After slow starts to their seasons, the Woodberry Forest boys and Anneka Wilson of The Potomac School are coming on strong in championship season and ready to defend their state titles from a year ago. The Bishop O'Connell girls are expected to stream roll through another state title with no signs of letting up in the near future with no seniors in their top seven, while Fork Union's Josh Morris appears more than fit to join the small list of sub 16 performers at Woodberry Forest.
Division 1 Boys
The Woodberry Forest boys are the defending state champions and were not looking like the defending state champions until recently. After a slow start to their season, Coach Hale's squad turned it up a notch at the Prep League Championships to defeat two teams which had defeated them decisively during the regular season in Trinity and Collegiate with a team average of 16:21 on Fork Union's 3 mile course. A margin of 13 points separated Woodberry Forest from their two challengers in the Prep League, who will also be their biggest threats to repeat as state champions on their home course on Friday.
Max Anderson and Josh Trudgeon have really stepped up as of late for Woodberry Forest to move itself back into the favorite role to repeat as champions after slow starts themselves individually this season. Trudgeon finished 13th and Anderson placed 16th in last year's state race. Their top runner all season long has been junior Kevin Bennert (pictured right by John Herzog), who has been very competitive in several major invitationals against top public school runners to rank himself among the top 15 runners in the state. Bennert will be one of the top individuals in the race behind heavy favorite Josh Morris of Fork Union.
The Collegiate boys were runners-up to Woodberry Forest by 12 points and along with other Richmond private school Trinity are among the top three squads coming in. All three teams are from the Prep League. Collegiate saw a great race individually from Cabell Willis at the Prep League Championships to nip Woodberry Forest's Bennert for second place behind Morris with both runners timed at 15:28. Also running well this season for Coach Weldon Bradshaw is one of the top underclassmen runners in the meet in sophomore Scott Newton.
Trinity is a vastly improved squad from their 2008 11th place state meet finisher under the guidance of coach Marcus Jones. Trinity had established itself earlier this season as the top team in the private school rankings with victories over defending champion Woodberry Forest and another previous #1 ranked squad in Collegiate. The team took a bit of a setback in the Prep League defeat to Woodberry Forest, but are looking to bounce back in the state race as the best team on paper based off season best 5K times. With seniors Hayden Hodges (16:15 season best) and Ian Trebour (16:36) leading the way followed by a slew of underclassmen who will make Trinity a strong team for years to come, Trinity is a serious contender to win it all.
Josh Morris (pictured left by David Fleenor) is coming off a sensational course record breaking run at the Prep League Championships in which he became the first runner to ever break 15 minutes on the Hardy National 3 mile course with his 14:58 victory. Morris is making his return to the private school state meet after racing last year at Jefferson Forest. Morris started high school at Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg and finished 10th in the 2007 VIS State Championships as a sophomore at LCA. Morris has the opportunity on Friday to join the short list of sub 16 performers on the challenging and hilly Woodberry Forest 5K course.
Division 1 Girls
After a great 2008 race with three stars in Anneka Wilson, Barbara Strehler, and Megan Fitzpatrick, defending champion Wilson was hoping to get a little easier contest this year for the state title but neither Julia Sroba of Collegiate and Hannah Lieberman of Trinity expect to back down easy. Lieberman (pictured right by John Herzog) already has a win this season against Wilson to her credit as the senior has had a breakthrough season which included a significant 18:38 PR race at the MileStat.com Invite in middle of October to defeat many top ranked public school runners.
She suffered an off race the LIS Championships held in conjunction with the Prep League Championships against Collegiate junior Julia Sroba, who stepped up with her best race ever in a 18:20 3 mile victory, which was a 29 second drop from an early season performance on the same Fork Union course. Sroba is also the second returnee from last year's Division I race (6th, 20:20) behind defending champion WIlson.
Wilson's junior year of cross country was a remarkable won which saw her string together a long streak of major invitational wins capped off with a dominant state title victory against two high caliber runners and an All-South finish with her top 24 showing in the seeded race at Foot Locker South. Wilson has not been nearly as dominant this year, but has been running much stronger in the last half of the season as she attempts to repeat as champion and redeem herself from the earlier loss to Lieberman who outkicked at the end in the private school division race at Maymont. Wilson took care of business in her last race at her ISL Conference Championships with a huge 1:05 margin of victory.
Other top individuals in the race include WCAC champion Emily Blagg of Bishop O'Connell, Catholic Schools state champion Lizzie Greene of Paul VI, and TCIS champion Colleen Schrader of Bishop Sullivan.
The Bishop O'Connell girls expect to easily win yet another Division I state title as their depth should be too much for any other squad to overcome between their returnees from last year's state champion squad as well as several nice additions to the lineup. There are no seniors in their top seven, so another title this year should be followed by another in 2010. Sophomore Emily Blagg and Devin Nihill are the team's two front runners as Blagg is expected to be a top five finisher after winning the WCAC individual title two weeks ago. No team in the field has more than four runners with season best 5K times under 21 minutes, but Bishop O'Connel has a total of seven girls who have went under the time.
The drama in the team standings will be in the places following Bishop O'Connell. The St. Catherine's girls were runners-up to Bishop O'Connell in the 2008 state race by over 60 points, but were nearly 30 points ahead of third place. The team was defeated earlier in the season by Norfolk Academy on their home course in Norfolk, but St. Catherine's did run short handed without #1 runner Mamie Robertson. Robertson led St. Catherine's to the LIS title last week by an 18 point margin over Collegiate with a team average of 19:48 on the three mile course.
Norfolk Academy and Paul VI are the next best as both recently have competed on the Newport News Park 5K but in separate races. The Paul VI girls averaged 20:41 at the Catholic Schools State Championships on October 27th in a blow out win, while the Norfolk Academy girls averaged 20:52 on the same course on November 5th in a TCIS Championships victory.
Division 2 Boys
It is unfortunate that Michael Bailey (pictured right by Tim O'Dowd) of Greenbrier Christian will be racing in Division 2 as he would likely have been the toughest challenger for Josh Morris of Fork Union in Division 1, but Bailey certainly is in good position to easily claim her first state title in only his second year of running. The former baseball player has had a stellar fall of racing turning in several sub 16 minute performances and invitational victories with a season best 5K time of 15:39. Bailey is the #2 ranked runner among all private school runners behind Morris. In a Division 2 field without another runner who has broken 17 minutes for the 5K this season, Bailey's opponent will be the finish line clock as he will try to match up the top runners including Morris from the Division 1 race as Bailey will push the pace in a solo effort.
After the TCIS champion Bailey, Van Lewen of Broadwater might be the next best runner in Division 2 after recently winning the Metro Conference title with ease. After running in the mid 17's for most of the season, the junior Lewen dropped his time down to 17:07 in an October 31st meet at Norfolk Academy.
17 points separated second place Peninsula Catholic and third place Roanoke Catholic at the Catholic Schools State Meet last month. The Roanoke Catholic boys are hoping to close that gap along with Norfolk Christian who finished 15 points behind Peninsula Catholic in the more recent TCIS Championships. Peninsula Catholic won a tightly contested TCIS meet with 15 points separating the top four teams as Division 2 school Norfolk Christian placed fourth. Peninsula Catholic averaged 17:36 as a team at the Catholic School State Meet then improved their team average to 17:26 at the TCIS Championships. Roanoke Catholic boys are the returning Division 2 champions and led by one of the top individuals in senior Douglas Beach.
Division 2 Girls
Dalton Kuhar (pictured left by David Fleenor) is the defending race champion, but the Fuqua School senior will be in the underdog role against a talented young eighth grader in Madison Strickland of Denbigh Baptist, who has one of the faster 5K times among all private school runners in 2009 with her 19:06 performance from a Norfolk Academy meet. Strickland also won her second straight Metro Conference title recently by a wide margin.
Kuhar has raced very sparingly in major meets this season with her last major race occurring in a 21:20 performance at the Albemarle Invitational in early October. She won last year's race in a personal best time of 20:45, which is a remarkable feat to run a personal best on the difficult course found at Woodberry Forest.
Other top individuals include Metro Conference runner-up Emily Dinning of Stonebridge School, Norfolk Christian sophomore Bethany Barclay, and Covenant freshmen Alicia Fox. DInning could make it a 1-2 finish for the Metro Conference behind Strickland as she has a solid season best time of 19:46.
The Peninsula Catholic girls move down to Division 2 this year from Division 1 and the squad which is annually a top three contending team in Division 1 will look to claim the title in their first year competing within Division 2. After a third place finish at the Catholic Schools State Meet and second place finish at the TCIS Championships, the Peninsula Catholic girls are within reach to become state champions with a first place finish on Friday. Peninsula Catholic has not had a true front runner in years and seems to always rely on a pack and this year's team is no different as they have three runners in Kristy Mlynczak, Alex Georgi, and Collen Thom who aim to finish among the top 15 places individually.
Lots of unknown with the other squads and who will fill the remaining top three. St. Anne's-Belfield and Covenant tied with one another for fourth and fifth place finishes in the competitive LIS Championships and saw some drops in their runner's times albeit on a three mile course at Fork Union. Denbigh Baptist girls ran strong in a team victory at the Metro Conference Championships, while Nansemond-Suffolk girls have posted times this season which match up within striking distance of Peninsula Catholic.