On November 6th, 2014 our state was treated with the most epic XC race in our history. This race between Foot Locker National Champion Weini Kelati and 16x state champion Libby Davidson not only had our complete attention but the entire state's attention as well.
Before we get into the race itself though we should give some back story for each athlete and how we got to Kernstown Battlefield in the first place.
Libby's Path to Kernstown
Entering the 2014 XC season all information was telling us that Libby would be the girl to watch. She ran a strong 18:28 to win the 4A state title as a frosh and returned looking like a superstar her sophomore year.
It didn't start with a fizzle, it started with a bang. In her first 5K of the year she ran a blistering 17:36 meet record at Knights Crossing and by doing so was now a national star. She followed it up with titles at Seminole District, adidas XC challenge , Great American, MileStat XC, and Conference 24. To put this into perspective she faced an estimated 467 different teams over the course of those competitions and none gave her even a challenge.
At this point it was clear Libby was the best in Virginia and arguably one of the sleeper picks for the national title with her 17:07 season best.
Weini's Path to Kernstown
Weini on the other hand had a much different story. Her's began at the Oatlands Invitational against some of the best competition in MD/VA/DC in attendance. Despite not speaking english or owning a pair of spikes, yes she ran almost the entire season in trainers, she blasted out as the gun went off at the Oatlands Invitational.
Now Weini at this point was not a star at all, she apparently had a monstrous 3K time when she ran for Eritrea but in XC she was a novice and an unproven star. That changed though just 18 minutes and 11 seconds later when she crossed the Oatlands finish line in the second fastest meet time ever. It wasn't until we spoke with multiple sources on the course and figured out she had stopped twice to tie her shoes that we realized we had a star on our hands.
After that race her and her coaches made sure her shoes were tied and once her feet hit the ground she was off. Next it was DCXC then followed Loudoun County Championships, Manhattan Invitational, Third Battle, and then Conference 21. All six being commanding victories.
Now at this point Weini was definitely a star. She was the talk of the nation half in part due to her fast 3K time from two years before and half due to the fact she ran 18:11 in trainers after stopping twice. She was clearly on a high competition level and she was ready to face off with a worthy opponent.
Virginia has some great meets but let's be honest... there are only a few that are nationally great meets which have usually over 100 teams attending. That means it is rare, if not nearly impossible, to not face off with another major runner sometime during the regular season. But somehow all the stars aligned in 2014 and both of these superstars entered the post-season and regional week having never even seen the other in person let alone having raced.
From the second we were there you could see everyone including other runners, coaches, and the athletes themselves taking one look at Libby and then moving their eyes four boxes over to Weini and then back. Everyone wanted to know who was better, who was the better racer, and who would remain undefeated?
It was finally time for the race of the century! The weather was nice Autumn weather with just a few clouds in the sky. The very hilly Kernstown Battlefield course was trimmed nice and before we knew it the cannon was shot and the race had started.
Just like we had guessed it was the matchup we wanted. Weini used her stellar speed to open scary fast on this hilly course. Even with the steep 400m long hill at the start (that is as steep as Oatlands' big hill) she blew thru the mile mark in 5:10 with a 10 second lead over Libby. Just steps later as both made that turn around the parking lot and old stone wall Weini had opened the lead even more to nearly 20 seconds.
It wasn't until the final mile that the lead shrunk and it shrunk fast! You can see it in the video as both athletes were 2/3 up the hill that Libby caught up with each step. She ate up that 20 second gap in just 200m. And now we had a race.
Both athletes kept the pace up and remained stride for stride as the passed thru the second mile mark in 11:10. It was then the most suspenseful four minutes as the athletes did the back mile loop in the woods. Without any updates we just had to wait.
The wait was worth it though as shockingly Libby emerged first with Weini just 50m back. Both sprinted down the hill but ultimately it was Libby "the Beast" Davidson reigning supreme over Kelati with her 17:43 course and meet record. Kelati was second in 18:00.
Looking Back Three Years Later
Three years is a long time and because of injury and age limits it seems even longer now. These two would go on to be great friends and even greater competitors. Libby tallied up 16 state titles and a number of all-American finishes while Kelati set three state records and won five national titles in 2015.
Having won nearly every individual title in the books both athletes also were able to close out their high school careers with big team wins in 2015 and 2016. Both titles being the first XC team titles in their school's history.
Looking back this race will always be memorable. If not for the two superstars then for the fact that it was really the last time we had an epic matchup where we really had no idea what would happen. Today there is awesome coverage at nearly every meet and kids run for years and years before high school. Coaches, athletes, and the media just know everything about them but back in 2014 we had a sophomore (Libby) who dropped over 90 seconds and Weini who was a renowned track runner in her first XC season. We really didn't know what would happen but we knew it was going to be good.
It wasn't good though, it was the best ever.