The first major invitational of the 2010 cross country season will be held at the same venue where state champions will be crowned in 12 weeks for Saturday's Great Meadow Invitational. Entries are bit down for this year's meet with the second year in a row being held early on the last week of August, while many school districts have started practices later than usual and enforced stricter mandatory practice requirements before the first competitions of the season. Nonetheless, the teams and individuals present on Saturday will be high quality as an early season measuring stick for many of the state's top ranked. Four top 15 state ranked boys teams, seven top 25 state ranked boys individuals, two top 10 state ranked girls teams, and five top 25 state ranked girls individuals will be racing at the Great Meadow Invite.
The Colonial boys and girls could make it a team sweep as they are the top ranked squads in both fields with the boys ranked #3 in Virginia and the girls sitting currently as the #9 ranked team in the state. Top challengers to the Colonial Forge boys are familar Commonwealth District rivals Riverbend and Mountain View as each school is ranked among the top 10 in the pre-season state rankings with Riverbend at #5 and the defending Group AAA state champions Mountain View at #8. It will be a good early season test for the Colonial Forge squad, which is a serious contender for their first state cross country title this fall. The Gonzaga boys from Washington, DC are a threat to beat all of the Virginia schools for the team title, while Group AA squads Brentsville, John Handley, and Fauquier will be competitive in the meet as well.
Individually for the boys, the Great Meadow Invite should be an exciting and loaded race with seven runners who have earned preseason top 25 rankings led by 2009 Group AA state runner-up Tommy Curtin (pictured left by Frank Locascio) of Loudoun County. VA #4 pre-season ranked Curtin posted times of 15:28 in the 5K and 9:23 in the 3200 as a junior. Last year's Great Meadow Invite was bit of a coming out party for Curtin, who placed fifth in a deep field.
As one of the top returnees from the 2009 race, Curtin will be pressed for the win this year against many of the Northwest Region's best with Colonial Forge, Riverbend, and Mountain View all having several runners each expected to race with the lead pack. Riverbend has 2009 Northwest Region runner-up Shaquon Wilkins along with Ryan Kuhns and Gabe Fisher, while team favorite Colonial Forge has two-time All-State 1600 meter runner David Pennesi and three other teammates who have ran under 9:50 for 3200 meters.
Warren County's Seumas O'Reilly seems to run his best races in the fall season and last year placed second at the Great Meadow Invite in 16:19 before eventually running a 5K personal best of 15:51 during the season. Thomas Delaney of John Handley closed well last cross country season to place third in the Group AA state race behind Curtin and figures to be trailing closely this year as a Region II challenger along with O'Reilly. Cody Snyder of Lee-Davis has produced some stellar times on the track in middle distance races (4:19 1600/2:29 1000), but often forget his All-State cross country performance from a year ago as he looks to have a more standout season this fall than previous years.
The Colonial Forge girls should have their hands full with the defending three-time private school state champion and VA #10 state ranked Bishop O'Connell girls as the private catholic school has faired well at the Great Meadow invitationals in the past against the best public schools. The O'Connell girls might be the slight favorites with their establshed track record of success in cross country, while the Colonial Forge girls are looking to open the season with several runners running PR's after virtually their entire top 7 of girls ran under 12 minutes for the 3200 meters in the spring. Central Region schools Mills Godwin and Lee-Davis are both vying for state meet berths this fall with the depth and pack on the side of the Godwin squad, while Lee-Davis will be front led by Bonny Turnage.
Turnage is one of five top 25 stated ranked individuals as the sophomore last year earned All-State honors in Group AAA and had a personal best 5K time of 18:17. Ranked ahead of her in Saturday's race will be another super sophomore in Hannah Lowery (pictured right by Ryan Kelly) of Stafford, who ran under 11 minutes for 3200 meters and right at 5 minutes flat in the 1600 meter during the track season. Lowery and Turnage are the top returning finishers from the 2009 Great Meadow Invitational, which were strong openers in their high school careers with Lowery finishing 6th place and Turnage placing 13th.
Group A 3200 state champion Natalie Young debuts with her team at Forest Park as the former George Mason High School runner looks to bring her new team along as their new front runner. Young, who ran a 18:15 5K on the track this spring, would have been a major contender for the state cross country title in Group A, but now will be in a more competitive setting in Group AAA and should be pushed more by the increased level of talent. Group AA All-State caliber runners Crystal Nelson of Millbrook and Emma Helsel of Fauquier also are featured this weekend as well as returning Great Meadow Invite top 15 finisher Kayla Gibbons of Warren County and Audrey Houghton, who leads the new Loudoun County school Woodgrove in their first meet in school history.