US #4 Midlothian girls & Lautzenheiser make national statements in Maymont wins

US #4 Midlothian girls came ready to make a statement at the Maymont Festival's invitational division race as the Lady Trojans put four runners in a loaded top 20 to take the team title by a 42 point margin of victory against a great field which included two fellow US top 25 squads. Midlothian was led by individual champion Kathleen Lautzenheiser (pictured left by John Herzog) as the sophomore broke away from a pack of a half dozen with well under a mile left for a 18:41 5K win. The state of Maryland was well represented with US #6 Eleanor Roosevelt in second place in their first 5K race of the fall, while Southeast Region bubble team Winston Churchill stepped it up big to take third place honors over many quality teams. The Blacksburg girls showed themselves as a team to be reckoned with taking the next highest place by a Virginian squad after Midlothian in fourth despite not having their top runners at full strength. Joining Lautzenheiser under 19 minutes from Virginia in the invitational race were Liz Barclay (3rd, 18:49), Laura Rapp (5th, 18:51), Paige Johnston (6th, 18:55), Kristen Wolfe (7th, 18:58). More to come on the Maymont girls..

The Midlothian girls were favored coming into the Maymont Festival as the local school with the US #4 ranking, but the recent performances by fellow US top 25 ranked squads in US #6 Eleanor Roosevelt of Maryland and US #22 Tatnall of Delaware foreshadowed a possible close battle in Richmond, Virginia this weekend. Eleanor Roosevelt had actually already beaten Midlothian head-to-head this albeit in a 5x2500 meter relay race at the Brentsville Relays, but with their winning time at Brentsville significantly faster than their 2006 win in Nokesville was nothing to overlook. Meanwhile, the Tatnall girls were fresh off defeating the NTN Northeast #1 ranked Colts Neck girls of New Jersey, who were one of the top finishers at Nike Team Nationals last December.

When the race was over at Maymont on Saturday morning though, there was no doubt who is the team to beat in the Southeast region as the Midlothian girls picked up a resounding 42 point win over Eleanor Roosevelt and the rest of the field. Midlothian definitely took their racing up to another notch after holding back for much of the month of September. With the long season looming into late November and early December as the NTN Southeast Regional is held on November 24th and Nike Team Nationals on December 1st, it seems pretty logical for Midlothian coach Stan Morgan to be selective early on with racing his top girls. The Eleanor Roosevelt coaches definitely have the same mindset as Maymont was actually their first 5K race of the season.  

Leading the dominant charge by Lady Trojans of Midlothian was sophomore Kathleen Lautzenheiser taking individual title in 18:41. The loaded field of teams was just as strong on the individual front as was shown with more than a handful of runners still in contention with only half a mile to go in the race. In the final hill with just over a half mile to go, Lautzenheiser found herself with two others in Eleanor Roosevelt senior Dominique Lockhart and Albemarle junior Liz Barclay beginning to break away from the rest. Lautzenheiser continued to press into the final quarter mile to pull away for six second victory.

Lockhart turned in a fine runner-up effort of 18:47 as she is filling the shoes of last year's Maymont champion and course record setter in former teammate Marika Walker very nicely. Barclay broke 19 minutes for the second year in a row on a fairly challenging Maymont course in 18:49 for third place to hold off a late charge by Winston Churchill's Louise Hannallah (18:49).

Midlothian had a second runner under 19 minutes as defending AAA state champion for 1000 and 800 meters in Paige Johnston (pictured right John Herzog) showed more of her full potential at the 5K distance in sixth place at 18:55. Johnston was only six seconds off her all-time best 5K time. Midlothian had two more finishing among the top 20 runners with Sammy Dow (15th, 19:23) and Amy Witt (19th, 19:26). Erin Stehle rounded out their top five in 40th place at 20:03. In the silver division later in the meet, Midlothian had one of the top freshmen performers of the day with Shannon Ropelewski taking fifth in a time of 20:01. With Kathleen Lautzenheiser's twin sister Leia still out with injury, Midlothian may need someone to close their gap existing after their top four for them to be successful at the Manhattan Invite in two weeks as the New York teams should be ready to compete.

Eleanor Roosevelt expects to close the gap on Southeast #1 Midlothian as the season progresses with plenty of race rust to shake off this past weekend. After Lockhart, their next finisher was another familar face from last year up front for the ER girls in Teshika Rivers (14th, 19:12). However, the reason that Eleanor Roosevelt is still a force to be reckoned with this year is the emergence of newcomers to their top seven lineup. Chinyelu Asher was one of the fastest freshmen of the meet as Eleanor Roosevelt's #3 runner with a 22nd place time of 19:39. Tasha Stanley was part of many great relay races for Eleanor Roosevelt last track season as an 800 meter specialist dipping under 2:10, but she was not part of the team's top seven last cross country season. She showed the ability to step up to the 5K distance at Maymont in 29th place at 19:52.

A national reputation has already been earned by the Eleanor Roosevelt program with two straight appearances at Nike Team Nationals as well as the many national championships won during track season, but Winston Churchill is a team from Maryland which is starting to make a name for itself outside of the state. The team started to gain some respect outside of Maryland at the Great Meadow Invitational earlier this month with a runner-up finish behind Midlothian. The team's regional and national standing should rise even further after Maymont.

Churchill finished nine points behind the team which has overshadowed and dominated all as well in Maryland over recent years in Eleanor Roosevelt with 117 points for third place. A recipe for success in a national cross country meet is having a #2 and #3 runner just as good if not better than most team's #1 runners. Winston Churchill certainly showed those ingredients existing on their team in Richmond as behind fourth place finisher Hannallah, Erin McManus (11th, 19:12) and Maryam Fikri (12th, 19:13) had exceptional races to finish among the top 15 in the stacked field. Fikri (pictured left with McManus by David Fleenor) was the highest #3 finisher among all teams in the invitational division as the team's front running allowed them to overcome six teams behind them with higher finishing #5's and even sixth and seventh runners of some team's came in before Churchill's fifth.

While all teams at Maymont have areas of improvement to work on as the season progresses, the jump which the Blacksburg girls are capable of making from this weekend gives promise that Virginia could potentially have the top two teams in the Southeast with Midlothian as the #1 ranked team. Despite not having the best performances out of their top two runners, the Blacksburg girls were able to finish fourth and defeat three ranked squads in the NTN Southeast top 10 including US #22 Tatnall, SE #8 Oak Ridge, and SE #9 Brentsville.

Blacksburg's #1 in Alison Homer faltered in the last mile to a 24th place in 19:42, while sub 18 5K runner on the track in Laurel MacMillan was racing in her first race of the season coming off a summer injury. MacMillan was the team's fifth finisher in 19:58.  Both Homer and MacMillan went under 19:15 at Maymont last year as the strength for the 2006 Blacksburg squad was their front running over a lacking depth. The opposite was found this year as it was the depth of their other runners which helped the Lady Bruins to a high finish. Only 27 seconds separated their top five in Joanna Stevens (21st, 19:31) (pictured right by John Herzog), Homer (24th, 19:42), Kathleen Stevens (30th, 19:55), Trinity Foreman (33rd, 19:57), and MacMillan (34th, 19:58).  Coach James Demarco has to take away a lot more confidence in what his girls are capable of doing come NTN regionals time in late November as Homer and MacMillan start returning to top form.

The "what could have been" thought process could be applied to several teams in the invitational division as only 28 points separated second from sixth place. Out-of-state teams Oak Ridge of Tennessee (5th, 125 pts) and Tatnall of Delaware (6th, 132 pts) were in striking distance of turning a solid day into a great day with a runner-up finish. 

The depth of the field found outstanding squads struggling to finish in the top ten as the defending South Carolina state champions in Mauldin finished 11th with 250 points. Maggie Walker and Brentsville followed Delaware's Tatnall in 7th and 8th place respectively. Maggie Walker coach Jim Holdren was the only coach to have more than one individual finish in the top ten with Susannah Piersol (19:09) and Clarissa Schick (19:12) taking ninth and tenth place. Brentsville senior Amelia Emerson (13th, 19:14) may have had the race of her life to lead the AA #2 and Southeast #9 ranked Brentsville girls race. Maggie Walker is hoping to crack into the top three in the AAA state race at season's end, while Brentsville will look to close the gap on the AA defending state champions from Blacksburg over the next month.

Gold Girls:

On a sixth runner tiebreaker, the Virginia's top ranked private school girls' team from Bishop O'Connell was able to hold off Archmere, a team from Delware as both teams tabulated 96 points. O'Connell showed great depth as well as ability to deal with adversity as their #2 runner in Gloria Roberts was forced to drop out due to a foot injury, yet still were able to win Maymont's second most competitive race division. O'Connell had four runners among the top 17 finishers as their front four were all under 20:40 on the 5K course.

Bishop O'Connell junior Megan Fitzpatrick (pictured left by John Herzog) ran impressive upfront for Coach Cindy Walls to pull away for a 12 second win in 19:00 minutes. If inserted into the invitational division, Fitzpatrick would have likely dipped under at 19 minutes as she also beat the winning silver division time. Significant comparision for Fitzpatrick since the silver division was won by defending Virginia Independent Schools Division I state cross country champion Barbara Strehler of Trinity. A second title for Strehler may be harder to come by with Fitzpatrick racing well. 

Other top individuals in the race were AAA All-State caliber runners Lauren Hopper of Hanover and Kaylan Comer of Colonial Forge. Hopper raced tenatively in the first half of the race, but made up a great deal of ground in just the final half mile alone to take third in 19:19. Comer (4th, 19:31) continues to improve each race as she heads towards the goal of becoming a four-time All-State cross country runner in AAA, which would be quite a feat in Virginia's largest and most competitive classification. 

Lots of talented youth on display in the race as Archmere (DE) freshmen Lindsey Olivere finished as a runner-up to O'Connell's Fitzpatrick as the fastest freshmen of the meet. Among the many speedy ninth graders found at Maymont, Clover Hill's Abby Badura was the top Virginian freshmen at 19:39 for sixth place in the gold race. In between the top out-of-state freshmen and top in-state freshmen at Maymont was a mere seventh grader in Evie Tate from South Carolina's Spartansburg High School with a stellar time of 19:31. 

Silver Girls: 

Defending private school cross country champions Barbara Strehler of Trinity and Jane Gay (pictured right by John Herzog) of North Cross finally got to race head to head this season in the silver race at Maymont since after all they will be unable to do so at the VIS State Championships at Woodberry Forest in November with Strehler competing in the Division I race and Gay competing in the Division II race. However, the race cannot truly be considered a true head-to-head battle between two of the best private school runners as Strehler had a head start or more so Gay had a late start. As Strehler sprinted off the starting line when the gun went off, Jane Gay of North Cross was still in the bathroom. Gay tried to jump into the race as quickly as she could, but lost anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds from a port-a-john starting point and fighting through a crowd of spectators moving to the next portion of the course. 

The adrenaline rush must have helped her as she remarkably worked her way from far behind to end up finishing third in the race with a time of 19:51. It is not certain or not if she could have beaten Strehler as the Trinity Episcopal junior ran unpushed from the start to a 19:14 solo victory, but mishap at the start could have made things a lot closer.