break from the 7 rule.
The charts below show every race I could find on the top runners.
As you can see it takes a lot of research to put this together. And I stare at this for days and days moving runners around as I look at it.
Special note: The kids within a team have NOT been listed in a ranking within a team. Once I feel I have them on the right team I stop there so don’t think I have ranked runner 33 above 42 or 10 above 12 or anything like that.
There are some explanations of marks at the bottom to try to make it clear what all the numbers mean.
Here is a little more explanation.
My way of showing a runner who was 20th in division III in a time of 15:53 is listed as 20III15:53.
3d means the runner placed third in a meet against the other runners who have a number before it with a d.
7jr 10:47 is for the meets like the Viking Opener that are run by grade levels. In my chart this shows as 7th place in the junior (11th grade) in a time of 10:47.
I’m sure most of you could care less about this stuff but for the three people who do care you’re welcome.
Now how about the rankings?
The bulk of the decision on who did the best is determined by the final three meets, State-NCS-League Finals. All the meets before them are important and looked at but those final three are the real crucial ones. It is not meant to show who has the most promise or who you might feel would win in a head to head in ideal conditions, but what they actually produced during just this one season.
Colton Swinth and Harper McClain could not have capped off their CIF seasons any better than their dominance in the state finals, with no one even close to them at the finish, except of course Smail. The Empire couldn’t be any prouder of them.
And with 12 of the boys back next year and 20 of the girls, including McClain, we have a lot to look forward to next year.
As always I want to give a special thanks to Michael Lucid and Thomas Benjamin for all the wonderful photos they take for our area.
I’m also very thankful to my overworked laptop that made it through the season. I want to thank those who sent in donations for me to get a new one and if you would still like to help get me to be able to buy one just click here.
It’s great to be able to honor the runners on this year’s All-Empire picks, but there are so many more people that deserve praise beyond them.
Seeing the great team accomplishments like the Puma boys team and others was so wonderful.
Anyone who has ever been involved with this sport knows the incredible amount of work that ALL the runners and coaches put into this.
For the vast majority of you that did not make the list, know that I have big time respect for how hard you worked to be the best that you could be, and of course the parents who made it all possible with the many ways they supported their teams.