Nobody on the Walter Johnson girls’ team has ever known a world in which they haven’t been defending state champions. That will continue for another year, after the Wildcats won their record fifth straight 4A title.
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.
On the eve of the the most dominant team race in Virginia history, Sam Affolder was a little disappointed.
“We had a team meeting, and I was expecting an inspirational speech about how we were going to make history and we’d come out fired up,” he said. “We talked about what we were going to wear the next day. Nothing about trying to sweep or go after the state record. I’d never had a pre-race meeting like that before.”
It looked like Gavin McElhennon was making a mistake. As he powered his way around the perimeter of the Kenilworth Park fields, he let Luke Tewalt hang behind him. He blocked the wind, set the pace and put himself out there, vulnerable for Tewalt to attack and take over the lead in the D.C. state cross country championships.
But his confidence in his strength gave him a boost and let him know it was alright, and the move he made with a mile to go gave him the margin he needed to win. He wound up running away from Tewalt and finishing in 16:34, 21 seconds faster than Tewalt on a course measured by several team representatives to have been between 75 and 200 feet longer than 5k. A permit conflict with the Kenilworth Park track prevented the use of the same course used in last year’s state meet and four years of the DCXC Invitational.
Two Northern Virginia teams with hopes for making the state’s 6A meet under new challenges sharpened up for the post-season at the Third Battle Invitational, with J.E.B. Stuart’s boys and West Springfield’s girls getting the wins.
West Springfield put four runners in the top 16 to edge 5A’s Tuscarora, who themselves had two ahead of the Spartans, including overall winner Emma Wolcott (17:56). and Ava Hassebrock (18:34) in eighth.
The trip from Southwest Virginia did not tire out Abingdon senior Karl Theissen (15:15), the defending 3A champion, who won a home stretch kick over Stafford’s Philip Lambert (15:22). Poolesville’s Ryan Lockett (15:37), who recently committed to Virginia, edged Edison’s Yared Mekonnen (15:39) to be the first D.C.-area finisher.
It’s a relatively flat course, with a mile-long loop through a narrow forest trial less than a quarter mile into the race. That forces runners to position themselves quickly, and Lockett was more aggressive than usual, tucking behind a trio of Tuscarora guys and two Stuart runners.
Maryland runners made themselves at home at Virginia’s Bull Run Regional Park, winning the individual and team titles at the Glory Days Invitational. Walter Johnson senior Abbey Green led the girls’ race from the start, and cleared the way for the Wildcats to claim the team title.
On the boys’ side, Poolesville’s Ryan Lockett overpowered Severna Park’s Garrison Clark in the last half mile, despite a rough start and a last-mile misstep.
A dry September left the usually-muddy course as dry as it has been since 2012, but the heat and direct sunlight and mid-afternoon race times slowed down what a faster course sped up. Lockett’s 16:03 has him a second ahead of Alec Shrank and Rohann Asfaw‘s photo finish in 2016. The meet was not as deep, individually, with many D.C.-area teams heading to the Great American Cross Country Festival in North Carolina.
Basking in his 15:11 that led the day’s times at the DCXC Invitational, Grafton senior Price Owens summed up the day’s races without saying a word.
He threw back his head and guzzled from a gallon jug of water.
Owens was one of the fortunate ones – the senior boys’ race, the last of eight varsity races divided by high school class, went off a little after 6 p.m., when the sun was setting and the temperature was waning from the 89-degree high. His female counterpart, Page Lester, sprawled across the finish line a half hour earlier, after hanging around the course all day. An hour before that, Nandini Satsangi stopped short of the finish line, woozy from the heat, and needed the crowd to tell her she wasn’t done yet. She finished the race sprawled on the track and recovering in the medical tent.
“I could hear people, but I didn’t know what they were saying,” she said of the latter parts of the race. “I was just trying to keep going.”
Rolling Hills of Cement
Cross country is a rough sport. Athletes brave all kinds of weather and all kinds of terrain; they run on hills, rocky trails, mud and sometimes even through creeks. Sometimes that iconic and pastoral racing environment isn’t available every day, but even in a “concrete jungle” with some of the worst traffic in the nation, many D.C. runners still log those miles.
The Oatlands Invitational in Leesburg served as a showcase for the nearby Loudoun Valley, but not just the school’s nationally-top-ranked boys’ varsity team. Junior Sam Affolder‘s 15:43 win for 5k led the way for five team titles and three runner-up finishes for various Viking teams.
Affolder, seniors Peter Morris (third, 16:01) and Colton Bogucki (ninth, 16:19), and juniors Jacob Hunter (13th, 16:29) and Jacob Windle (20th, 16:52) scored 46 team points and had all finished before second place Cary, N.C.,’s Green Hope had two runners in. The Falcons, who also came up for the 2014 DCXC Invitational, scored 117 points and Delaware’s Salesianum School was third with 194 points.
Julia Ghiselli didn’t know much about Heather Holt before the Monroe Parker Invitational, except that she was fast.
A lot of people are getting to know Ghiselli now, and she’s pretty fast herself. And Ghiselli was pleased to learn that Holt was also “very nice.”
The Annandale freshman ran 17:29 on Burke Lake’s 2.98 mile course to win, reaching the threshold to make the all-time list for the course, where will soon be 37th.