By Mark Lorenzoni / Special to The Daily Progress
Ask anyone in Virginia who laces up their cross country spikes for a living where the toughest harrier zone in the state is, and fall after fall they'll tell you Central Virginia. And this autumn is no different, as several of the area's cross country squads have a shot at the state championship.
Case in point will be The Ragged Mountain Cup, which will kick off the seasons of all the area's 17 teams at Panorama Farms this afternoon. On the starting line will be many teams and individuals that have their eyes intensely focused on the big prize: A chance to win a state title in November.
On the boys side, two legendary coaches will be doing battle in what could prove to be a mini-version of what so many fans have been asking for: a state open championship. FUMA's Winston Brown, whose mighty squad looks to once again be the cream of the Private School League, will go toe to toe with Lindy Bain's deep and talented Western Albemarle squad, which many have picked as one of the favorites to win the Group AA title.
FUMA's juggernaut is fueled by state champion and All-Universe runner Axel Mostrag, who recently ran a 4:09 mile, and fellow Polish speedster Szymon Rola. They will be strongly supported by veteran David Johnson and Fluvanna transfer Jeremy Haney, who was the top area finisher (sixth) at the AA meet last fall.
Bain's speedy squad is so deep and so competitive that it may be difficult, from week to week this fall, to get a handle on who is the fastest on the team. Just know for sure that their pack will be destructive as it mows a path through the state with the likes of Will Massie, Chris Post, Kyle Satterwhite, Tyler Stutzman, James Howard-Smith, John Conroy, Carlos Gomez and Kevin Dubovsky.
Charlie Souter and Lee Coppock's Covenant squad looks to build on what was the school's best season last fall. The Eagles will be led by the ever-steady Austin Ellis, the top finisher in last year's Daily Progress poll, and he will be supported by a strong cast including Bryce Johnson, Joe Meakam, Joe Souter, Matt Hill and his freshman brother Carter.
Buz Male's steadily improving Miller boys look to once again make some serious noise among the private schools as he returns three of his top five from last year's squad, including veterans Max Hensley, D'Andre Corbin and Hunter Johnson.
Dan Wiggins' crew from St. Anne's-Belfield will also be greatly improved with the help of Conor Kantwill and Matt Ryals, and the STAB squad should be a more competitive force among the private schools. And always making a run at the state title will be Ben Hale's mighty Woodberry Forest boys.
Jerry Cutright's Louisa boys are greatly improved as they should be one of the best teams in the Jefferson District with the help of speedsters Thomas Baker, Daniel Cutright, Jesse Martin and Lawrence Minor.
Led by veteran Ben King, one of the most competitive athletes in the area, and teammates Andrew Troy, Daniel Sinden and Ben Trank, Ray Ackenbom's Monticello squad should also make some excellent progress in the district this fall.
Another team looking to make its mark in the district will be Rick Lilly's Charlottesville squad. With only two seniors (Charles Anderson and Toby Wilbur), the Black Knights look to a young but strong stable of runners that includes Eric Smith, Patrick Klas and Daniel Fokey for support.
Also on the rise will be Michelle Crumpler's Albemarle boys team as senior Patrick Leduc should help lead a young but hungry squad to a successful season.
Younger and more developing harriers from Rose Brogan's Fluvanna County squad, Jennifer Rehm's Madison County crew, Jerry Jared's Blue Ridge team, Tim Bennett's Nelson County crew and squads from Tandem Friends, William Monroe and Orange County will help to make things very interesting throughout the region this autumn.
On the girls side, there's a great chance that history will be made at the finish line of Panorama as legendary Albemarle coach Lance Weisend could bring home his first Girls Cup as his speedy ladies are the pre-race favorite. Led by defending state champion and multi-talented Rachel Rose and speedy Liz Barclay, who many consider to be the best one-two punch in the state, the Patriots should make life very interesting for Kate Pugh's defending champion Western squad. The Warriors will be led by Senior Valerie Wilder, one of the most versatile runners in recent team history. She will be supported by fellow seniors Carrie Ellwood and Sarah Connette, everybody's All-American at Western, and sophomore's Leah Benson and Kate Chambers and another stable full of mighty Western runners.
Jenny Blair's ever-improving Monticello squad looks to make a serious run for the state meet and is another team to look for at The Cup, with the likes of talented veterans Sarah Tobias, Erin Thorpe, Hannah King and Laura Tiezzi.
And pushing from within the district will be Rose Brogan's Fluvanna squad, which will be led by a bevy of upperclassmen such as Lindsey Fender, Dana Luniewski, Kelly Thurston and Rachel Hellinger.
Rick Lilly's CHS girls should also make some noise in the district with speedy veterans Liza Little and Meghan Taylor.
Louisa will have one of the youngest squads on the starting line today, but under the guidance of Cutright and Brown, the Lions should steadily improve throughout the fall.
Dan Wiggins' STAB girls could be one of the big surprises in the private school mix this autumn, as he heads into the season with one of the school's most solid squads in recent memory. Kathleen Battle, Bond Vanderlinde, Grace Griffin, Emily Fox and Sydney and Corbitt Wicks should help make them a competitive force this fall.
Covenant's girls return five of their top seven and should also be a force among the private schools, as it will be led by veterans Tori Meakam, Bethany Coppock and Brittany Murphy.
Anne Tomaso's Miller squad will also be making a competitive run among the private schools this fall.
Harriers from Madison, Nelson, Orange, William Monroe and Tandem should help bolster their school's reputation for solid cross country programs this autumn.
The second annual Kelly's Cup will be bestowed upon one exceptional harrier at the conclusion of today's meet. Named in honor of legendary Albemarle speedster Kelly Watt, who tragically died last summer, this prestigious award is given to an individual who most reminds the area coaches of Kelly's hardworking ways and positive attitude.
Today's meet starts at 5 p.m. at Panorama Farms in Earlysville. For more information, call (434) 293-3367.