Stop #18 of our XC practice tour took us out to Roanoke, Virginia to Hidden Valley High School, which has had one of the top girls programs in the state over the last handful of the years and a boys' squad which qualified for the state meet for the first time since 2007 last fall. Both teams return a strong core of last year's top 7 state meet runners with the Hidden Valley girls graduating only one, albeit a great one in Carolyn Bethel, while adding another certain immediate contributor from the track team in sophomore Hailey Singleton.
Last year's Hidden Valley girls squad saw their streak of 4 straight podium finishes from 2008-2011 (2 state titles, 2 state runners-up) snapped as they finished only 1 point from third place and 2 points from second place in the Group AA state race at Great Meadow. The team lacks a true front runner, which might benefit the squad and being a better pack running team and stronger on the back end of their top five than in recent seasons. A lot of state meet experience for a squad that figures to be lead in the #1 runner position by Helena Harding (11:36 3200, 19:14 5K), while several other girls have competed individual or on relays during the track season. Projecting first-time cross country runner Singleton to run at least in the 20 minute range if not faster this fall, Hidden Valley has six girls who have ran 20 minute range or faster in the 5K with Harding, Singleton, Ali Sharpe (20:08), Carla Weidner (20:23), Heather Mwitanti (20:42), and Leslie Weidner (20:45). In the Group 3A classification for girls this fall, there appears to be three of the same traditional powers from the former Group AA classification between Blacksburg, Hidden Valley, and Western Albemarle as the strongest pre-season contenders for those top 3 podium spots this November at Great Meadow.
The Hidden Valley boys return four of their better runners from the 2012 Group AA 6th place squad in Matthew Camilletti, Noah Long, Sam LeHardy, and Eli Harding and have serious aspirations with a junior-dominated group to compete for one of the three podium positions in the Group 3A classification. Camilletti was the team's top runner last fall and boasts a 5K best time of 16:30, but did not run track, which has allowed others to emerge to lead workouts for the squad including Noah Long (4:40 1600/10:03 3200) and Sam LeHardy (4:40 1600/10:12 3200), while Eli Harding seems to thrive more in cross country than in track as a returning sub 17 minute 5K runner. Long is the only senior among the top 4 runners with a strong junior core to build around for another year in Camilletti, LeHardy, and Harding. Their #5 runner situation is still unresolved, but there is no doubt that Coach King can fix that problem by championship season like he has done in recent seasons with the girls' teams. A state podium finish would be a first and monument moment for the boys' program, which is trying to follow and create the same tradition of success as their female counterparts. They will need to pick off at least one of three formidable squads entering this season between Blacksburg, Lafayette, and Western Albemarle.
Their workout on Thursday in the busy of a tough training which will finish with them racing at Fork Union Invitational likely in training shoes on Saturday featured a 4x1000 meter repeat session with runners expected to drop around 5 seconds on each repeat until the last one when they were allowed to switch into their "fast shoes". The top group of boys and girls then added on 3-4 hill repeats on a 200 meter long hill, which is found on their Clash With The Titans meet course (to be held in three weekends on September 21st). The recovery process is a big deal to Coach King and his athletes as they started to look ahead and prepare for their next hard day getting a heavy dose of electrolytes in their season with a more concentrated syrup version of Gatorade followed by an icebath.