The elite girls race for the 2023 MileStat.com XC Invitational will be another special chapter in the meet's history with a large group of runners coming in ready to run fast on the Pole Green Park 5K course in Mechanicsville.
A total of 16 girls in the field have sub 18 minute credentials with many amongst that group on eyes of a first place victory and some even eyes on possibly a sub 17 race which the meet produced a pair last year with Leah Stephens (16:54) and Thais Rolly (16:56) in their battle to the line for course and meet record runs.
This year's race will have in state and out of state contenders at the front pushing the meet.
Three runners beyond the borders of Virginia to watch include Hannah Rae Shaffer of Cardinal Gibbons in North Carolina, Logan St. John Kletter of Mount Lebanon in Pennsylvania, and Evelyn Rogers of Elizabeth Seton in Maryland.
Shaffer was the 36th place finisher in last year's Nike Cross Nationals and also won the New Balance Nationals Outdoor 5K title with a 16:37 performance on the track, so she has already joined the sub 17 club before but not yet in a cross country race. She has already scored two notable wins this season including in Virginia at the Knights Crossing Invitational with a 17:45 victory at Green Hill Park followed by running her cross country best of 17:18 at the adidas XC Challenge.
Last weekend at Great American, Shaffer was the the runner-up in the Race of Champions with a 17:24 performance. Owning track bests of 4:47 in the 1600 and 10:14 in the 3200, Shaffer certainly has the wheels to roll fast on the flat Pole Green Park 5K course used for the MileStat.com Invitational. She will also be looking to lead her Cardinal Gibbons to a repeat team title at the meet, although this will be Shaffer's first time racing in the meet and course.
The UNC commit Logan St. John Kletter is a Pennsylvania state champion indoors in the mile (4:44 PR) and outdoors in the 3200 meter run (10:12 PR) and last weekend opened her cross country season with a 17:19 PR. She will be making her first appearance at the MileStat.com XC Invitational and be in the same race with her future UNC teammates in the Covenant School duo and past Foot Locker National qualifiers Maddie Gardiner (17:13 5K best) and Reese Dalton (17:28), who also have committed to the Tar Heels.
Evelyn Rogers of Elizabeth Seton has been one of the best runners this season within the state of Maryland as shown in winning the Bull Run Invitational two weeks ago on the difficult 3 mile course at Hereford High School in 18:21 and just dropped a 17:43 5K best to finish 10th in the Race of Champions at Great American. She is a sub 5 minute performer on the track for 1600 meters and also ran 10:43 for 3200 meters.
The elite race at the MileStat.com XC Invitational will actually have 4 of the top 5 finishers from last week's Race of Champions at Great American between race runner-up Shaffer, Zoie Lamanna of Jefferson Forest (3rd, 17:26), Bronwyn Parks of Mount Tabor (4th, 17:27), and Kate Loescher of Colonial Forge (5th, 17:35).
Lamanna has the third fastest time in the state of Virginia this season with her performance last Saturday as it just edged out her 17:28 prior personal best from last year's MileStat.com XC Invitational, which makes her the highest returnee from last year's race since both Stephens and Rolly have since graduated. During the track season, Lamanna improved even more to run new personal bests of 4:52 for the full mile and 10:26 for 3200 meters. She is the reigning VHSL class 4A state champion.
Parks and teammate Joiner Evans (17:45 PR) should help the Mount Tabor girls shoot for a top 2 finish at the MileStat.com XC Invitational. Parks has already broken 18 minutes in 3 races this including her most recent PR fourth place showing in the Race of Champions at Great American.
Loescher has made huge improvements from last fall when she finished 28th in the MileStat.com Invite with a time of 18:28. Over the track season, the Colonial Forge distance runner clocked personal bests of 10:46 in the 3200 and 5:02 for 1600 meters. She opened her junior season of cross country winning her first three races at the Hood College Invitational, Great Meadow Invitational, and Patrick Henry Invitational before breaking through with her first sub 18 minute race last Saturday at Great American.
The Covenant School duo of Maddie Gardiner and Reese Dalton have been a mainstay at the MileStat.com XC Invitational it seems like for years and will have one more opportunity now as seniors to race on the course and the loaded meet. Gardiner was runner-up in the 2021 meet with a time of 17:37 and last year ran a second faster at 17:36 and finished 4th in the 2022 race.
Meanwhile, Dalton went 1-2 with Gardiner as eighth graders in the JV race in 2019 then finished 8th in the 2021 elite race with a time of 18:30 before clocking a course best of 17:44 in the 2022 elite race. Gardiner has qualified twice for Foot Locker Nationals in 2021 and 2022, while Dalton qualified in 2021 with her teammate.
Dalton is coming an impressive 17:28 5K victory at Panorama Farms in the VTCA Fall Classic and also went an unheard of sub 18 minute performance at Woodberry Forest earlier in the season. She might be destined for a big race performance this weekend to challenge some of the top contending out-of-state talent racing at Pole Green Park.
The MileStat.com Invite will be the 2023 cross country season debut for Maury's Lily Guinn, who ran remarkable times over the track season unattached including a 10:02 for full two miles and 4:46 for the full mile. A past VHSL Class 5 state champion at 1600 and 3200 meters, Guin is one of the state's all-time fastest at the two mile distance and ready to show what she can do in an elite field at the 5K distance in cross country this weekend. She might be slipping under the radar coming into this one because she her race so sparingly with her high school team and area high school meets.
Alleghany sophomore Kiera Lowman might come from a small school in the rural Southwest corner of the state, but she is ready for the big time this weekend in the elite race fresh off a sub 18 minute performance in West Virginia at the Spartan Invitational in a 17:56 best. She won the small schools race last year at the MileStat.com XC Invite in 18:46 and also won the small schools race at Knights Crossing Invite earlier this season in 18:12, but this year is electing to run up as an individual in the morning elite race.
Jamestown's Kylie Brooks has recorded back to back sub 18 minute races including at the Great American Festival last week with a 20th place finish of 17:58 in the Race of Champions. The sub 11 minute two miler seems to be the top challenger to Zamana for the Class 4 state title this season.
Glen Allen junior Elly Velasquez should be one of the top Richmond Metro area finishers in the race with her 17:57 5K personal best and coming off a strong 17:37 runner-up finish on a short course at Great Meadow in the Octoberfest Invite last weekend. She finished 10th in last year's MileStat.com XC Invitational with her still standing 5K PR.
Bishop O'Connell's Molly Weithman is another top 10 returnee from last year's race when she finished 5th in a time of 17:41. She is the defending VISAA state champion in cross country and broke 11 minutes indoors for 2 miles at the VA Showcase.
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