It has been quite a journey for all the teams and individuals who have qualified to compete in Saturdays’s VHSL State Cross Country Championships. All participants and coaches have their own stories of how they got here between the fast times and slow, the victories and the losses, the surprises and the setbacks…the common theme is they all had to figure out how to handle both adversity and success in a positive direction to lead them to this point. Some are just happy to have made it this far, while others will not be happy with anyone else but a spot on that podium. The rankings are nice and generate interest as well as might motivate some teams and individuals to prove them wrong, but they really go out the window at the start of the Saturday’s races. The only rankings that matter are the official state meet results, but let’s delve into who might be some of the teams and individuals to look out for in all of the six races at the 2010 Virginia High School League Cross Country State Championships.
Group AAA Girls - 10:30 AM Start
Lake Braddock and Midlothian were the top two teams in last year’s state race with the Northern Region squad Lake Braddock ending Midlothian’s streak of four consecutive state team titles. Midlothian enters as a favorite again, but not nearly as strong favored as one year ago as they had to work hard to claim their sixth straight Central Region title last Saturday against Maggie Walker with a 15 point win. Meanwhile, Lake Braddock went into the Northern Region Meet as the third ranked team in their region and walked away as the team champions by defeating favorites Thomas Jefferson and their Patriot district rival West Potomac, who defeated them for the district title in the previous week.
Lake Braddock lost four seniors from their 2009 state champion, but with the addition of two talented freshmen in Hannah Christen and Katie Roche to join their returnees Sophie Chase, Casey Lardner, and Tara Landy. Chase, who placed third in the state meet last year as a freshmen to lead the Bruins, is one of the top contenders for the individual title after winning the Northern Region title last week in 17:38. Christen is not running far off Chase’s freshmen year times from a year ago as she stepped up at the regional meet with a fourth place 18:13 effort on Burke Lake Park’s 2.98 mile course. Lake Braddock won the regional title decisively by 31 points against the only undefeated team in the state prior to the regional meets in Thomas Jefferson. Lake Braddock coach Mike Mangan’s squad had four runners under 19 minutes for an impressive 18:33 team average on a muddy day with Chase, Christen, Lardner (10th, 18:34), and Katie Roche (22nd, 18:54).
The Midlothian girls do not have that state champion caliber individual as they have had in years past on their roster such as Kathleen Lautzenheiser and Paige Johnston, but have a group of five runners which have all ran under 19 minutes for 5K and could lead the team in any given day for a more unified team. Their best team performance of the season so far came at the Great American Festival in North Carolina on October 2nd. At Great American, Midlothian had four girls run well into the 18 minute range for 5K with Claire Benjamin (18:24), Kari Johnston (18:25), Krista Willard (18:34), and Kara Dickerson (18:37) with returning All-State cross country performer Marie Johnston as the fifth runner at 19:06. Midlothian has not been at full strength since that meet, but were able to at least get their top five back for the Central Region Meet. In their regional race, Midlothian averaged 19:02 as a team on a good course and weather conditions day at Pole Green Park and team score of 50 points compared to runner-up Maggie Walker with 65 points. Midlothian nearly had five runners among the top 15 for All-Region with Benjamin (6th, 18:37), Dickerson (7th, 18:45), and Kari Johnston (8th, 18:50) breaking 19 minutes for 5K.
The state title could be determined in the all important fifth runner position between the two teams unless Lake Braddock’s front running makes up for places lost in the fifth spot. The uncertainty of the fifth scorer for both teams could leave room for a new school to take the state title from two programs who have quite a few titles in the last decade between Midlothian and Lake Braddock.
Maggie Walker was a state runner-up team two years ago to Midlothian, but Anna Spiers is the lone remaining member of that podium team as she has been leading the Green Dragons this fall along with sophomore Rachel Galton as both look to have excellent shots at finishing the top 15 individually for All-State honors. Maggie Walker girls finished a respectably close second to Midlothian at the regional meet with 65 points and team average of 19:09 on the Pole Green Park 5K course. Similar to Lake Braddock, Maggie Walker has two freshmen who have been difference makers for Coach Jim Holdren’s team this fall in Daisy Banta and Nemo Keller running in number three and four positions. A total of seven girls have broken 20 minutes for 5K this season for Maggie Walker.
Northwest Region champions Colonial Forge actually are the one team this season to have defeated Midlothian in a meet. At the start of the season at the Chancellor Invitational, Colonial Forge seized the moment with Midlothian running conservatively as a pack for two miles in training shoes to hand them an early season loss. The Colonial Forge girls have been consistently racing well against the top teams in the state this entire season in big invitationals. The Colonial Forge girls do not have a true front runner and may not have a single individual finish among the top 15 at the state meet, but they are one of the deepest teams in the state through seven runners and beyond. Colonial Forge will try to keep their team score in the 100 to 120 point range by focusing their top five pack on places 15 through 35. Coach Michael Porter’s girls had the best top five spread of any of the four regional championship teams last week at the Northwest Regional with only 37 seconds separating their first five scorers. Colonial Forge won their first regional title in three years with four finishers among the top 15 in Shaina Manuel (4th, 19:21), Jenna Walker (8th, 19:29), Lilly Moore (10th, 19:34), and Hannah Dickinson (13th, 19:41)
There are probably five teams with serious chances of a top three podium finish in the Group AAA girls‘ race between Midlothian, Lake Braddock, Maggie Walker, and the next two best in the Northern Region with Thomas Jefferson and West Potomac.
The Thomas Jefferson girls had gone perfect prior to the regional meet in every single meet which they competed in including a Glory Days Invitational victory against three-time private school state champions Bishop O‘Connell and also a win at the Runnin‘ With the Wolves Rocktoberfest against Group AA state title contenders Blacksburg. The Jefferson squad had notched those first place finishes without one of their top runners in Lisa Junta, who made her return from injury at the regional meet as the team’s fifth finisher. If Junta is able to move up her team’s depth chart in the state and slightly better performances from her teammates’ regional races, Thomas Jefferson could be able to get a redeeming win against Lake Braddock as well as challenge Midlothian for the title. Thomas Jefferson had three girls under 19 minutes at Burke Lake Park in Kelly Rogers (18:34), Stephanie Marzen (18:37), and Sarah Stites (18:56).
West Potomac two weeks ago were the better team against Lake Braddock, but had to settle for a third place finish in a competitive Northern Region Meet for the girls teams behind Braddock and Jefferson with 108 points. Under first year head coach and previous assistant coach Jenn Dietz, West Potomac is one of several AAA programs this fall with a boys and girls’ team at the state meet both attempting to finish among the top three on the podium including Midlothian, Colonial Forge, and Lake Braddock among others. Their team has some of the best experience from last year’s state championships with five returnees from their fourth place finishing squad at Great Meadow one year ago led by All-Region performers Sarah Jane Underwood and Dale Lescher.
A big three exists among the Group AAA girls’ individuals in Megan Moye of Cosby, Hannah Lowery of Stafford, and Sophie Chase. Each runner has been rolling out fast times week after week to set the stage for what should be an exciting and fast race. The last and only time which all three of these girls raced each other at the MileStat.com Invitational in mid October saw a barnburner battle producing three of the top four fastest 5K times in the state this fall. Moye won the race in a 17:42 course record performance, while Lowery narrowly edged Chase with both runners timed at 17:47. Moye has continued to impress following that win including a most recent 17:51 course record Central Region title run on a more difficult Pole Green Park course.
Stafford sophomore Hannah Lowery has been juggling two sports this fall as she will have competed this past week leading into Great Meadow for her school’s field hockey team in the state tournament. At the Northwest Region Meet last Thursday, Lowery looked as if she running with fresher legs due to rain canceling a field hockey game in nearly breaking the course record at Panorama Farms on a wet day in 18:05, which is fairly comparable to Moye’s regional performance at Pole Green. Lowery is the second highest finishing returnee from last year’s state meet race behind Chase with a fifth place showing in the 2009 state championships.
Chase is most accomplished of the three contenders in state competition despite only being a sophomore. She accomplished a lot as a freshmen including leading the first half of the state race at Great Meadow last fall before showing toughness to hold on for a third place finish to lead Lake Braddock to the state title. While Moye and Lowery are seeking their first state titles, Chase is already a state champion as she won the indoor 3200 meter state title last winter in Hampton. Chase posted some of the fastest times recorded ever by a freshmen in Virginia with a 4:52 1600 and 10:39 3200 last spring.
The chase pack following the big three should be comprised of Northern Region runner-up Myah Hicks of Thomas Edison, Central Region runner-up Erica Dobbs of Deep Run, Eastern Region champion Audrey Batzel of Ocean Lakes, the Maggie Walker pair of Anna Spiers and Rachel Galton, and potentially several talented freshmen among the class of 2014. Molly Breidenbaugh of Hanover leads this year’s crop of freshmen with an 18:09 5K season best and fourth place finish at the Central Region Meet, while Lake Braddock’s Hannah Christen and Robert E. Lee’s Bailey Kolonich both finished among the top 6 at the Northern Region Meet as freshmen. 2009 All-State finishers Hicks (13th) and Dobbs (7th) were regional runners-up last week and both are experienced runners who should be able to hand the high pressure and competitive state meet well.
Group AAA Boys - 11:15 AM Start
Midlothian coach Stan Morgan has been bringing strong teams to Great Meadow on a consistent basis since the late 1990s and his 2010 squad might be his best and deepest yet. Midlothian has 10 runners which have broken 17 minutes for 5K and have six knocking on the door of breaking 16 minutes to make them the #1 ranked team in the state of Virginia since early October and drawing national and Southeast regional ranking consideration as well.
In one of the toughest regions in the state this fall as far as elite individual runners, Midlothian was able to place their entire top 7 among the top 15 for All-Region honors at the Central Region Championships last Saturday led by two seniors in Brayden Burleigh (2nd, 15:36) and Darren Barlow (3rd, 15:40). Burleigh is one of the most talented returning runners in the state this fall and his best race this season included a state leading and personal best 15:20 performance at the Great American Festival, which Midlothian finished second in that meet against national and regional caliber competition. Barlow was part of Midlothian’s state meet podium team as a freshmen with Burleigh which included two Foot Locker finalists in Jason Witt and Michael Hammond. Burleigh and Barlow are turning out to be just as impressive of a duo for Midlothian as Witt and Hammond were in 2007.
The Trojans won the regional title with a low team score of 29 points (60 point margin of victory) and becoming the only team to average under 16 minutes on a legit 5K course this season at 15:58. Behind Barlow and Burleigh, Midlo’s next finisher at the regional meet included sophomore Sean Willard (5th, 16:01) defeating three highly ranked runners in Cosby’s Evan Niciphor, Manchester’s Nathan Clarke, and Lee-Davis’ Cody Snyder to make their formidable front two becoming more of a feared top three including 2010 Nike Indoor Nationals freshmen mile champ Willard. Sam Hush (9th, 16:15), Ryan Peterson (10th, 16:21), Kyle Murray (12th, 16:25), and Andrew Gorsuch (15th, 16:32) only reinforced the clear depth found on the Midlothian roster at the regional meet.
While Midlothian got to cruise through a relatively weak Central Region for boys’ teams, their top contenders Stafford and Colonial Forge had to slug it out for two straight weeks in the ultra competitive Commonwealth District and Northwest Region with other quality teams in Albemarle and Riverbend. Colonial Forge had been comfortably in the #2 spot in Group AAA for virtually the entire season until they squeaked out a district title against Stafford. The district meet only foreshadowed to the regional meet which Stafford won by a decent margin of 20 points over Colonial Forge. Both at various times this season have shown themselves as worthy challengers to Midlothian for the Group AAA state title. Colonial Forge raced Midlothian very competitively in September at the Chancellor Invitational and Sportsquest Relays, while Stafford only ran a few seconds slower team average than Midlothian on their district course at their MileStat.com Invitational win.
Stafford ran even better at Panorama Farms last Thursday for their regional championship with only a 34 second spread separating their top five. Their team average was only 16:28 compared to Midlothian’s 15:58 regional team average, but course conditions were not as ideal for the Thursday regional meets than the Central Region Meet held on a Saturday. If any of Midlothian’s top runners were to have off races at the state meet as the Colonial Forge boys have found in recent weeks, the Stafford boys have a great pack ready to swallow up and pass their runners in a wave. Tyler Oliver leads Coach Pete Augrom’s squad as the only senior in their top five which includes sophomore Ian MacLeod, junior Greg Bohmke, junior Brandon Hinton, and freshmen Joey Abbatiello. Abbatiello was the only member of their top five to not earn All-Region honors as the freshmen only missed the top 15 by two places and seven seconds. The Stafford boys have not been mainstays on the state stage in many years as they last won a state title back in 1996.
No teams including Midlothian have raced in as many big races against top competition than the Colonial Forge boys. The state meet stage will not be overwhelming for a varsity lineup, which seems to have raced against national caliber competition on a weekly basis whether it be in-state or out-of-state. Colonial Forge competed at Great American in North Carolina then the next week in October traveled to Texas for the Nike South Invitational and finished competitively close to two US top 12 ranked teams from Texas while defeating the Nike Cross Nationals team champions from Boerne Champion (TX). Colonial Forge has a top four in Brian O’Loughlin, David Pennesi, Jordanis Lozier, and David Klimek who have all ran under 9:50 for 3200 meters on the track and ran in the low 16s for 5K all season along. The key for Colonial Forge in matching up with Midlothian will be this four being able to move up and stay in tact in the same instance among the top 25 finishers. Fifth runner Neil Clark has a season best of 16:17 and will need to run close to that time if in ideal conditions to not give ground to Midlothian and Stafford.
West Potomac had been predicted to be a team to contending for a podium spot and the Northern Region’s best, but did not put it together until district time which is the best time to start running their best. After two back to back solid team efforts at Burke Lake Park to claim a competitive Patriot District title to be followed with a Northern Region championship, West Potomac boys appear to be a squad which can certainly find themselves among the top three at Great Meadow. Their front runners have not materialized, but their fourth and fifth runners are just as strong as other top ranked teams in Group AAA. Only 33 seconds separated their top five at the regional race as they were led by Brady Corum (15:44), while Corey Rosenberg (16:04) rounded out their team score of 78 points. District rival Lake Braddock was in hot pursuit and only six points behind in second place due to their superior top three with Sam Rubenking, Luke Sohl, and Nick Tuck all under 16 minutes on a sloppy Burke Lake Park 2.98 mile course. Lake Braddock was a surprise last year in fourth place at the state meet and their top three were all members of that team.
Earlier in the season, it appeared that a special and unusual year for the Central Region boys could produce a sweep of the top five places or so with a handful of runners from the region winning invitationals and beating the top runners from other parts of the state. A dominance up front could still very well be seen from the region, but other runners from other regions have stepped up as of late to make themselves considered as top contenders for the individual title.
Eastern Region champion Jeremy Greenwald of Grassfield has not faced much major competition this season staying at local invitationals in the Tidewater area, but has won every race which he has competed in to make him the only undefeated runner in the state of Virginia which ironically no one is talking about. Greenwald won the Eastern Region title impressively by 20 seconds on a muddy Bells Mill Park course in Chesapeake with a time of 15:42.
Annandale junior Ahmed Bile certainly expects to be a favorite and contender on the track for the 1000 meters indoors and 800 meter outdoors after running 1:54 in the open 800 and posting faster splits on the relays last spring as a sophomore, but he is showing his range is much greater as shown with his recent 15:22 victory at the Northern Region Meet. It was only Bile’s second race back from a stress fracture injury which forced him to miss nearly 2 months of the season. Concorde District champion Sean McGorty of Chantilly is definitely a state champion in the making and led for the majority of the regional race before Bile swooped in the final quarter mile for the victory and should find himself among the top group in the state race as well.
The Northwest Region has not had one individual stand out as the clear cut stud of the group with most of the region’s top runners more focused on helping out their highly ranked teams at Colonial Forge, Stafford, Riverbend, and Albemarle, but Patrick Henry senior Patrick Woodford dropped them all at the regional meet to add a cross country title to his two regional 3200 titles from last year and post a 16:02 PR in not great conditions for running an all-time best.
Douglas Freeman senior Silas Frantz won Group AAA’s most competitive region for boys’ individuals and by default is the odds-on favorite to win the state race as well in not only being many of his top contenders for the state title, but dispatching of them with such ease. Frantz broke the course record set by last year’s Group AAA state champion Ted Richardson of James River by 10 seconds at Pole Green Park last Saturday with a 15:24 personal best performance. Frantz finished 12 seconds ahead of 5K state leader Brayden Burleigh of Midlothian (2nd, 15:36) and well ahead of some other big names from the region including Andrew Catanese (3rd), Evan Niciphor (6th), and Cody Snyder (8th) by considerable margins. It would be hard to think if Frantz runs a solid hard pace for the first two miles and does not allow it to become a strategic race late that anyone in the field can beat him, but few races at Great Meadow end up being without drama and not having at least two runners battling for the state title inside the gate with 600 meters to go.
Group A Girls - 11:45 AM Start
The defending champions in the George Mason girls and Strasburg junior Katlyn Ayers are back looking even stronger to repeat. At the Region B Championships, the George Mason girls and Ayers made easy work of the competition with the Mason girls putting seven girls in the top 10 places, while Ayers won individually by 37 seconds. Coach Julie Bravin’s George Mason squad is attempting to win their third straight Group A state cross country team crown, which would be the third longest streak in Group A girls’ state meet history behind four-time champions Clarke County (2004-2007) and seven-time champions Brentsville (1995-2001). George Mason might have a few years to wait to challenge Brentsville’s consecutive titles streak, but they are capable of posting one of lowest team scores in meet history with at least a top five of runners all capable of All-State top 15 honors. Their entire top seven is back from last year including some more additions and improvements made by the returnees including sophomore Julia Estrada, who finished sixth for the team at the 2009 state meet, but enters this weekend as one of the best in Group A after finishing runner-up to Ayers at the Region B meet and has a season best just over 19 minutes.
Strasburg’s Ayers does not run year around or during the outdoor season, but still has managed to maintain herself as the best among the small school runners. Her 19:12 regional performance was a season best and she won her first state title last November at Great Meadow with a time of 19:03. Ayers also leads a Strasburg team, which is aiming to finish second behind district and regional rival George Mason for the second year in a row at the state meet. Strasburg girls were second at the Region B Meet with 55 points compared to George Mason’s 22 points, but well ahead of third place Page County (117 pts). Ayers and sophomore Kirsten Campbell make for one of the better 1-2 duos in Group A. Campbell just missed All-State honors last year in 16th place and aims to not miss the top 15 this year after finishing among the George Mason pack in fifth place (20:24) at the Region B Meet.
The top three teams from the 2009 state meet could be replicated in the same order again with George Mason, Strasburg, and Radford, but the Region C champions Radford would like to improve upon their third place finish from a year ago. Six of their top seven are back including Region C individual champion Kaitlin Smith, who won her regional race by a substantial margin of 43 seconds and will try to improve upon her 8th place state meet finish last fall.
Region A champions Mathews are solid through four with Region A individual champion Emily Brown, Nancy Barnhardt, Rachel Corrigan, and Kate van Emmerik all finishing among the top 7 in a dominant regional victory with 31 points. Brown is a rising star runner in Group A as only a freshmen winning her first regional title last week with a 20:32 performance on the new 5K course at Eastern State Hospital. An improved race from their fifth runner as they had over a 3 minute spread for their top five would give them a better shot at challenging for one of those top three spots.
Out of Region D, there are no teams who can be seriously competitive for spots in the top tier of the field, but two individuals in regional champion Tabatha Arwood of Lebanon and regional runner-up Mariah Arnold of John S. Battle can both place among the top 5 individually. Arnold was the top finisher from Region D at the state meet in 2009 with a fourth place finish, but Arwood has definitely had the upper hand this year including a win by 32 seconds in a 18:42 3 mile regional meet performance at the Sugar Hollow Park. Arwood might be the one runner in the field able to challenge defending individual state champ Ayers.
Group A Boys - 12:30 PM Start Time
It has been since 1988 when J.J. Kelly boys claimed the Group A state title that a school from Region D has taken first place at the state cross country championships. Lebanon is trying to attempt to snap their region’s drought which has lasted over two decades as they enter this weekend as the top ranked team in Group A and Region D champions. At their regional meet, Lebanon swept the first three places individually with Bradley Rasnake (1st, 16:17), Jon Ulrich (2nd, 16:33), and Jordan Smith (3rd, 16:38), while keeping their top five spread under 1 minute were David Hampton (9th, 16:58) and Tyler Castle (13th, 17:13). Lebanon High School nearly produced a rare Region D individual state champion in 2007 with Jakob Maidens just finishing behind Radford’s Nathan Brame in a tight state battle. This year’s Lebanon team does plan on coming up short for the team title.
History will be against them though as besides Radford’s state crown in 2007, the Region B champion or team from the region has become the state team champion as well in every year since J.J. Kelly’s title in 1988. A team, which has not won a state team title in an longer time period than the Region D drought is the George Mason boys, who impressed in their Region B victory against the likes of Altavista and the most successful Group A program last decade in Clarke County. George Mason boys dethroned the two-time defending state champions Clarke County boys from continuing their long streaks as district and regional champions.
George Mason, which tallied a team score of 60 points and team average of 17:31 at their regional meet at Panorama Farms in Charlottesville, got more of a challenge from Dogwood District team champions Altavista and not Clarke County at the regional meet. George Mason had three All-Region performers in Jordan Robarge (5th, 17:10), Jesse Schaffer (9th, 17:23), and Jeremy K. Brown (14th, 17:29), which having a couple individuals finish inside the top 15 at the state meet would make their chances better of earning their first state title since 1987. Altavista actually had George Mason beat through four runners 35 to 36, but George Mason’s depth was superior to put seven ahead of Altavista’s fifth finisher. Altavista had just missed making it onto the podium last year in fourth place and 16 points separating them from a third place Radford squad.
Radford ran strong in their Region C victory with plenty of breathing room between them and the next best teams in their region boasting a team average of 17:27 and team score of 38 point on Giles High School’s 3 mile course. The Mogen brothers, Walker (4th, 16:53) and Will (12th, 17:26), were their top two finishers in their regional meet while returning All-State runner Vijay Guruswamy (8th in 2009 state meet) is currently running number three for the team. Radford only graduated one runner from their 2009 podium team (albeit top runner Jared Miller), but did suffer an earlier season loss to Lebanon which they hope to erase with a state title at season’s end and defeating the Region D champions.
Clarke County is experiencing a down year after losing their district meet and finishing third in Region B, but still seems hard to imagine them not finding a way to make it on the podium as a top three team. They will be helped by low score cards from their first two runners in Steven Trayer and Paul Myer, who expect both to vie individually for the state title. Myer is one of the top returnee from last year’s race when he placed 7th overall, while Trayer beat both his teammate Myer and top state meet returnee Daniel Blanks of AltaVista (3rd in 2009 state meet) in a 16:33 5K performance at Panorama Farms for the Region B title.
Region A champion Mischa Turner of Northumberland also broke 17 minutes on a challenging 5K course for his regional title as Turner went just under at 16:59 at the Eastern State Hospital 5K course in Williamsburg. Turner finished 10th in last year’s state meet race and will attempt to lead his region with a much better showing in 2010 at Great Meadow.
Glenvar junior James Kasper was a bit of a surprise winner out of Region C as he beat out several higher ranked runners than him previously in the narrow victory over Galax’s Travis Cockerham as both runners were timed at 16:44 each on a slow 3 mile course at Giles High School, so expect Kasper, Cockerham and maybe a few other runners from Region C to be racing among the lead packs on state meet race day.
Group AA Girls - 1:00 PM
For the fourth straight year, the Blacksburg girls come into the state meet without a regional title to bring into the meet thanks to their district rival Hidden Valley, yet they could very well win their fourth state title in five years with slightly better races from a runner or two. On the other hand, Hidden Valley is attempting to win their second straight after spoiling a four-peat attempt by Blacksburg last fall.
Hidden Valley girls graduated several key runners from last year’s team, but their front two is in tact with Annie LeHardy and Haley Cutright, who finished third and fourth respectively in last year’s state meet race behind the Stevens twins of Blacksburg. LeHardy and Cutright have two of the faster 5K times in the season from their races at Nike South in Texas in mid October with LeHardy breaking 18 minutes and Cutright clocked in at 18:01. The pair and sophomore teammate Carolyn Bethel were able to front load on Blacksburg at the Region IV Meet by putting two runners ahead of Blacksburg’s first finisher Sarah Dorrell and three ahead of their second finisher Hannah Brown. Their remaining top five had been a work in progress earlier in the season and it appears that work is getting closer to completed with a fourth runner in Ashleigh Torres, who earned All-Region honors just behind an All-State caliber runner in Michelle Church of Bassett at the regional meet in 11th place.
Blacksburg had Hidden Valley’s number earlier in the season as they always do, but the difference between the teams got closer earlier than usual with Hidden Valley also winning the district title, which they had always conceded to Blacksburg in previous years. Blacksburg has a history of bouncing back from regional defeats to win state titles as they did against Hidden Valley in 2007 and 2008. Blacksburg has had a group of overachievers back up their talented front two in sub 5 miler Hannah Brown and 2:17 half miler Sarah Dorrell, so expect them to get the most out of their potential for one more race this season against rival Hidden Valley for another state title run.
The Western Albemarle girls did not take any significant losses from their third place state meet team from a year ago but injuries to Emily Moffett and Peri Bowser have kept them from realizing their full potential and overleaping established powers Blacksburg and Hidden Valley. Despite their depth dropping off after four runners due to injuries to two of their top five runners, Western Albemarle’s front four ran their best combined race of the season in their Region II victory and their fifth runner posted a season best time. Western Albemarle girls had four runners in the top 10 in the competitive Region II meet with race champion Mattie Webb (18:59), Killian O’Connell (3rd, 19:58), Katie Farina (9th, 20:11), Claire Johnson (10th, 20:11). If Hidden Valley or Blacksburg were have trouble in the fifth spot at the state meet, Western Albemarle could surprise as they certainly can match up well with boy teams through four runners with Mattie Webb out in front leading the way and the entire field most likely.
Next best teams following Hidden Valley, Blacksburg, and Western Albemarle seem to predominantly preside in Western’s region of Region II with runners-up Warren County, Brentsville, and Freedom. Region III champions Jefferson Forest and Region I champions Jamestown also look to compete for those spots just outside of the podium as well. The Warren County girls qualified for their first state meet in school history as well as Freedom, which is relatively a new school in Loudoun County.
Western Albemarle senior Mattie Webb comes into the state meet not only as the favorite to win the Group AA state title, but the state’s top ranked runner regardless of classification as she has yet to be defeated by any runner from the state of Virginia this fall. Her 17:37 5K performance at Great American in early October still stands as the fastest time recorded this season by a Virginia high school runner. Remarkable considering she finished 38th in last year’s Group AA state race with a time of 20:37.
The Hidden Valley duo of LeHardy and Cutright have great experience finishing well in state competition. Two years ago, LeHardy finished as a photo finish runner-up for the state title and Cutright has finished among the top five in her past three state meets. Millbrook junior Crystal Nelson raced Webb tough to take runner-up honors at the Region II Meet and will not fear trying to challenge her again at the state meet. Region III champion Erin Wheeler of Northside has made a significant improvement in one year like Mattie Webb as she recently clocked a swift 18:09 time in her regional race.
Group AA Boys - 1:45 PM
Since they race last, the Blacksburg boys will get a chance to see what the Midlothian boys do earlier in the day in the Group AAA race. It might be a situation where the best two teams in the entire meet are in two separate races and will try to simply race the clock and beat each other virtually for bragging rights. As impressive as Midlothian was dominating the Central Region Meet in AAA with 7 among the top 15, Blacksburg was equally as dominant in Region IV with only Cave Spring’s Cody Seymour (2nd, 16:30) able to break Coach James DeMarco’s varsity lineup from a perfect sweep of the meet. Blacksburg had started out really well this season including three runners under 16 minutes for 5K at the Knights Crossing Invite in mid September, but had not looked as sharp in the month of October. They returned to top form and even stronger than earlier in the season at their regional meet on a challenging and slow Dan Daniels Park in Danville with only 39 seconds separating not their top five, but entire top seven instead. Blacksburg has legitimately seven different runners who could all finish among the top 25 individually or better.
Blacksburg has three returning All-State performers from the 2009 state race in George Carter (5th), Caman Skelton (11th), and Frank Locascio (15th). The scary fact is that Skelton or Locascio could not even be running inside their top five this weekend with the emergence of other teammates including the Link brothers (Zach & Nick), Anthony Noegel, and Matthew Paiser all running just as well this fall.
Blacksburg and Western Albemarle both know that the state title will not be simply given to the defending champs from Blacksburg after their last encounter at the Maymont Festival in late September, which Blacksburg got a rude awakening from an upstart Western Albemarle squad. Western Albemarle hit their own rough patch in October before turning things around in championship season. Unlike Blacksburg’s regional, Western Albemarle was going to get a major challenge by the Potomac Falls boys in their final race before the state meet after Potomac Falls put together a successful invitational season defeating many top AAA schools. Western Albemarle ended up beating the higher ranked Potomac Falls squad by a margin of 34 points with four runners among the top 15 and a fifth runner inside the top 20. Derek Armstrong will be one of the top individual competitors in the race after settling for second at the region meet behind 2009 Group AA state runner-up Tommy Curtin of Loudoun County, while Henry Giles, David Taylor, and Ben Schiller look to work together to all finish inside the top 25. Last year was a rare year for the storied Western Albemarle program to not advance to the state meet, but it would be a quick turnaround if they were able to win a state title or at least get on the podium after their year absence.
Despite graduating four of their top seven from a 2009 state meet third place finishing squad, Potomac Falls is back in position to break into the top three again despite losing to Western Albemarle decisively at their regional meet. Juan Campos and Connor Wilson lead this year’s group as All-State individual hopefuls with Campos especially looking to break into the top 15 after a 16th place finish in the 2009 race. Other Region II qualifiers Loudoun County and Skyline should also be competitive in the top half of the field after making it out as one of the four teams in the toughest region for Group AA. Both teams feature two of the pre-race title contenders in Tommy Curtin of Loudoun County and Thomas Madden of Skyline. Curtin took several early losses to Madden and other top regional runners before getting back on top to repeat as Region II champion last week. Madden is only a sophomore and will certainly be contending for state titles for several years to come as well.
Probably the only other team outside of the Region II schools and Blacksburg to have a decent shot of making it on the podium with a top three team showing would be Region I champions Lafayette, who won several earlier season invitationals including the William & Mary Invitational. Their problem is getting all of their top runners to run well on the same day as especially their early season top three of Kurtis Steck, Scott Gemmell-Davis, and Stephen Chanty have had up and down seasons. If those three can click on the same day, Lafayette could definitely break up the Region II cluster of teams. Steck was the one running well in their last race at the regional meet as a runner-up to defending Group AA state champion Kyle King of Grafton.
Grafton’s Kyle King has raced very sparingly this season in a long-term plan for him to peak later in the season to qualify for a national berth in cross country at either Nike Cross Nationals or Foot Locker Nationals. His first priority is to win another state title and make sure a second title leaves no doubt that he is the best runner in Group AA and possibly the state. Last year’s state title win for King was a bit bizarre with favorite Colin Mearns of Jamestown collapsing in the final stretch to open the door for either King or Curtin to kick in for the win, which King did. After his opponent demoralizing win at the Albemarle Invitational, which he beat several of top challengers in Group AA quite convincingly including Madden and Armstrong, the recent UVA verbally committed King has established himself as the favorite and top runner in Group AA once again following an opening season loss to Armstrong at Maymont. Hopefully, King will get an opportunity with better conditions to drop his winning time from a year ago of 16:01.
George Carter of Blacksburg (15:44 5K season best) and Cody Seymour (15:49 season best) of Cave Spring have had their share of battles this season with both picking up wins. The two Region IV runners have certainly pressed each other to where both could also be considered dark horse picks in the Group AA state race as they have not had the opportunity to race the other top runners as often in the Southwest portion of the state. Carter defeated Seymour by five seconds for the Region IV title last Friday.