It had been a while since Bethany Graham had run down the long stretch that leads to the Virginia state meet finish line at Great Meadow. Three years in fact, since she had made it through a cross country season unscathed. In that time, John Champe high school grew to 6A from 4A, and when the senior finished first with a 34-second margin of victory over Ocean Lakes sophomore Aniya Mosley running 17:42, she nearly led the Knights to a team title in the state’s largest division.
But unfortunately for Champe, the six of the top 11 finishers were running without their teams, meaning Lake Braddock’s top finisher Sophie Willis’s 12th place finish only counted as six points, cutting the advantage Graham offered. Lake Braddock put seven ahead of Champe’s fifth and edged the Knights by eight points.
Ahead of the Virginia state championships, West Springfield coach Chris Pellegrini figured the race would essentially be a dual meet with Oakton.
In a dual meet, a 1-2-3 sweep can’t be beaten. While muti-team meets are a little more forgiving, seniors Sean Stuck, Sam Pritchard and Chris Weeks made the Spartans a tough act to follow. Stuck won the race overall, running the 5k course at Great Meadow in 15:21, the fastest time of the day. Second place Wesley Bond of Landstown and third place Bryce Lentz of Colgan didn’t have teams in the race, so Pritchard’s 15:50 and Weeks’ 15:53 counted as second and third for scoring purposes.
Buried back in 56th place last year, Walter Johnson’s Jenna Goldberg knew her state meet performance wasn’t what she felt was possible. But it wasn’t as much because of her then-recently-diagnosed anemia. It was her confidence.
“I definitely felt stronger, significantly better, but I’m just in a much better place mentally,” she said soon after winning the 2019 4A title in 17:50. “Every race this year gave me the opportunity to experiment with different racing styles and see how they worked. By the end, I proved that easing into the race was the best strategy for me.”
Two years ago, the D.C. state meet looked like the fertile mud of Kenilworth Park was growing something special. With sophomores sweeping the first three spots on the boys’ side, it was natural to ask what a race among Gavin McElhennon, Luke Tewalt and Cullen Capuano would look like with two more years of growth and experience.
In the end, Capuano ran alone in front from the very start to win, running 16:35 for what several coaches felt to be longer than 5k. McElhennon finished ninth, easing his way back into racing following a long injury while Tewalt, hobbled with tendinitis in his knee, watched from the sidelines, having suited up just for the DCXC Invitational.
The winning Washington Catholic Athletic Conference teams got on the board early, with Gonzaga senior Cullen Capuano and St. John’s freshman Meredith Gotzman earning runaway individual victories at Bull Run Regional Park. Their team each won their third consecutive conference titles.
Capuano wasted no time building a lead, win a two-second margin by the race’s first turn. He ran ahead the entire race and won in 16:09.
With a dry course and a solid set of races, Richard Montgomery senior Garrett Suhr went out, gunning for the course record at Bohrer Park. In the attempt, he nearly lost the Montgomery County Championships. Had he been more patient, like Walter Johnson senior Jenna Goldberg, he might have had both.
A little more than two miles into the race, after taking a long, sweeping turn, Suhr looked back and saw three guys, Northwood’s Ayalew Fantaw and Henok Eshetu and Springbrook’s Surafel Mengist, right on his tail.
“When we crossed the (paved) paths, I’d hear the click-clacking from their spikes but they didn’t seem like they were that close,” Suhr said. “I thought I was way ahead.”
Marc Hunter has been around runners long enough to know that even with the benefit of a meritocracy, seniority can often dominate in a team dynamic. That’s why he was surprised to hear then-freshman Ricky Fetterolf say something at a Loudoun Valley team meeting two years ago.
“It was gutsy, because we had a top-heavy team and it’s understandable for a freshman to just sit back and listen,” he said. “We had a top-heavy team, with a lot of seniors, but she voiced her opinion and I respected that about her. So did a lot of the girls.”
Fetterolf didn’t even remember what she had to say. What was more important to her was letting the rest of the team know she would have things to say, albeit somewhat sparingly. She wanted her hands on the wheel as the team moved ahead.
“I don’t talk that much, but if it’s something I value, I will speak up about it,” she said. “I’d rather lead by example.”
Gavin McElhennon got good in a hurry his second year of cross country running. With any luck, he can do it again.
Unable to run for most of the spring thanks to a groin injury, McElhennon finally relented as the school year ended, knowing that rushing to get back on the track wouldn’t win him anything except frustration as the goalposts for his return moved away every time he started up.
“I was hurting every time I ran,” he said. “I’d take time off, do a lot of physical therapy and start up again, but every time, I’d start hurting after a few days.”
His attention turned to his senior year at Gonzaga, where he had been the Eagles’ top distance runner most of the prior two years. Finally, in July, he opted for platelet-rich plasma injections in his groin, hip and glute, and gave the procedure a month to work itself out. Now, with more than a month of pain-free training, he’s eyeing a late-season comeback, with hopes of his best finish yet at the Nike Cross Regionals Southeast meet, where he finished 57nd last fall.
Tight packs kept spectators guessing throughout the Glory Days Grill Invitational, as no runner took over the race until very late, with some top-five finishes in boys and girls races jumbling even in the last 200 meters.
Ultimately, Yorktown senior Albert Velikonja won his second invitational of the season and Centreville junior Camilla McKinstry won her first ever invitational.
The eternal struggle shook the Hasle household. Teenaged Kellen wanted to stay in bed, his mom wanted the exact opposite, the summer after he finished eighth grade.
He could have fruitlessly made the excuse that he was still living in Alaska Time years after the family moved to Virginia, but those pleas would have fallen on deaf ears.
Mrs. Hasle signed Kellen up for Loudoun Valley’s cross country team. What she thought would have gotten him some exercise initially gave him more of an appreciation for the outdoors.
“There’s this path called the nature trail, where a lot of the less dedicated runners would go,” he said. “I spent a lot of my freshman year there.”