Two Northern Virginia teams with hopes for making the state’s 6A meet under new challenges sharpened up for the post-season at the Third Battle Invitational, with J.E.B. Stuart’s boys and West Springfield’s girls getting the wins.
West Springfield put four runners in the top 16 to edge 5A’s Tuscarora, who themselves had two ahead of the Spartans, including overall winner Emma Wolcott (17:56). and Ava Hassebrock (18:34) in eighth.
The trip from Southwest Virginia did not tire out Abingdon senior Karl Theissen (15:15), the defending 3A champion, who won a home stretch kick over Stafford’s Philip Lambert (15:22). Poolesville’s Ryan Lockett (15:37), who recently committed to Virginia, edged Edison’s Yared Mekonnen (15:39) to be the first D.C.-area finisher.
It’s a relatively flat course, with a mile-long loop through a narrow forest trial less than a quarter mile into the race. That forces runners to position themselves quickly, and Lockett was more aggressive than usual, tucking behind a trio of Tuscarora guys and two Stuart runners.
“I never start out with the leading guys, I think we were sub-4:50, but I’m a guy who likes to negative split all of my races, but I felt better than I expected,” he said. “I let them gap me in that third mile, though, I knew I couldn’t keep that pace up for the rest of the mile.”
Mekonnen caught him and briefly edged him in the last stretch, but Lockett held him off.
Mekonnen ran two seconds slower than at last year’s race, which both his PR and an early peak to the season. With a focus on the Nike Cross Regional meet in late November, his training has followed a later schedule, so buried beneath his lack of enthusiasm about the time, he’s encouraged for the next month.
“It’s faster than I ran at Great American last week, but I felt a lot easier doing it,” he said. “I haven’t had the fastest start to the season, but that doesn’t matter as much as the end. I want to surprise some people.”
Gonzaga sophomore Gavin McElhannon (6th in 15:51) ran a big PR by running consistently, despite the challenge in getting a good position early. He pushed the pace on J.E.B. Stuart’s Natneal Asmelash (7th in 15:52) and Tuscarora’s Derek Johnson (8th in 15:52) and dropped them in the last stretch. The Eagles have the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Championships next weekend and the D.C. state meet a week after.
It was the first time J.E.B. Stuart had its entire top five together since winning the Great Meadows Invitational in August. Their 122 points ended Loudoun Valley, which rested its top eight after winning the Great American meet a week prior. Natneal Asmelash, Matthew O’Cadiz (18th in 16:15), Sem Asmelash (26th in 16:23), Quinn Early (44th in 16:39 and Ethan Simaitis (51st in 16:44) scored for Stuart, which will race in 6A this postseason.
“We raced to win today, and we’ll take that attitude all the way through states,” Natneal said.
With conference meets looming in less than two weeks, Third Battle was one of the last races with no real consequences. That helped keep the race fun for Wolcott, while she ran hard from the start and dropped Hannah Lipps from Romney, West Virginia’s Hampshire before the second mile mark.
“I knew it was a fast course, so I wanted to run as fast as I could,” she said. “Once I was on my own, I was just running in a straight line over the last mile and it got harder to focus, but it was still a fun race.”
Nandini Satsangi fell in the first stretch and by the time she got up, most of the field had passed her and entered the trail. It took her the rest of the mile to reach the chase pack that was following Wolcott and Lipps. She ended up liking chasing people down, though in the end, she was outkicked for third by Grafton’s Kira Freedman, who edged her by a second, 18:20-18:21.
Nicole Re led Chantilly to a fifth place finish with her seventh place finish in 18:34. She fell back after a fast start, but it was the sight of two girls ahead of her speeding up late in the race that jolted her to get going. She was new to the course, and went home with what she estimated was a 40-second PR.
“I can hold a faster pace than I thought I could,” she said.
West Springfield’s Katie Orchard made up ground on the Spartans’ top three after lagging half a minute behind, finishing 17th 19:04 in a team performance that has coach Chris Pellegrini excited for their chances heading into the postseason. Sarah Coleman (10th in 18:44), Chase Kappeler (12th in 18:55), Amy Herrema (16th in 19:02) and Anna Marcucci (40th in 19:50) rounded out their top five as they had 15-point led on Tuscarora.
“We could be fourth in the Occoquan Region on a bad day and staying home, or challenging for the state title,” he said. The new 6A alignment will allow three teams from four regions to advance to the state meet.
He advised his runners to only run as hard as they needed in the first mile to keep a good position through the woods. The same strategy backfired in a race earlier this season in Rhode Island, but given the Third Battle course, it was the best option.