It was a cultural shift for Christie and Joe Jones.
Not to moving Virginia after living in Honduras and Bolivia. Rather than sitting quietly and clapping between points on the tennis court, they were welcome to… nay… encouraged to make as much noise as they could as their son Matthew ran around cross country courses.
“It’s a lot more exciting, you have a lot more adrenaline,” Christie said.
Matthew played tennis throughout his childhood as his family rotated among U.S. Foreign Service postings. When the Jones came back to the United States for a few years, he planned to keep at it and signed up for club tennis in advance of his freshman year at Thomas Edison High School. Then, the pandemic canceled all sports.
Well, nearly all sports.
Garrett Woodhouse gave an understated evaluation of Oakton’s performance at the 2019 Virginia state meet.
“We’re very dissatisfied with this race,” he said. “We’re always striving for more.”
The Cougars had fallen — hard — to West Springfield and were looking at a longer wait than normal until they could take another swing, 2020 being a leap year and all.
How little they knew that the extra day would be the least of their worries.
Of the three localities RunWashington covers, only Virginia pulled off some semblance of a traditional cross country season in the 2020-2021 school year as high school sports in the D.C. area were postponed from the fall or canceled entirely. In Maryland, Montgomery County schools managed a few dual meets, but had no postseason.
Ava Gordon was a little surprised when nobody else took the lead early into the girls’ 4A race at the Virginia state cross country championships April 24.
Though she had a bit of a target on her back, having won the race as a sophomore, she expected something a little more aggressive from Hanover sophomore Alli Cryster.
“I just wanted to feel the rest of the field out, but nobody really took the lead,” Gordon said. “We just kind of hung off of each other, and that worked out for me.”
Noting Cryster’s tendency to push on the Oatlands course’s downhills, Gordon expected a push in the last half mile and planned to stay just ahead of her before taking off on the long rolling uphill that makes up the last third of a mile.
“That worked out pretty well for me,” Gordon said. “I knew I could finish really well on these hills. I held out to see what happened and it worked out.”
“I felt secure on that long hill to the finish. I knew I just had to sprint and I’d be able to hold her off.”
Gordon won in 18:49, with Cryster six seconds back, and Jamestown’s Caroline Bauer third in 19:12.
“That the sign of a true competitor,” Loudoun Valley Coach Marc Hunter said. “Alli is a talented runner and she had a shot at Ava late in the race, but when Ava was challenged, she responded.”
Loudoun Valley won its third straight title, scoring 33 points to Blacksburg’s 59, with all five scorers in the top 15 overall: Sophomore Scarlet Fetterolf (fifth in 19:28), senior Ricky Fetterolf (ninth in 19:57), junior Maddie Smith (12th in 20:16), senior Ally Talley (13th in 20:27), freshman Eryn Lackey, junior Cecelia Fetterolf (24th in 21:21). Tuscarora was third with 86 points.
Matt Smith’s time-released allergy pill didn’t work, but his timed kick did.
Loudoun Valley’s sole senior made a decisive move in the last half mile of the Oatlands course to break the tape in the 4A boys race April 24, running and sneezing his way to a 16:22 win over Grafton junior Ben Madrigal’s 16:27.
Madrigal worked his way to a comfortable lead, with Smith giving chase with Grafton’s Alex Murphy and Patrick Henry’s Luke Taylor, who finished third and fourth in 16:38.
“He made what ended up being his big move about 2.25 miles in,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what he had left, but I just started rolling on the downhills and catching up a little at a time.”
Already an accomplished mid-distance runner, Smith made his first foray into cross country when he came to Loudoun Valley from Paul VI as a junior. The shortened cross country season left him low on experience, but he said the necessity forced him to adjust fast.
“Our coaches kept us focused,” he said. “We just worried about the next race, and that really kept us on the right track.”
Coach Marc Hunter said for the first time, he wasn’t sure how the team would race or what exactly to look for during the race.
“Our boys have always been good running at big meets and the reason they do is because we run big meets furing the season, and that gives them an edge over other teams,” he said. “Byy the time we get the to postseason, I know what we have. Today, we saw our seventh man finish third for us, so it was a real surprise.”
He credited Smth’s discipline and capacity for discomfort.
“I saw that once he put the hammer down, he was going to win, but Matthew knew it was going to hurt. But, he knew that’s what he had to do.”
He was the only returning varsity runner from the Loudoun Valley team that claimed its fifth straight 4A title in 2019 and made its third straight trip to Nike Cross Nationals. Although the Vikings finished third in a team race separated by four points. Jefferson Forest’s 61 points edged Gafton’s 62, though Grafton would have lost on a tiebreaker had Madrigal prevailed. The Vikings scored 65, with junior Aidan Soto (15th overall in 17:04), junior Timothy Esatto (21st in 17:24), sophomore Jake Rimmel (22nd in 17:25), junior Graham Mussmon (25th in 17:29), junior Benjamin Moseman (41st in 17:59) and junior Truman Abbe (42nd in 18:02) rounding out the rest of the team.
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.
When Colgan senior Bryce Lentz made his move to pull away from Arnav Tikhe in the third mile of the Virginia 6A championship, he had to do it fast.
Lentz’s gentle demeanor wouldn’t let him say in so many words that he was trying to extinguish any hope Tikhe would be able to hang with him after that on the hilly Oatlands course. He was more delicate, but the effect was the same.
“I just had to get in his head a little,” Lentz said.
Thais Rolly’s dad Philippe wanted her to grow up playing a lot of sports, so she did.
Soccer, tennis, swimming, rock climbing.
“Ultimately, I wasn’t good at any of them,” she said.
Cross country? The sophomore is very good at that. While she didn’t follow dad’s advice to do something besides running, she did learn one thing from him – the devastating kick that he employs regularly on the D.C. road racing circuit.
She attacked the last quarter mile of the Oatlands course during the 6A state championship and passed Battlefield freshman Sailor Eastman right before the finish to win her first state title, 18:36 to 18:38 on the 5k course. Eastman is in her first season of cross country, having grown up a swimmer. Herndon Sophomore Gillian Bushee was third in 19:13.
“At the end, I just gave it my all,” Rolly said. “I wasn’t expecting to win.”
She had run the Oatlands course as a freshman, but with the 2020 cross country season delayed until spring 2021, whatever experience she gained from that race had faded. She and her dad walked the course earlier in the week to plan her strategy. She finished 44th in 2019.
“I always get progressively faster in races, so I just tried to stay in the second pack early on,” she said.
Eastman, Bushee and Centreville’s Camilla McKinstry (7th in 19:43) lead the first half of the race, with Rolly moving up with Bushee to chase Eastman in the last mile,
“She’s been very patient,” McLean coach Kyle Jemison said. “When she was hurt, she didn’t rush back.”
West Springfield (78 points) and Battlefield (83) finished second and third behind team champion Ocean Lakes (63). Freshman Aidan MacGrath and senior Jane Bruenjes led the Spartans, who won the 2018 title. Herndon, in fifth with 121 points, made its first state championship appearance since 2007.
Check out a food site and chances are the first thing you’ll hit is a story, rambling about who knows what, forcing you to scroll through narrative to… just give me the recipe already!
Trust me, this story is worth it, and it will make the recipe even better. I’m sure they all say that, but this time, it’s true.
There are any number of factors that have made Charlotte Turesson one of the best runners in Maryland. The one she’s most excited about sharing recently has been her menu.
If there’s anything she gained from more time at home during her junior and senior years at Richard Montgomery, it’s been more time in the kitchen and over the grill as she refines her mastery of different cooking styles.
“A lot of it came from my investment in being the best runner I can be,” she said. “I’ve always been pretty passionate about eating healthy, trying to optimize my performance. Once quarantine hit, it elevated my interest in cooking, trying new recipes.”
It was seven months.
Seven months of torturous unknowing. Seven months of never-ending fatigue and sluggishness for George C. Marshall High School alumna Natalie Bardach. Seven months of doubt and disappointment. Seven months of just surviving a sport she had once thrived in, helping to win team conference, regional and even state titles.
For a high school athlete with only four years — twelve total seasons — of running available to them, seven months is 20 percent of their career. It feels like an eternity.
“I [didn’t] even know what to do anymore,” Bardach said. “I [was] training so hard and working so hard and I [was] not feeling any better. I was telling myself that it was my fault.”
For Robinson Secondary School alumna Seneca Willen, it was three months. A three month long agonizing descent from a freshman phenom who was running at the front of the pack to a slumping sophomore languishing in the back. Three months of “it’s all in your head” and wondering if freshman year was her peak.
“It was very sad,” Willen said. “I thought it was all mental and just thought, ‘I’m never going to get any better.'”
Time moves differently now for Andrew Lent.
Part of it is his age — he’s 21, and a minute, an hour, even a month exists on a broader scale than it did a few years before.
But he’s also made new choices. Since he finished his high school career at Poolesville with a state runner-up finish in the 3,200 meters behind teammate Ryan Lockett, he’s now competing in situations where those same 3,200 meters can include two walking breaks, even on his way to a top-10 finish at the storied JFK 50 Miler.
“You can get a real second wind in ultra running,” he said. “It could take hours, but at some point, you usually come back around.
“It amuses me that it can happen. You come from track and cross country where your race is about 15 minutes and if things feel bad, it’s not going to get much better. Now I’m in situations where an hour ago, you couldn’t fathom taking another step and all of a second you’re running even better than you had been.”