For high school runners, nothing beats the Congress Avenue Mile, not even last week's high school state track meet.

"The way I look at it is, in the (state) meet, you have only two runners advancing out of each region competing in four separate divisions. So for example, you have eight runners running the 1,600 (or metric mile)," says Timo Sheard, track and field coach at Cedar Park High School.

In contrast, the Congress Avenue Mile will feature the top 48 high school boys and the top 48 girls in the state, flying south from the Capitol down Congress Avenue and over the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.

For many, the race has come to be viewed as a state mile championship.

"The Congress Avenue Mile allows for a true contest," says Sheard, whose Cedar Park team is a perennial powerhouse. "The best face up against each other from all classifications from 1A to 5A and home schools, instead of racing in separate divisions as at UIL. It's really one of the big events."

Sheard further explains that competitors are pulled from four regions of the state. Based on 1,600-meter times in track meets this season, the 18 top runners (9 boys and 9 girls) from the North, South, East and West regions are invited to participate on Congress Avenue.

To this field of 72, invitations are extended to the next 24 fastest runners (12 boys and 12 girls) in the state regardless of region. This brings the field to 96, half boys and half girls.

"If they're fast, they get invited. So it ends up being a real contest to see who's fastest in the state. It's fast kids on a fast course, and I think this will be the most exciting Congress Avenue Mile yet, considering the caliber of runners," says Donnie O'Neal, one of the race organizers.

Austin, which is in the West Region, has several speedsters entered. Amanda Russell of Vista Ridge High School, who was second in 5A competition at UIL for the 1,600 (4:56.54), is a favorite to win the girl's race. Ashley Isham, also of Vista Ridge, should be a strong contender as well.

"Right now Amanda's in the best shape she's ever been in," says Vista Ridge track coach David Hilsenteger. "She recently ran her best time at 3,200 meters, just one-tenth of a second off of a meet record in Waco, and, of course, there's her 4:56 at UIL."

Only Plano's Rachel Johnson has a faster qualifying time (4:53.75).

"It's nice to have someone to push the pace. And Rachel is a good friend, so it's going to be a lot of fun," says Russell.

"I'd like to set a personal best, hopefully run 4:55. It's a real honor to get to run it, because you have to have the one of the best times in the state to be in it."

When the runners cross Lady Bird Lake, look for Kim Kirby of Coppell High School (4:59.3) and Emily Dunn of San Antonio's FEAST Home School (4:58.3) to be among the leaders.

On the boy's side of the card, Cedar Park is sending seniors Parker Stinson and Austin Geerts.

Stinson, who's run a 4:14 mile, has pledged to run for the University of Oregon next fall. Geerts, who's run 4:18, will be competing for Texas A&M.

Again, when the boys hit the Congress Avenue Bridge, look for Georgetown High's Cameron Foreman (4:14) and Brady Hand (4:16) to be in contention.

The class of the boy's field will be Craig Lutz, a junior at Marcus High School in Lewisville.

Lutz is considered one of the top runners in the nation, having won the Nike Cross Nationals last December and having the top qualifying time of 4:09.4.

That said, Lutz was not first in the mile at the state meet. He was third (4:15.18) behind Connor Adams of Flower Mound (4:12.12) and Justin Brinkley of Humble Kingwood (4:13.08).

The event is scheduled to begin at 8:10 a.m. Saturday, with open age group heats, before the high school elites face off at 10:35 (girls) and 10:45 a.m. (boys).

Upcoming events

Saturday, May 22

Wildcat Family 5K, 8 a.m., 3850 Walsh Ranch Blvd. in Round Rock. See www.runtex.com or call (512) 704-0880.

Congress Avenue Mile, 8 a.m. downtown. See www.congressavenuemile.com.