AAU XC Nationals Girls Preview: What To Watch

(Valerie Lastra is one of the top runners entered in the girls 13-14 4K. Photo by Teri Bernhardt-Rodriguez)

The 2016 AAU Cross Country National Championships will welcome over 1,000 athletes to Florida's "cross country playground", Apalachee Regional Park.  On the girl's side 500 plus are entered in six races that range in distance from 1K for the 6 & under age group to the full 5K distance for the 15-18 year olds.

With 2015 AAU Cross Country Nationals Champions, the Florida Middle School State Champion and meet record holder, a Florida high school state runner-up and Foot Locker Regional top 20 finisher, plus some of the brightest athletes on site we are in for a treat. Here are some of the top athletes and events to watch:

Girls 13-14 4K

When: 10:00 AM Saturday 

Why: Lastra, who runs for Miami Elite and attends Mater Academy Charter had a fantastic freshman season winning or finishing second in seven of nine races including the 3A Cross Country Finals. She was 5th at the Flrunners.com Race of Champions where she set a new personal best of 18:00.64 and recently was the third runner for Team FL at Foot Locker South placing 17th in 18:02.90 

She is the AAU Club Nationals outdoor track champion in the 3K and owns a personal best of 10:13.70 as well as FLYRA Middle School State Champion outdoor in the 1,500m with a meet record mark of 4:40.56. Last cross country season she was the FLYRA Middle School State Championship runner-up. Can the 13-14 national title stay in Miami Elite hands after Natalie Varela won it in 2015? 

Heskin is the 2015 AAU Cross Nationals Champion in the 11-12 3K Champion with a time of 10:24.79 She is also the New York State 7th grade record holder indoors in the same event after breaking a 25 year old mark.

Others to watch include Lastra's Miami Elite teammate Jordan Shapiro, the 4A Region 4 champion, who was 20th at state and 8th in the Freshman Girls race at Foot Locker South. Isabella Pawloski was 4th at the FLYRA Middle School State XC Championships and should be in the mix. 

Ellie Kunze and Kendyl Cardwell had standout freshman seasons as well with top 25 finishes at the 4A (14th) and 2A cross country state meets (23rd).

Michaela Rose is an age group beast from VA that will be in 13-14 year old race. Her dad mentioned to our Brandon Miles when he saw him at Foot Locker South that she will likely stay homeschooled when sje goes to high school and have to go the Aurora Scott route (college meets/age group meets/post-season HS meets). She won the AAU 800m title in 2:12 last summer. 

Girls 11-12 3K

Who: Ani Veltcheva 
When: 11:00 AM Saturday

Why: Veltcheva was 3rd at last year's AAU XC National Championship and is coming off of a meet record time of 10:38.67 at the FLYRA MS State Championship. As a 9 year old in 2014, Veltcheva set the 5K road world age group record in a time of 18:47.

Girls 9-10 3K

Who: Taylin Bowen, Jolynn Rodriguez

When: 12:00 PM Saturday

Why:  Last year's 7-8 2K champion Taylin Bowen of Santa Rosa, California won the race in 7:53.86. Taylin is the younger sister of both Kate and Rylee who was 6th in the 2k steeplchase at the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2015.

Rodriguez, a member of the Central Florida Gliders won the FLYRA Middle School XC State Championship 3rd-5th 2K race by 19 seconds over teammate Madalyn Falk who is also entered in the race.

Girls 7-8 2K 

Who: Emma Curran

When: 1:00 PM Saturday

Why:  Last year's champion in the 6 and under race with a time of 4:39.50 returns for a shot at the 7-8 title.