NORWALK, Conn. -- Brien McMahon senior Eric van der Els and Ridgefield’s Gabe Altopp traveled nearly 3,000 miles to separate themselves by five seconds Saturday at the Foot Locker cross country national championships in San Diego.
Van der Els finished 18th in the race in 15:35.6 followed by Altopp in 15:39.9. Both runners narrowly missed earning All-American status, which went to the top 15 runners. The race featured the top 40 high school runners in the country. Drew Hunter of Virginia won the race in 14:55.7.
Van der Els and Altopp had similar strategies, pushing the pace early before settling in. Both runners made late moves in the final half mile of the race and pushed into the top 20.
“I felt really good,’’ said van der Els, who will run for the University of Connecticut next year. “I passed about 10 runners in the last 1,000 yards and everybody was trying to get into that top 15. I’ve raced most of them before and I feel like I always run faster when I race against great competition. It was a great experience.”
Van der Els entered Brien McMahon as a soccer and baseball player. He finishes his cross country career as the most accomplished runner in the school’s history.
“These last four years were just great,’’ van der Els said. “I was playing soccer and running really changed my career. I couldn’t be happier about the way things played out. To come here and run and have my family and friends cheer for me was awesome.”
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