Apparently finishing second at the state meet at the end of an abbreviated freshman season didn’t give Sailor Eastman much confidence.
It wasn’t until she was battling Olympic Trials 800 meter runner Juliette Whittaker in the last mile of the Oatlands Invitational that she realized she belonged in the race.
“I kept thinking they were all going to catch me and outkick me,” Eastman said. “I just decided to fake it until I make it.”
Five years after Loudoun Valley’s Drew Hunter kicked off his professional running career right out of high school, his mother Joan is making the same jump.
She will oversee training for the Boulder-based Timman Elite, an all-male collection of distance runners, including her son, who mostly represent the United States. She brings with her 18 years of high school school coaching at three different Northern Virginia high schools — with two Nike Cross Nationals titles in the last four seasons — and several intervening years coaching a youth team. Hunter served as a remote interim coach since March, before she and husband Marc retired as Loudoun Valley’s track and cross country coaches.
The family she babysat for didn’t need her. The cost of living, with no job, in Westchester, N.Y. was crushing. Her team’s funding was gone. So Katy Kunc came home.
With the pandemic squeezing her out of everything else, she ran the same roads and trails where she discovered her talent for running while at Lake Braddock.
“I started running more than I ever had before,” she said. “I figured I might as well take some kind of risk to get better.”
The 12 weeks of at least 80 miles added up to a whole new level of fitness that Kunc hadn’t reached in two years running for the New Jersey New York Track Club after graduating from the University of Kentucky, and she will be racing the finals of the Olympic Trials in the 3,000 meter steeplechase Thursday at 11:47 eastern. She qualfied for the finals with a 9:37.85 finish, a PR, in the first round.
Fitsum Seyoum didn’t last long during freshman tryouts for the Tuscarora track team.
“Most of track season is pretty warm, but tryouts were early in the year, so it was pretty cold and wet,” former Tuscarora coach Troy Harry said. “He didn’t stick with it.”
Fortunately, Seyoum came back the next year and went on to Virginia Tech, where his mastery of the 3,000 meter steeplechase has led him to two Atlantic Coast Conference titles and his second straight trip to the semifinals of the NCAA Championships. What does he like about the event?
“Those water jumps shock your body each lap, that cold water really wakes you up,” he said.
This year, he’s going to be joined in the semifinals by former Husky teammate Derek Johnson, who was two years behind him in high school and now running for the University of Virginia. They led their heat during the NCAA quarterfinals. Seyoum has the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier and Johnson needs to cut four more seconds to make it to the Trials. Georgetown’s Parker Stokes and George Mason’s Annabelle Eastman have also moved onto the NCAA steeplechase semifinals. Post-collegiately, Chantilly alumnus Sean McGorty and Lake Braddock alumna Katy Kunc have the Olympic Trials qualifiers for the steeplechase and McGorty has the Olympic standard.
Taylor Knibb had already gone an entire year without competing in a triathlon, so what was a few more months?
Possibly the difference between making the U.S. Olympic Team and staying home.
For the first time since she was 11 years old, growing up in Washington, D.C., Knibb had a year off, with the competitions she had planned following her graduation from Cornell University all scuttled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In that year, she settled into her life as a professional in Boulder and toward the World Triathlon Championship Series race in Yokohama, Japan May 15. Winning that race made her the youngest U.S. Olympic triathlete in history at 23.
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.