Athletes. That is what this weekend is about, athletes and state titles. Some athletes are making their first post-season appearance while others are closing out historically great high school careers. No matter the classification or location this weekend is about these athletes and competing on the biggest stage in our sport, the State Cross Country Championships.
This year will mark the addition of a second location for the state meet. Classes 4,5,6 will still be held on the Historic Great Meadow course while Classes 1,2,3 will now be run on the fast and spectator friendly Green Hill Park course in Salem. Both courses provide us with interesting things to watch this weekend and will certainly add to the excitement.
A little bit about the courses... The Great Meadow course, home to all state meets from 1994-2018 is a course run almost entirely in heavy grass with a few gravel roads thrown in. The course is something we would classify as an honest course meaning it is neither a super fast course or an impossible one either.
The Green Hill Park course though is a super fast course that will most certainly produce some fast times. The course is very short grass with cinder and dirt paths throughout. The move to this course does negate some history but honestly it makes up for those losses with its superior friendliness for spectators and for how fast it is. The atmosphere here will truly be special with athletes being able to run through a tunnel of all the spectators four times.
Overarching all of these races are a few storylines to watch that will headline this weekend's action. These three headlines are for Class 6 favorite Bethany Graham, Class 2 favorite Kelsey Harrington, and Class 4 team favorites Loudoun Valley.
The first and biggest story of the weekend will be small school star Kelsey Harrington (Virginia High School) as she attempts to better her early season time from this same course. Her time, 17:13.5, was not only a Knights Crossing meet record but a course record, facility record, Class 2 state record, small schools' record, and #12 all-time for the state of Virginia.
This weekend she has a chance to chase more history and better that time. From everything we have seen in her seven victories since that September race we believe she is ready to shatter that mark. Just six girls have ever broken the 17 minute barrier in XC and this weekend we could get our seventh.
There is one girl in Virginia though that currently has a better mark on the season and that is Bethany Graham (John Champe) who will be racing in the Class 6 title race Saturday. She enters the race with a state leading, VA #10 all-time, mark of 17:09.5 and a lot of great competition around her. That time also puts her well within the range of the 17:08 Great Meadow state meet record set back in 2016 by NXN finalist Kate Murphy (Lake Braddock).
Bethany is chasing history but first and foremost she is looking to just be able to start the state race. Graham has been a standout athlete for quite a few years now but each of the past two years unfortunately ended short due to injuries. Most athletes would be deterred after two stellar regular seasons ending short but Bethany wasn't. Bethany worked harder and smarter and even though she was the favorite for the state title for three years, has gotten even better this year.
Saturday Bethany is going to get her chance to race and she is going to get it just the way she always wanted it, at 100% health with some great competitors who are going to make her run her best race of the year if she wants to win. Those two competitors will be Aniya Mosley (Ocean Lakes) and Julia Ghiselli (Annandale).
The final overarching storyline of the state meet will be the Loudoun Valley Vikings going for their fifth team title in a row. Though many teams are defending titles or even going for a fifth title like Auburn in Class 1, the dynasty that Loudoun Valley has built cannot be overstated.
The Vikings of Loudoun Valley enter the state meet weekend as heavy favorites for the Class 4 team title yet again with hopes of scoring a state record perfect score. Out of the history of this meet, that goes all the way back to 1943, just one team has scored a perfect score and that was Loudoun Valley in 2017. Their perfect 15 was also a perfect perfect score meaning their runners went one thru five overall and not just for scorers.
Last year they once again made history by scoring 16 points as a team, which again beat the previous record of 17 that stood from 1988 until 2017. This year with no scorers from that perfect score they will look to repeat that history.
The Vikings have not only enjoyed success inside the state of Virginia but also on the national level as well. They are the two-time defending Nike Cross National Champions and are the only team to ever win two boys titles. This year they are seeking an unprecedented third.
Regardless of whether you're in Salem or The Plains to watch a teammate, child, friend, or athlete run, this weekend is about the races and chasing that state title. Try and take a step back this weekend and enjoy the atmosphere, watch the race videos, look at the photos, and celebrate all the hard work these athletes have put in to make the state meet.
This weekend and all twelve races are about chasing history, winning a school's first state trophy, or just starting a tradition of making the state meet. It is all about the athletes and their hopes of winning that coveted state title.