West Springfield\'s Mike Spooner and W.T. Woodson\'s Sarah Hadiji will be the individual favorites while the Oakton, Jefferson and West Springfield boys along with the Lake Braddock and Robinson girls are expected to battle for the team titles at the Northern Region Championships to be held at Burke Lake Park this Thursday.
Spooner, the defending regional champion, comes into the 3:15 p.m. boys race clearly as the runner to beat after his performance at last week\'s Patriot District Championship.
The Spartans senior, who has verbally committed to the University of Tennessee, toured the 2.98 mile course in 14 minutes and 51 seconds to move up to number thirteen on the all time performer list at Burke Lake, among Northern Region runners, since the present course was established in 1974.
Whether Spooner tries this week to improve on his district splits of 2:16 for the first half mile; 4:46 at the mile and 9:43 at two miles to get down below 14:50 and move into the all time top ten remains to be seen.
Even if Spooner trains through the region race somewhat in preparing for next week\'s state championship meet and the Foot Locker South Regional race later in the month, the fact that his district time was 24 seconds faster than his nearest competitors makes him a solid choice for back to back regional titles.
Spooner will also be leading a West Springfield team which is in contention for the team title, as they look to advance to the state meet once again and possibly improve on their fourth place regional finish from last year. The Spartans have been getting solid backup for Spooner with Alex Martis in the # 2 slot and poised for a top ten individual finish.
Coach Vic Kelbaugh\'s troops also have a steadily progressing Let\'s Go Leo Walker at number three and have also been improving the time gap at the all important fifth spot.
Defending regional team champion Oakton and 2005 region runnerup Thomas Jefferson will certainly have a lot to say about this year\'s outcome as well. Oakton rolled to a convincing victory at the Concorde District meet and put two runners under 15:20 in district champ Joe LoRusso (15:15) and district runnerup Matt Saunders (15:18) with that duo running with a comfortable lead and relative ease for the last half of the race.
The Cougars also had Alex Nissen and Brian Hendricks under 16:00 and Oakton\'s team average time of 15:41.6 topped all teams as they were just ahead of West Springfield\'s 15:45.0 average.
Jefferson\'s team average of 15:53.2 in winning the Liberty District title looks to have the possibility of maybe improving more than Oakton and West Springfield\'s with the Colonials not in quite as strong a district top to bottom as the Cougars and Spartans, enabling Jefferson to possibly train a little harder through the district meet than their Patriot and Concorde counterparts.
Coach Matt Ryan\'s squad put all five of their scoring runners among the district\'s top ten, led by district champion Paul Norland and Liberty runnerup Richard Prevost.
Among other squads looking for a coveted top four team spot and a chance to compete for one more week at the state championships, Robinson appears the strongest.
The Rams team average at districts of 16:05 is more than 10 seconds ahead of the next nearest team and Robinson, led by senior Dan McHale, looks to be ready to improve on last year\'s sixth place finish.
Others to watch include National District champion Washington-Lee, led by individual winner Chris Tyson who won by almost 30 seconds with a very solid time of 15:15 and should be among the top five runners in the regional race and also senior John McGrail, who is capable of a top fifteen individual finish in order to qualify for states.
Herndon, with 2005 region runnerup Ermin Mujezinovic and W.T. Woodson, with less than a 40 second gap between their first and fifth runners will also look to get in the mix in case any of the front running teams falter.
Other top individuals to watch include Patriot District second place finisher Josef Tessema of Lee; Stone Bridge senior Gidey Teffera; Hayfield\'s Phillip Mlinarcik and National District team runnerup Stuart\'s duo of Ethan Rissell and Abiy Mohammed.
In projections for the four team and fifteen individual automatic qualifiers for the November 11 state championship meet at Great Meadow, based on previous history of the regional meet and the fact that this year\'s four district meets were all held at the same venue of Burke Lake, under similar weather conditions as what is forecast for Thursday\'s meet...
It looks like it will once again take a time around 15:40 to make it to the top fifteen individual awards area and the team title will have both Oakton and Jefferson looking to get their top five runners at or below 16:00 with West Springfield\'s upfront presence giving them a shot if their number five can be in the 16:15 range.
Then again, one of the beauties of cross country running is that you can\'t just put a time or mark up on the board to qualify for the state meet as in track and field; you have to recognize the other runners and team uniforms in the race and get out there and beat some people.
In the girls race for regional honors, Woodson senior Sarah Hadiji (17:58) does not come in with the fastest time from the district meets, but based on her experience of being the top returnee from last year with her third place finish and that she was content at the Liberty District meet to set a methodical pace for the first half of the race before finishing in very strong fashion, certainly vaults her to the head of the pack.
Favorable weather conditions would seem to certainly give Hadiji a shot at going under 17:45 as she gets ready to contend for the AAA state individual title next week.
Newcomer Jenna Richmond of Centreville posted the fastest time among all district performers last week as she broke away from Robinson\'s Stephanie Bray, Chantilly\'s Lia DiValentin and Frances Dowd of Fairfax shortly after the two mile mark to win the Concorde individual crown in 17:49 and certainly looked legitimate in doing it.
Just one tick behind Richmond for the top time at districts was West Potomac junior Elizabeth Heath, who surged to a large lead midway through the Patriot race for a solid win at 17:50 over Lake Braddock\'s Shelley Presley with Presley also getting under 18:00 with her second place time of 17:57.
Presley will be leading a Lake Braddock team which won the Patriot District with the top team average of 18:30.6 as the Bruins look to return to the state meet this year after just getting edged out last year for the fourth and final team spot on the sixth runner tie-breaker rule.
Lake Braddock\'s main competition for team honors may come from Robinson, the squad which edged them for the fourth spot at regionals last year. The Rams were easy winners at the Concorde championship meet and posted an 18:34.0 team average as they were once again led by Stephanie Bray.
The Robinson-Lake Braddock matchup could be very close indeed again, as Robinson\'s number five runner finished at 19:00 at her district meet and Lake Braddock\'s number five finished at 18:59.
The other two qualifying spots up for grabs have West Potomac and West Springfield capable of making it to Great Meadow next week if they can match or slightly better their performances from the Patriot District meet where both the Wolverines and Spartans finished within a dozen points of Lake Braddock.
Also not to be counted out are two of last year\'s team qualifiers in Oakton, the defending regional champions who suffered through a somewhat sub-par effort in finishing third at the Concorde district meet and Westfield, who could be dangerous if Tasia Potasinski and Brittany Sevachco are able to translate their track talents to Burke\'s 2.98 course a little bit more.
Other top runners to watch include West Springfield freshman Alex Watt, Lake Braddock\'s Hayley Sullivan, West Potomac\'s Julianne Bigler, Madeline Willner of South County, Centreville\'s Chrissy Sane, Anne-Marie Duncan of Fairfax, Langley\'s Lauren Shaw, Aaren Pastor of Woodson and Washington-Lee senior Sarah Weber, who won the National District title by almost 50 seconds in a very commendable 18:08.
Projection: There seems to be very good depth on the girls side this year and although 18:37 was the fifteenth and final individual qualifying slot last year, it may take closer to 18:20 to make it this year if the fairly good weather forecast holds up.
For team honors, it appears that it will take pretty close to the 19:00 mark for all five runners for any squad to feel comfortable about their top four team chances with the championship trophy possibly lurking in the 18:50 range.