Strasburg sophomore Katlyn Ayers (pictured right by Tom Hoerner) entered this season as the third best returning runner in Group A behind defending state champion and course record holder Megan Marsico of Glenvar and outdoor state 3200 champion Natalie Young of George Mason. Well the misfortune of others turned into on opening for Ayers. Marsico never raced this season due to injury and Young's season was cut short fast after suffering an injury following an opening win at the Chancellor Invitational. With none of last year's champions ahead of her to chase after, Ayers looked to score a runaway first state title on Saturday at Great Meadow. She had done nothing but win all her previous races this season fall albeit she had not raced often against top Group AAA or Group AA competition.
With a 5:49 first mile and 12:08 2 mile split, Ayers stormed out to a huge lead early on and kept distancing herself from a field with no real challengers for the rising distance star from Strasburg High School. Ayers finished in a time of 19:03, which put her 45 seconds ahead of state runner-up Clare Moretz of Madison County (19:48). Ayers was 22 seconds faster than fourth place finish in the state race last year as a freshmen. Her performance was the 25th fastest on the day, but certainly if Ayers was given the opportunity to race with more competition, she may have posted a much faster time. This is the only season which Ayers currently runs as she competes in other sports during the winter (basketball) and spring (softball) at Strasburg, but now is starting to consider doing track in the spring after celebrating a state title. She has no plans to compete in the post-season at Foot Locker South or Nike Cross later this month, but intends on extending her season next year as a junior.
Photo by Brandon Miles
The George Mason girls were repeat Group A state team champions and despite losing the services of their top runner Natalie Young early in the season due to injury, their superior depth was too much for any team in Group A to knock them off first place on the podium. With a 21:32 team average and the tightest top 5 spread in the race at 1:32, George Mason compiled a team score of 62 points to finish over 30 points ahead of their top challengers. George Mason coach Julie Bravin had two All-State performers in sophomore Eva Estrada (3rd, 20:09) and junior Mollie Breen (11th, 20:52) with the squad's remaining top five finishing among the top 25. Not a single senior and only one junior in Breen is found on George Mason's top seven to make them overwhelming favorites to win a third straight title next fall.
It was a tight battle for second place between Region B runner-up Strasburg and Region C champions Radford as despite a huge 4:24 spread for their top five, Strasburg was able to hold off a much tighter packed Radford squad (1:43 spread) by three points behind individual champion Ayers. Although Strasburg's fifth runner was well over 23 minutes, a solid third and fourth runner against Radford helped put them over the top to take second place in the team standings. It was big one year jump for a Strasburg squad which failed to qualify for the state meet last fall out of Region B, which had three underclassmen leading their team with top 20 finishes on Saturday.
Radford finished with an almost identical same score as last year's state meet (98) with another third place showing. Kaitlin Smith (8th, 20:49) and Amber Thompson (9th, 20:50) did all they could for their up front in trying to move up another spot into second place with top 10 finishes from both individuals.
It was the first year in many years that Clarke County has not found itself on the podium after winning four straight state titles from 2004 to 2007 and finishing runner-up to George Mason last year. Clarke County finished a distant fourth from the podium with a team score of 136 points.
Many of last year's top 15 finishers found their way into the top 15 once again in 2009 with eight repeat All-State finishers. Madison County's Claire Moretz (pictured left by Brandon Miles) was six places better than 2008 with her runner-up performance, but only able to run 3 seconds faster in the more adverse course conditions. Despite being the first race of the day before course conditions really detoriated, only Ayers and Moretz broke 20 minutes compared to the 11 runners who ran under the time in last year's race. Moretz is also the defending Group A state champion at 1600 meters and will looking to repeat this year, but will find intense competition in the spring if Marsico and Young are able to return to top form and Ayers decides to run track. The outdoor track season could very exciting and competitive for Group A girls if all the state champions are healthy and fit.