By Jerry Holsworth -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- With the first signs of fall evident Thursday at the Kernstown Battlefield, Millbrook and Clarke County showed why they are the premier area cross country teams at the 35th Annual Judges Classic.
"I think the meet went great," Handley boy's coach Mark Stickley said. "It was a beautiful day, and the weather was perfect. It's a challenging course, and we had a great turnout for a meet in the middle of the week."
Led by top-10 finishes by Tammy Cheung and Crystal Nelson, the Pioneers took both the individual and team girls titles at the meet, defeating Jefferson County (WV) by a single point 82-83.
"We're very excited with our girls," Millbrook coach Greg West said. "They ran a beautiful race today. A success like this early in the season is something that can't hurt down the road. We'll just try to build on this as the season progresses."
Despite losing several key runners to graduation, the Eagles finished second in the boys competition, and eighth in the girls.
With perennial all-state runners Ben Veilleux and Chris York lost to graduation for the Eagles, the second-place finish behind Fairfax (91-109) was a pleasant surprise.
"That was a brilliant performance by our boys," Clarke County coach Nancy Specht said. "We were coming off losses to both Loudoun County and Skyline, and lost two of the best runners in Clarke County history to graduation. Our guys packed together splendidly."
Chueng, a two-time Group AA All-State performer, finished first overall in the girl's race with a time of 19:31. Nelson wasn't far behind, finishing sixth (20:11).
"This feels really good," Chueng said. "I'm very happy about how the team finished too. My strategy was simple. I decided to come out here and run as hard as I could, and see what happened."
Karly Knechtel (15th, 21:06), and Yesenia Ruiz (28th, 21:55) also finished in the top 30 for the Pioneers.
"Tammy has been all-state for the last two years so, I don't think that her race was a surprise to anyone," West said. "She was second last week at the Chancellor Invitational against triple-A competition."
Clarke County boys took second without a single runner in the top 10. Clarke County, however, had five runners who finished between 15th and 28th. Adam Owens led the way (15th, 17:33), followed by Ilia Donner (20th, 17:44), Paul Myer (21st, 17:44), and Harley Biddle-Snead (28th, 17:50).
Handley also had strong finishes in both the boys and girls competition. The Judges were fourth in the boys race with 126 points, and the girls finished fifth with a score of 145.
"We were fourth with the tiebreaker against Fauquier," Stickley said. "With this type of competition and the difficulty of this course, that says a lot about how well our guys performed. We're a very young group, and we had a lot of personal bests today. This was just an excellent performance."
Tom Delaney was the top performer for the Judges, finishing fourth with a time of 16:43. Britani Myers finished fourth (19:53) to lead the Handley girls.
"I thought that we did really well for our second meet of the year," Handley girls coach Emily Putt said. "This type of finish really helps, but our goal is to peak seven weeks from now. We've still got some building to do, but I'm very confident we'll get there."
James Wood, led by a 14th place finish by David Pugh (17:29) finished seventh in the boys competition with 168 points. The James Wood girls also finished seventh. Rachel Carson was the top finisher for James Wood (16th, 21:06).