He's qualified because: Season-best time of 15 minutes, 1 second over the 3.1-mile course at Woodward Park -- the base venue for all Central Section meets in addition to the CIF State Championships -- was 17 seconds faster than the next best in the section. The Bee's repeat boys Runner of the Year won the Tri-River Athletic Conference title, placed fourth at the section Division I final with a bad foot, finished sixth in the state, eighth in the Footlocker West Regionals and 36th at Nationals. Next stop: Arizona State.
History will record C.J. Albertson's 2011 cross country season not for extraordinary success, but valor.
While it's true the Buchanan High senior's body of work had no match in the Valley -- Clovis Invitational title, Tri-River Athletic Conference championship, fourth in Central Section Division I, sixth in the state D-I race, eighth at the Footlocker West Regionals and 36th at Nationals -- an even better year was forecast.
Such are the expectations when you surge into the state spotlight as a record-breaking junior.
That's why The Bee's repeat boys Runner of the Year was the prohibitive favorite this season to successfully defend his section D-I title and, in addition, actually win the state D-I final -- one of the nation's premier showcases of prep distant talent.
"But some things went wrong," he says.
It's how Clayton Jordan Albertson competed through a "wrong" -- without winning -- that best reflects the makeup of an athlete headed to Arizona State.
A day before the section finals, he awoke with what would be later diagnosed as with tendinitis in his left foot.
Then, on the day of the meet, Bears coach Brian Weaver says Albertson "could hardly walk."
But he wasn't going to walk away from the D-I championship, where four-year reigning king Buchanan faced severe opposition in Stockdale.
"If I don't run, we don't have a chance," he says. "It was just going to hurt. It was only pain."
Albertson was timed in 15:48 a year after he won the race at 15:19. Even had he won again, it wouldn't have mattered on a day Stockdale beat the Bears by 16 points for the title.
The foot healed in time for the state championships two weeks later. And it was there that Albertson was favored in large part because he had placed fourth as a junior in 14:51 -- a section record by 11 seconds, eighth best in state meet history and No. 1 all-time for a junior at Woodward.
But, again, something went "wrong," only it wasn't injury related.
While his sixth-place time of 15:20 would have been a dream performance for most runners, it was disheartening for Albertson: "Just an off day, really, that's all it was. And good runners can't afford to have off days at the state finals, obviously."
In review, he considers it a life lesson.
"Running's a big part of my life and it's easy to focus everything on that," he says. "After I lost at state, I was completely bummed; it was a rough weekend. But I learned that I could still find joy in my life, that God, my family and friends are always going to be there. It kind of gave me new perspective."
Weaver finds this predictable: "He's one of the most focused, determined kids I've ever come across. He loves the sport, he wants to learn and he researches it. Any time he fails, he'll recognize his weakness and work on it to get better. It's very impressive."