Lake Braddock girls won their third straight 6A title, once again beating Oakton, winner of the two state meets before the Bruins’ streak started.
After three years of winning team scores in the 40s, the Bruins nearly doubled that, scoring 86 to Oakton’s 92.
They did it with a tight pack of their fourth through seventh runners, who finished 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 35th and 38th.
Senior Sarah Daniels led the way in sixth (19:00) and Brielle Perry in 14th in 19:28. Rebecca Doran (20:02), Zoe Rafter (20:03), Samantha Schwers (20:07), Madeline McAvoy (20:09) and Madeleine Fleenor (20:11), respectively, also raced. Daniels, Schwers and McAvoy returned from last year’s team.
South Lakes senior Olivia Beckner, third last year, won the individual title (18:12) over Annandale freshman Julia Ghiselli (18:18) and George C. Marshall senior Heather Holt (18:20).
Lake Braddock’s race was atypical, without with easy scoring that comes with having a runner finish first, as Kate Murphy did the last two years.
“They were running without a net,” Coach Mike Mangan said. “We usually have some studs who can keep us out of trouble, so this win means a little more.”
Most of the Bruins’ pack moved up in the last half mile, which made the difference. Some of that came from experience, though many of the scorers were newcomers to the varsity team, and Schwers was hobbled by a reinjured ankle that kept her out of the regional meet. All but Fleenor are seniors.
One one hand, Oakton’s girls were getting the band back together- the same seven they fielded for last year’s state meet – but that group had not lined up together all year.
“It wasn’t always injuries, but people had tests some weekends, sometimes schedules didn’t line up right,” Coach Alisa Byers said. By the time they found a weekend that worked for the team, the meet they wanted was closed.
“So we shut it down,” Byers said. “When we got to districts, some people hadn’t raced in a month.”
Byers was worried after the team came out of the Salesianum Invitational in Delaware, which they lost, demoralized and physically beaten up. A different team came down the final stretch.
“I was just looking for our team, and I kept seeing girl after girl after girl come through that gate (with 600 meters to go),” she said. “I had no idea how well we did until someone told me were second. I couldn’t believe it.”
She chalked the team’s resilience up to experience.
“They were here last year, they know the course,” she said. “A lot of people hit the hard spots in the middle or stare down that last stretch and it gets to them. We held it together.
(Author’s note: I was unable to get to the meet on Friday and am awaiting a response from Beckner about her race. Her feedback will be added here)
Holt had run a single race before sharp pain in her left heel stopped her cold. It was plantar fasciitis, her coach Darrell General was dealing with it too, and he shut her down. She cross trained in a local pool when she could get a free lane- usually after 9 p.m.
Her family joined a gym so she could get better hours for the pool, but the water was so shallow she had to wear socks to protect the soles of her feet. Platelet enrichment therapy left her foot so sore that her mom borrowed a neighbor’s cane to help her walk.
After five weeks off, she could run, on flat ground, two miles at a time. A few days before her conference meet, she was cleared to run normally. She raced and won. She finished second to Beckner at the district meet to make the state championships, along with her twin sister Ashley, coming off a year-long layoff, and sophomore Sophie Tedesco.
On race day at Great Meadows, Heather Holt lived a whole handful of cliches. She was just happy to be there… because a month earlier she couldn’t walk without assistance. She was going to run her own race.. because there was no telling what racing outside of her two weeks of normal running would do to her. She led for a mile before Beckner, then Ghiselli took over. The race was closer than she could have expected, with only eight seconds separating Holt from Beckner and two from Ghiselli.
Though she had never finished lower than her second place at the state meet in 2015 when she was in 5A, Holt wasn’t discouraged by third place. How could she be?
“I didn’t want to let the work go to waste,” she said. “Not the work I did the years before, or this summer, or those weeks in the pool.”
She plans to continue this comeback at the Foot Locker South meet after Thanksgiving, where she finished second last year. Just as at the state meet, she isn’t counting herself out, but she knows the competition will be stiff.”
“My breathing felt great, but I just need my body to catch up,” she said. “I feel like I was able to keep myself fit with all the cross training. I just need a little more time on land.”
Senior Emma Wolcott‘s second place finish in 18:24 led Tuscarora to its third 5A title in four years, losing only last year to George C. Marshall. Wolcott has finished second individually three times and won in 2015. Ryann Helmers won the individual race in 18:16.
Woclott’s consistency, coach Troy Harry said, stems from her drive but also her restraint.
“You have some kids who show up all the time, they do everything you ask them to do and sometimes they want to do more and you have to hold them back. Emma’s been very good about listening, even though she always wants to work to get better.”
The Huskies prevailed over Helmers’ Albemarle team despite four of the top five runners suffering from Lyme disease or anemia during the season.
While the Leesburg area’s relatively rural setting seems ideal for distance running, Harry said, the threat of ticks looms large for runners.
Junior Ava Hassebrock finished fifth in 19:11.
“She never stops being aggressive,” Harry said. “She has this scorched-earth style of racing.”
Sarah Gould (10th in 19:44), Katie West (17th in 20:09) and Emma Hunt (28th in 20:23) totaled 43 team points to Albemarle’s 74.
The 4A race provided the most excitement for spectators. Out of view, Blacksburg’s Kaitlynn Wolfe tripped over a tree root in the second mile, and Cornell-bound Loudoun Valley senior Natalie Morris tripped over her. The pair recovered, got up and chased down, and passed, a pair of girls they had been racing when they fell, and didn’t look back. Wolfe built a 150 meter lead in the last stretch, but Morris, second last year, had something left.
“I heard my coaches three times along the fence, yelling ‘give yourself a chance,” she said. “That gave me what I needed.”
She caught Wolfe right before the finish line and edged her by a second in 18:16.
Wolfe’s Blacksburg team, new to 4A from the 3A division, won its seventh straight title. Loudoun Valley was second for the fourth year in a row, helped by freshman Ricky Fetterolf in fifth.
“She just kept passing people the entire last two miles,” Vikings coach Marc Hunter said.
On Saturday, George Mason, the region’s only small school, was fourth in the 2A race, led by senior Logan Funk in 12th.