Oliver Hinson wrote this piece on the USA U20 races from Mechanicsville, VA on Saturday, January 20, 2024.

College and high school stars shine at USATF XC Championships

Kevin Sanchez and Zariel Macchia took home gold in the U20 division


By: Oliver Hinson


Mechanicsville, VA – Notre Dame freshman Kevin Sanchez and William Floyd High School’s Zariel Macchia won the men’s and women’s U20 races, respectively, at the USATF XC Championships on Jan. 20 at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, VA. Sanchez posted a blistering time of 24:07 for 8k, while Macchia ran an equally impressive 20:31 in the 6k. 


Early in the race, Gonzaga freshman Logan Law took an aggressive lead, coming through the first kilometer in 2:54, five seconds ahead of a 20-strong chase pack. He held that lead for just under four kilometers, at which point Colorado’s Kole Mathison and the rest of the challengers reabsorbed Law, once again creating a tight race. 


Mathison, the sole male representative from last year’s World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, held on to the lead for most of the third 2k course loop, but by the 6k mark, Sanchez had taken charge, and he proceeded to torch the field. He ran a last 2k of 5:41 (4:34 mile pace), falling to the ground as he crossed the finish line in what was more than simply a display of fatigue.


“,” [Representing the US] means the world to me,” Sanchez, a dual citizen of the US and Mexico, said. “Ever since athletics came into my life, I’ve been wanting to represent either one of my countries. It’s hard to make a US team, and being able to do that as an 18-year-old is surreal.”

The USA U20 Men’s XC race, photo by USATF

The win also meant a lot to Sanchez’s coach, Notre Dame’s Jason Schatz.


“The future looks good for the Irish,” Schatz said. “We’re excited about everyone we’ve got coming in, and [Sanchez] is going to be a staple of that for a long time. He’s nothing but a hard worker, nothing but an incredible teammate.”


Behind Sanchez, Mathison took silver with a time of 24:18. Despite not getting the win, Mathison was happy to safely secure a spot on Team USA. Last year, he finished seventh at the national meet, and it was only after one of the athletes forfeited his spot that he got a chance to wear the red, white, and blue.


“Last year, I went over to the place for team processing, and they said, ‘Yeah, you can just sit and wait, and we’ll see if somebody scratches,’” Mathison said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking, and it was disappointing at the moment knowing that I was the first guy out. It’s nice to know that I have the spot for sure this time.”


Third place went to Noah Breker, a redshirt freshman from the University of North Carolina. This was Breker’s first 8k and first collegiate-level race – a good showing for a coming-out party. Behind him, two more freshmen – University of Minnesota’s Aidan Jones and Georgetown University’s Birhanu Harriman – took fourth and fifth place, respectively. In a stark contrast from last year’s race, the only high school athlete in the top six was Berkley Nance, a BYU commit who finished fourth at Foot Locker XC Nationals in December.


The makeup of the women’s race was a lot different. Zariel Macchia, a high school junior from New York with US #1 marks in the 1000m and 1500m, won in 20:31, edging out high school senior and Liberty University commit Allie Zealand by less than a second. 


Early in the race, the race looked to be a duel between Macchia and Ellie Shea, another high school senior and Macchia’s teammate from last year’s Team USA. The two got out quickly, clocking a first kilometer of 3:16. They led a pack of about 10, which dwindled down as the race went on. Zealand crept her way into third place, sitting just behind NC State freshman Jolena Quarzo. With a kilometer left to go, Macchia, Zealand, Quarzo and Mary Bonner Dalton held the top four spots and were separated by less than a second. 


Eventually, Macchia and Zealand made moves, and it was Macchia whose kick proved lethal. 


Going into the race, Macchia was mostly thinking about a top-six finish, but she knew that she had the fitness to achieve much more, and she capitalized on the opportunity.


“I knew that I was one of the better runners in the field,” Macchia said. “For the first 3k, I treated it like a tempo run. I knew that if I got to the last kilometer with whoever was in the lead, I had a really good shot of winning.”


Quarzo finished third, while Dalton, Maddie Gardiner, and Shea took the rest of the qualifying spots. 


Barring any forfeitures or injuries, the teams for the World Athletics Cross Country Championships should be set. Last year, both U20 teams from the US finished third. This year’s meeting will take place in Belgrade, Serbia, on March 30.