SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Dec. 11, 2021) — Natalie Cook of Flower Mound, Texas and Riley Hough of Fenton, Mich. captured first-place titles at the 42nd Eastbay Cross Country Championships (ECCC) National Finals today. Race conditions at Morley Field, Balboa Park in San Diego were ideal with mostly firm terrain, sunshine and temperatures reaching 62 degrees.

In the girls’ 5K race, Cook took over the lead just before the mile mark and never looked back, winning in a time of 17:15.0 to become the first Texan to capture an ECCC girls’ title. Hough pulled away from two runners along the last major decline to claim victory in the boys’ 5k race with a time of 15:11.4.

ECCC – Girls’ National Final:

Cook, a senior at Flower Mound High School, bided her time behind the leader through the first 800 meters of the race before making her bid for the front on the first big uphill challenge with the lead pack approaching the mile mark. The Oklahoma State commit took a firm hold of the pace at the mile with a split of 5:18 and eventually opened a 45-meter lead prior to the field’s second trip up Balboa Park’s defining incline.

Northeast teammates Angelina Perez, a senior from Ringwood, N.J., and Jenna Mulhern, a senior from West Chester, Pa., made a late charge at the top of the hill and gave chase with 500 meters to go. However, Cook, whose mom, Melissa Gulli, finished 23rd at the 1997 Foot Locker Nationals Finals, proved too strong and pulled away from the duo on the final downhill to capture the national championship title.

With Cook turning the last mile into a classic runaway finish, Perez (17:19.7) held off Mulhern (17:20.8) to capture second place. Karrie Baloga, a junior from New Windsor, N.Y., finished fourth (17:29.1), while Riley Stewart, a senior from Englewood, Colo., finished fifth (17:30.3). 

ECCC – Boys’ National Final:

In the boys’ race, junior Kole Mathison (Carmel, Ind.) controlled the early pace leading what would become a six-runner breakaway pack after the first mile (4:43). The group, made up of senior Gavin Sherry (West Hartford, Conn.), junior Tyrone Gorze (Central Point, Ore.), Hough, Mathison, senior Zane Bergen (Longmont, Colo.) and senior Kenan Pala (San Diego, Calif.), would go on to define the second half of the 5K race as they would all finish in the top six.  The decisive move to the tape was made by Hough who slingshot past Pala and Sherry on the steep downhill with 500 meters to go. From there, the Michigan State recruit continued his strong finishing kick, rewarding him with the ECCC national championship title.

With Hough’s relatively comfortable lead, the ECCC final turned into a race for second where local fan favorite Pala (15:14.8) pulled ahead and held off Sherry (15:17.3). Bergen finished fourth (15:20.2), Mathison came in in fifth (15:22.3) and Gorze captured sixth place (15:26.4).

The Eastbay Cross Country Championships is comprised of four regional 5K races, which took place across the country in the Midwest (Kenosha, Wis.), Northeast (Bronx, N.Y.), South (Charlotte, N.C.) and West (Walnut, Calif.), culminating at the National Finals here today.

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About Eastbay

Since 1980, Eastbay has been dedicated to providing high school athletes with the footwear, apparel, and equipment they need to take their game to the next level. As part of Foot Locker, Inc. (NYSE: FL), Eastbay is focused on serving athletes who know what it takes to win, both on and off the court, through its direct mail catalog and eastbay.com. Through product selection, insider knowledge, and a range of athletes and experts, Eastbay delivers the tools athletes need to win their style of play and post-game looks.

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