Top ranked Midlo squads survive scares in opener

THE PLAINS, VA -- The state\'s top ranked boys and girls teams from Midlothian both survived scares at the Great Meadows Invitational in their opening races. The Nike Team Nationals Southeast #1 ranked squad in Midlothian ran well as shown by their low team total of 55 points in the competitive meet, but the NTN SE #6 ranked and two-time defending AA state champions Brentsville proved to be just as good as they finished two points shy of them in second place with 57 points. Midlothian junior Jason Witt took the individual title in a time of 16:03.15. Meanwhile, the Midlothian girls had two of their seven runners drop out of the race including top returnee and 4:53 miler M.C. Miller yet their amazing depth and talent was showcased still in dominating the #2 ranked team in the state and #5 ranked team in the NTN Southeast region in Brentsville by a 65 point margin of victory. The Lady Trojans were led by the Lautzenheiser twins, Kathleen (1st, 19:20.92) and Leia (3rd, 19:46.59), as the freshmen pair finished first and third respectively.

Saturday was one of many challenges that the Midlothian boys will be facing this season as they come in as the preseason #1 ranked team in Virginia and the Southeast Region for Nike Team Nationals. Their first challenger on Saturday in Brentsville, will be facing them on three more occassions this season. There will be three more close and exciting team battles between two talented teams if Great Meadows was a sign of things to come.

The Trojans of Midlothian were led by one of the state\'s top returning cross country runners in junior Jason Witt as Witt picked up a big early season victory at Great Meadows in a time of 16:03.15 as he won by 11 seconds. Witt was challenged by Marylander Chris Barnard of Sherwood High School early on, but Barnard fell off pace to end up taking third overall in 16:18.13. Another pre-race individual favorite in Mountain View sophomore Thomas Porter, had an off-day in finishing fifth overall in a time of 16:25.34.

While Midlothian had the front runner in Witt, Brentsville had the front pack in Adam Henken and Henry Melius. Brentsville senior Henken finished as the race runner-up to Witt in a solid time of 16:14.64. Meanwhile, Melius was not too far behind fourth place with a time of 16:24.24 to finish just ahead of Mountain View\'s Porter.

Midlothian had the next two finishers in junior Mark Merritt (7th, 16:46.09) and senior Jonathan Mellis (16:59.84) .Mellis, working his way back into his 2005 AAA All-State shape after missing the entire track season due to injury, ran number three for Midlothian and finished just in front of Brentsville\'s third runner in Ray Delgado (11th, 17:00.89).

Tommy Reese looked to be Midlothian\'s most improved runner over the summer as he finished two places and five seconds behind Brentsville\'s Delgado with a 13th place finishing time of 17:05.50.

Brentsville sophomore Grant Burress and senior Andrew Johnson deserve the same award from their team as their improvements into the number four and five places have been key in making up any foreseen gap between the two teams in the preseason. Burress, who broke 10:20 for 3200 meters as a freshmen last spring, finished 17th in a time of 17:16. Johnson, a former baseball player, cracked the top 25 with his 23rd place run of 17:23.06 to round out Coach Rob Dulin\'s top five.

If Midlothian junior Thomas Cole finished three more places back and and three seconds slower, Brentsville would have pulled off the upset to open the season. However, Cole finished right off of Brentsville\'s five man Johnson in 24th place in a time of 17:23.56.

Looking at the numbers more, the teams appear to be even closer. Midlothian\'s team average for the day as 16:51.58, while Brentsville had an average of 16:51.77. These teams will face off again next weekend on Brentsville\'s home course in a fun 4x2500 meter relay format at the Brentsville Relays and once again on the following weekend at Great American. The teams will be making an over half day bus ride together from Virginia down to Hoover. Lets hope these two teams that will be going to war against one another this season can call a truce at least for that long haul.

While only two points separated the #1 and #6 ranked teams in NTN Southeast Region in Midlothian and Brentsville, a much larger gap existed between SE #6 Brentsville and SE #7 Hermitage with Hermitage finishing in a distance third with 109 points and one point ahead of defending AAA state champions Oakton (110 points). Not as close of a finish as Coach Joe Pardue would like from his Panthers, but then again it is still early September. Hermitage was led by senior John Vial with a ninth place finishing time of 16:58.24. Hermitage was well packed as only a 38 second spread existed among their top fifth as finishing behind Vial were Nathan Puckett (20th, 17:18.88), Ben Hendrick (21st, 17:20.20), Walter Kidd (28th, 17:31.26), and Kieran Lee (31st, 17:36.89). If Hermitage\'s pack can stay intact and tight while moving up in future races, they will be a very tough squad to beat.

Oakton is definitely a team on a rise and refusing to let 2006 be a rebuilding year for them as shown by nearly taking down the #7 ranked team in the Southeast Region. Coach Phil Tiller\'s squad was led by Joe Lorusso with an eight place finish 16:55.34. Rounding out their top five were Matt Saunders (18th, 17:17.78), Alex Nissen (22nd, 17:22.08), Tony Smith (30th, 17:36.27), and Scott Maxfield (32nd, 17:39.16). Oakton will be racing with Brentsville and Midlothian at Great American in the Nike Race of champions in two weeks.

Many knew the Lautzenheiser twins were going to be good and key contributors to Midlothian\'s NTN run this fall, but how good was the big question. They certainly answered a lot in their first high school invitational race with Kathleen Lautzenheiser defeating a strong field with some of the state\'s better runners in a 19:20.92 on a hot and humid day, while twin sister Leia gave Midlothian two of the top three finishers with a third place time of 19:46.59.

Their races turned out to be very critical as two of Midlothian\'s runners in senior M.C. Miller and junior Erin Stehle dropped out of the race midway, so all five remaining runners in the race for Midlothian needed to finish in order for the team to score. Big races were needed especially with Miller dropping out as she was projected as the team\'s number one runner heading into this season after running 4:53 for 1600 meters last spring as a AAA state runner-up

Christine Selander certainly finished strong for Midlothian as none of the Lady Trojans\' top three finishers on Saturday were members of the 2005 AAA state champion squad as the junior Selander missed the entire 2005 cross country season with a stress facture. Selander ended up finishing eighth overall in a time of 20:18.49.

There were only two finishers for Midlothian from the state champion team in the \"A\" race with junior Sammy Dow (12th, 20:36.56) and sophomore Paige Johnston (22nd, 21:09.71) finishing fourth and fifth for the team to allow for a team score of 46 points. Neither returnee had the best of races as both are coming off minor summer training injuries, but will be working into top shape as the season progresses.

Despite having two of their top runners drop out and have two other top returnees have subpar days, Midlothian still proved why they are one of the top ranked teams in the Southeast region and nation coming into this season as they defeated two Nike Team Nationals Southeast ranked squads in SE #5 Brentsville (2nd, 111 pts) and SE #8 Morgantown (3rd, 127 pts) of West Virginia by significant margins.

Neither Brentsville nor Morgantown were racing at full strength though. Brentsville was missing two of their top four runners in Maggie Gentry and Amelia Emerson and certainly would have decreased Midlothian\'s margin of victory with them in the lineup.

Brentsville was led by senior Becky Stewart as the early race leader settled for second behind Midlothian\'s Kathleen Lautzenheiser in a solid individual opening race of 19:24.45 to finish four seconds off the race winner. Teammate Lauren Bussian joined her in the top ten with a 10th place finishing time of 20:25.68.

Coach Dulin\'s next three finishers came in a row with Stephanie Hutson (33rd, 21:21.79), Sam Woodard (34th, 21:22.55), and Sarah Earman (35th, 21:27.32).

If Brentsville can get Gentry and Emerson back in time for Great American, their squad should fair very well there.

Morgantown had been missing two of their top five runners heading into Great Meadows this season in Emma Berry and Cari Shaffer as the two had been healing from injuries. Morgantown was definitely improved with their additions, but Berry and Shaffer still are not fully back as they finished together in 46th (21:58.91) and 47th (22:05.36) respectively.

Finishing in pairs was a theme for Morgantown as their strong front two in Allison Pettit and Monica Chase took fifth (19:57.25) and sixth (19:58.54) place to lead Coach John Patti\'s squad against the tough Virginia competition. Another Morgantown tandem in Ahna Lewis (36th, 21:29.85) and Aubrey Moskal (37th, 21:32.46) ran in the number three and four positions for the #8 ranked team in the Southeast.

There was little separation between the next four teams with 24 points separating fourth place Colonial Forge (138 pts) from seventh place Douglas Freeman (162 pts).

Colonial Forge definitely looked stronger as a team with Jordan Zarone back racing after missing their season opener at the Chancellor Invite as the Lady Eagles had four finishers in the top 27 places with Kaylan Comer (13th, 20:40.80), Molly Hawkins (23rd, 21:07.55), Zarone (26th, 21:15.62), and KC Wade (27th, 21:16.48). Through four runners, Colonial Forge beats Morgantown and finishes a lot closer to Brentsville, but will need their fifth runner in Laura Bryant (22:10.80) to improve for that to happen in reality in a five runner scored meet.

The Eastern Region was well represented by the performance of Western Branch as a team in finishing fifth overall with 143 points as the Lady Bruins were led by a ninth place run by Callen Powers in a time of 20:20.52. Coach Ryan Carroll had another top 25 finisher in Kayleigh Lewellyn (24th, 21:09.71).

Brooke Point\'s Brittany Copeland (4th, 19:50.01) and Mountain View\'s Emma Bohman (7th, 20:17.26) had solid individual races to finish in the top ten. Bohman has especially had a strong start to this season and emerged as a potential AAA All-State finisher.

The Midlothian girls showcased their depth extends well beyond their top seven and their top seven is not necessarily set in stone either by the performances of their girls in the \"B\" race. The Midlothian \"B\" girls won their race division by a lower team score than the \"A\" girls with a winning total of 35 points as they had six finishers in the top 17 places. Midlothian had three of the top four individual finishers in the race with freshmen Amy Witt (2nd, 21:06), sophomore Anne Tenser (3rd, 21:18.51), and junior Tierney Willard (4th, 21:24.65). To put the depth on Coach Morgan\'s team in perspective, their #8 and #9 runners in Witt and Tenser and nearly their #10 runner in Willard would have finished ahead of \"A\" division runner-up Brentsville\'s #3 runner at Great Meadows.

While the Midlothian girls are still sitting pretty after Great Meadows even with a bizarre day, the Midlothian boys have found from the get go that staying on top this season will be no walk in the park. The competition in-state will be tough enough with the likes of Brentsville, Thomas Jefferson, and Fork Union running well early.