Fitsum Seyoum closes in on the senior boys race win at the DCXC Invitational. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Fitsum Seyoum closes in on the senior boys race win at the DCXC Invitational. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Forty-one schools and more than 3,000 high school cross country runners flocked to Kenilworth Park in Northeast D.C. Saturday for the second DCXC Invitational. The invitational was for the most part a D.C., Maryland, Virginia showdown, but the meet also featured appearances from Thousand Islands Secondary School, from Ontario, Canada, and Trinity High School, from Louisville, Kent.

The format was like last year. The varsity races were split among classes and each race scored just three runners per team. A new college race allowed American, George Washington, Howard and Catholic universities to race in the district.

Results The results compiled for all races led to James Madison winning the girls’ overall team title and Trinity – 18-time Kentucky state champions – winning the boys’ races. James Madison, which also won the aggregate overall title, was followed by Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson, W.T. Woodson and Yorktown. Trinity was followed by Wootton, Gonzaga, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Trinity did more than up the level of competition. The all-boys Catholic school added Irishness plus some great soundbites.

Example: As Trinity’s Trevor Warren, who won the sophomore race, wrapped up a Pace the Nation podcast interview with Chris Farley, one of Warren’s teammates called out: “Trevor, you didn’t announce the mixtape, bro.”

Trinity’s coach, Greg Waggoner, said that D.C.’s Edmund Burke School had made the trip out to Louisville for Trinity’s invitational. He heard about the DCXC Invitational from Edmund Burke’s coach, Brian Bobo, and spent Friday with 40 of his runners “doing the D.C. tourist thing.”

Walking through the DCXC Invitational felt like walking through a festival. The fields were covered with tents; inside the track DJ Thunderbunny took requests. Parents, fans, and teammates massed in several places to provide support: the one-mile mark, the portion looping behind the starting line, and particularly the final stretch on the track.

Last yearT.C. Williams’ Sam Schneider enjoyed the atmosphere. He could hear his family and friends calling out his name as he entered the last 50 meters on the track, which helped him enough to pick up two spots to crack the top 100 in the junior boys race. He was 99th in 19:17. “It’s great,” he said. “It really helps you run through the course. It’s a lot easier with people chanting your name.”

The course itself was flat, run on an open, windswept field marked with pink flags and ribbons and neon cones. The feared rain never came and the temperature was decidedly cool (last year temps hovered above 90 degrees). Wind, however, was the day’s big factor. Had the freshman girls turned around just before the gun fired, after one false start, a little past 3 p.m., they might have seen one team’s tent go temporarily airborne.

Freshman girls

Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

The freshman girls surge off the DCXC Invitational starting line. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

One athlete in the freshmen girls race who was not fazed by the headwinds at all was Tuscarora’s Ava Hassebrock, who won the race in 19:58. “When you are running, the wind is really nice because it cools you off,” she said.

The soft-spoken Hasselbrock said she expected to be in the top five but not necessarily gunning for the win. Early in the race, she and Poolesville’s Nandini Satsangi, second in 20:12, separated themselves from the pack.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Satsangi. “I love chasing and being able to latch on to somebody.”

Photos For Satsangi, the DCXC Invitational offered a challenge she had yet to encounter in her first season: not racing in the morning. Most freshmen would perhaps be thinking about how to time their nutrition differently. But Satsangi, who has epilepsy, had to think about when to take her medication. “It made it difficult to control my pace,” she said with a big smile, still absorbing her performance.

Georgetown Visitation’s Ally McKenzie, running only her second 5k, was third in 20:36. “I knew there were going to be some really good freshmen coming into this, so I just wanted to go out there and try my best.”

Her best effort helped Georgetown Visitation win the team title, as McKenzie’s classmate, Brennan Dunne, came through in 10th in 21:29. Washington-Lee, in second, edged out Briar Woods by just a point.

Freshman Boys

Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

The freshman boys get their time in the spotlight at the DCXC Invitational. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

When they hit the track, Freedom’s Connor Wells seemed to have an insurmountable lead. Until he didn’t.

As Wells rounded the final turn, Washington-Lee’s Jonny Jackson pulled up right next to him. So did Trinity’s Jack Baum. Shocked, Wells kicked. “I got really nervous,” he said, “and I just poured it all out.”

Wells held off Jackson, in second, and Baum, in third, though they all finished in the identical times of 17:07.

Jackson and Baum had at least one thing in common. They weren’t pumped up just to be on the podium.

Jackson: “It’s better than I thought I would do, but I really would have liked to win.”

Baum: “I was pushing pretty hard at the end. I thought I could get him, but my legs just didn’t have anything left.”

Watch out Kentucky harriers!

Photos Trinity won the freshman team title with just 15 points, putting seven boys in the top 20, with a spread of 17:07 to 18:44. Nick Neumann was fifth in 17:52, Nick Stauble seventh in 18:02.

Stauble noted, “We have high expectations,” to which Shane Williams, who was 10th in 18:19, added that their long-term goal is “nationals.”

Waggoner, in his 14th season, was pleased by their performances.

“They are a great little group of guys,” he said, “and one of the nice things is they like working with each other.”

Trinity was followed by Freedom and Thomas S. Wootton in the freshman boys team standings.

Sophomore Girls

Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Michaela Kirvan leads Lily Meek into the second mile. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

George C. Marshall’s Heather Holt, coached by the legendary Darrell General, had a pretty simple race strategy: “to get out fast.” She also has pretty simple goal for the rest of the season: “to keep running faster.”

Holt passed through the mile in 5:28, 16 seconds up on the field, and pushed further ahead to earn a decisive victory in 18:18 and help George C. Marshall win the team title. It was the fastest girls’ time of the day.

Tuscarora’s Emma Wolcott, second in 18:47, said she mostly had to run her own race but appreciated having Holt to chase. “I think if I had been in front it would have been a little slower.”

Photos Wolcott was in turn a decisive runner-up. Walter Johnson’s Abigail Green rounded out the top three in 19:25. In the team standings her squad was right behind second-place James Madison, led by Jeana Bogdon’s fourth place showing in 19:45.

For meet director Desmond Dunham, the race inspired some double duty. The Wilson coach was pleased with the performance of his sophomore girls. Alex Hannah led Wilson, finishing 20th in 21:15.

“I’m in a position to give a lot of coaches a much better experience,” said Dunham, who has coached in the area for decades, of meet directing. “With that I am blessed to be able to be in that position. But I don’t like stepping away from my coaching hat too much.”

Dunham gave his Wilson girls high-fives and congratulated them on a 7th place. He then exited the finish area and went back to his other job, saying, “Alright. I’m happy now.”

Sophomore Boys

Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

The sophomore boys’ lead pack nears the one mile mark. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Rest in peace Yogi Berra. This one really did seem like déjà vu all over again.

Photos The sophomore boys race went out conservatively. A big pack went through the mile in 5:15. This was followed by a big slowdown – a second mile covered in roughly 5:40 – that kept around 10 boys in the hunt for the win.

Warren, of Trinity, said: “I didn’t want to get out too hard. I just stayed with the pack, and then with about a mile to go we started pushing it.

It was all over. Warren had the victory all wrapped up. But then Tuscarora’s Derek Johnson pulled up next to him.

Warren said he no idea Johnson was so close. “But then he passed me,” he said, “so I had to get around him so I could beat him. I usually have a pretty good kick so I knew I could do it.”

Johnson finished in the identical time of 16:51. “I thought I had him,” Johnson said. “I thought [Warren] kicked too early, but I guess he had more than I thought.”

Thomas Jefferson’s Dylan Klapper took third, finishing just two seconds back in a 10-second personal best. “I was happy,” he said, “because I was able to stay with the pack for most of the race, then I kicked strong at the end.”

Trinity also won the sophomore title. Gonzaga was second, led by John Colucci, last year’s freshman winner, in seventh in 17:11. Tuscarora was third.

Junior boys and girls

Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Saurav Velleleth exudes confidence as he races Patrick Lynch.Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

As dusk crept closer there was almost a chill in the air. The wind held steady as more jubilant harriers, done with their races, ran back and forth – field to track, track to field – cheering on their teammates.

This year Thomas Jefferson’s Saurav Velleleth was on the starting line. Last year he won a Varsity B race, in the morning, so he could go to Homecoming.

Photos Perhaps describing why times, despite cooler temps, were a bit slower than last year, Velleleth said the second loop in the field was against the wind “and that kind of threw me off.” It didn’t throw him off much, though: Velleleth won in 16:16, becoming the day’s first varsity boy to win a race easily.

Runner-up was another matter. Velleleth left George C. Marshall’s Patrick Lynch in what Lynch described as no-man’s land and ultimately a tight race for second. Lynch held off third place Jackson Betts, of W.T. Woodson, by just a second. Jackson was just a second ahead of James Madison’s Sean Grimm, who was just two seconds in front of Gonzaga’s Harry Monroe.

Velleleth said he “knew it was going to be a fun race.” And he riled up teammates and Thomas Jefferson parents when, talking to Farley, he mentioned what Klapper had said after the sophomore race: “We want to win states,” Velleleth said.

Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Kmaljeet Athwal, Allyson Lynch and Sara Waugh cross the mile mark in the junior race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

In the junior girls division, James Madison’s Devon Williams won in 18:49.

Photos On one hand, it was a slower time than Holt and Wolcott had run in the sophomore race. On the other, Williams’ win was even more dominating. She won by 46 seconds, finishing before the next runner, Winston Churchill’s Julia Reicin, had even entered the track.

Winning – more than time – seems to be Williams’ priority. Asked if 18:49 was fast for her, she said, “Kind of?” Asked what her 5k personal best is, Williams added, “I’m not sure.”

Reicin was proud of her own effort. She ran her own race, she said, starting slowly and patiently moving up to second, the way she likes to run.

Williams’ victory, meantime, catapulted James Madison to the junior team title. Olivia Woods, third in 19:46, helped Walt Whitman finish second ahead of Thomas Jefferson.

Senior girls

Taylor Knibb adds to her lead in the senior race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Taylor Knibb adds to her lead in the senior race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Westfield’s Sara Freix had run hard. She had to sit for a while, looking woozy, before she could talk to a reporter. While she caught her breath, James Madison’s Morgan Wittrock, who edged Freix by one second to claim runner-up in 18:46, talked about how racing against Freix has been an important part of her development as a runner.

Wittrock noticed Freix her freshman year while they were racing at the Monroe Parker Invitational at Burke Lake Park. “And it was really fun,” Wittrock said. “[Freix] pushes it and I just try to go with her. It’s so good. I wouldn’t have gotten my time if it wasn’t for her.”

Freix rolled her ankle earlier in the week; she ran with it taped up to be safe. It turned out, though, to be her secret weapon. Having a little extra rest in her legs helped Freix run her best race of the season.

Photos Taylor Knibb, of Sidwell Friends School, was 16 seconds clear of field to win in 18:33, though her kick on the track suggested otherwise. “[The others] were right on my heels the whole time,” she said. “I did sneak some glances back, but I didn’t want to look back; it was kind of scary.” Knibb added: “I was very surprised. I guess you just have to work with whatever you have on any given day and run your best. Everyone ran great races today.”

Running only represents a third of Knibb’s endurance sports talent. She is one of the best junior triathletes in the world and juggles two racing seasons (her triathlon season, she said, started in May and ended the Friday before last).

Cross country and triathlons have a lot of overlap, obviously, but one commonality seems perfect. Knibb’s triathlons end with a 5k. Thus, she is training for the cross country distance year-round while also biking and swimming.

James Madison also won the senior team title, followed by Walt Whitman and Walter Johnson.

Senior Boys

Northwood's Michael Abebe carries his shoe through the senior race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Northwood’s Michael Abebe carries his shoe through the senior race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Tuscarora’s Fitsum Seyoum only took up cross-country last year. He went out for track as a freshman, he said, but didn’t like the cold weather. This has had him flying under the radar; he was not an All-Run Washington selection heading into this season. Not anymore. He had already won the Monroe Parker and Great Meadows invitationals, though an ankle injury forced him to drop out of Oatlands last weekend.

Seyoum won the senior boys race in 15:53. It was the fastest time of the day. Seyoum, though, thought of his race as more of a gusty one than a fast one. “It was very windy,” he said. “I went out and I was just saying, ‘Man, it’s going to be a rough race.’”

Photos He followed Woodson’s Robert Lockwood through the mile in 4:55. Georgetown Day School’s Tristan Colaizzi, who won the junior race last year in 15:41, was a few seconds back in 4:58. But Seyoum did not wait for the track to get moving. “I decided it was going to be a gutsy day and I’d just go for it,” he said.

Lockwood finished in 16:03. Colaizzi moved ahead of him to get within striking distance of Seyoum and crack 16 minutes: 15:59.

For Colaizzi, this DCXC Invitational was a different race than the inaugural running. “My training was different this year; I’m trying to peak later in the season,” he said. His mileage is up close to 60 miles per week – “I’m a mile, 800 guy – that’s high,” he clarified – and his goal was “just to have fun.”

As it happens, Colaizzi worked for Pacers last summer. Part of his experience was learning about the work that goes on behind the scenes and on race day to stage a high school cross country invitational.

“So, just for me,” he said, “that’s a big honor …

“Virginia has their big invites. D.C. has one now.”

Georgetown Day School's freshmen girls huddle before their race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste

Georgetown Day School’s freshmen girls huddle before their race. Photo: Marleen Van den Neste