Mackenzie Keller knew the Oatlands course well enough to know the first mile was a trap.
“I knew a lot of people were going to go out fast,” she said. “That’s what they did last year (at the Oatlands Invitational in 2019) and I got sucked into it and it got me. I wasn’t going to do it again.”
The Freedom junior stuck to her plan and started moving up after the mile mark, passing much of the race’s chase pack over the next three-quarters of a mile.
“One girl tried to cut me off a few times but by the got to the woods she dropped back,” Keller said.
She ended up fourth in the 5A race running 19:34, four places better than as a sophomore. Albemarle’s Arianna DeBoer won in 18:47.
“I struggled with hills a lot last year, so I focused on that and really saw the difference,” she said. “It was lucky they had the race at Oatlands.”
Freedom finished fourth, matching their 2019 finish, with senior Madison Garber (12th in 20:31), senior Maya Porter (22nd in 21:12), freshman Jillian Byerle (31st in 21:50), sophomore Adhira Prasanna (54th in 23:04) and junior Julia Wood (61st in 23:57) rounding out the Eagle runners.
The Briar Woods boys’ fifth place finish was the team’s best, behind senior Aidan Nathan’s 11th place finish in 17:05. Stone Bridge’s George Alexander’s 16:39 for third led the local runners.
“I wasn’t expecting the race to go out so fast, I was planning to just assert myself, stay in the race, but I ended up just holding on,” Alexander said. “I’ve gotten used to some fast starts, so the pace didn’t wear on me too much.”
Alexander, who will run at the University of Tampa, was pleased with his improvement over the past year, after finishing 24th in 2019.
Nathan’s goal for the entire abbreviated season was to get his team to the state meet, knowing it had the potential to be the best in school history. That meant cross training to keep himself in shape after he was struck with plantar fasciitis.
“I didn’t want to let this team down,” he said. “I took March off, cross trained and did all I could.”
He got them there, but aggravated his foot in the regional race.
“When I put on the spikes and tried to do hills and mud, it just wasn’t happening,” he said. “I felt like I could have been competitive with anybody, but I couldn’t get my body to do it.
“It’s really demoralizing when you can’t run, and you do everything you can to get back. I’m glad I did it, and I’m going to take whatever time I need to heal now.”
Junior Benjamin Char (31st in 18:04), senior Gabriel Gallagher (38th in 18:21), sophomore Josh Martin (44th in 18:36), senior Imtinan Rehman (45th in 18:39), Alec Garcia (46th in 18:39) and sophomore Ryan Theiss (50th in 18:57) rounded out Briar Woods’ runners.