By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Thomas Madden wasn't about to overlook his district rival, not even when he had the lead near the end of the race.
The Skyline sophomore and Handley's Tom Delaney were going back and forth throughout their Northwestern District race on Wednesday at Handley's Kernstown Battlefield course. Once Madden went ahead for good with three-quarters of a mile left, he knew it wasn't over.
"I knew I just had to suck it up and give it everything I had," Madden said. "I was running scared. I knew he was still behind me and he could chase me down. I just tried to run as hard as I could."
Madden was able to pull away down the stretch and win his first district title with a time of 16:09. Madden's first-place finish helped Skyline win the team title, while Handley finished second to claim the other regional berth on the boys side.
Millbrook's Crystal Nelson won the girls race, while Sherando took the team title over second-place Handley.
However, it was Madden and Delaney who had the best race of the day. The two have been strong rivals for two seasons now and they push each other throughout the season.
"He really gave me a tough race," Madden said. "It feels great to win it."
Delaney took the lead for the last time with a little over a mile left, but just couldn't keep it. He finished second with a time of 16:45.
"Once we got to the top of the hill I really took off and passed him," Delaney said. "Then the last three-fourths of a mile I just didn't have that extra gear today."
Nelson was battling with Sherando's Krista DeCeault for most of the race, but the Sherando senior fell off the pace in the last mile. Nelson finished in a time of 19:23, but DeCeault ended up placing fourth. Millbrook's Karly Knechtel (20:33) finished second, while Sherando's Shelby Spangler (22:50) was third.
Nelson and DeCeault are also rivals and no one was more surprised at DeCeault's finish than Nelson.
"I actually thought Krista was behind me the whole way," Nelson said. "I didn't realize she wasn't there. I just knew I had to push through. It was nerve-wracking.
"It feels great to win. I wasn't really expecting to win it. I was hopeful, but I wasn't 100 percent sure."
Knechtel was equally excited for her second-place finish. It was the second straight year Millbrook has finished in the top two spots in the girls race.
"I'm really surprised. I wasn't expecting it at all," Knechtel said. "I was hoping for third or fourth. It's a good feeling, especially since [Millbrook graduate] Tammy [Cheung] and Crystal did it last year."
DeCeault said she didn't have her best race, but she was still happy for her team.
"I think the team did really well," DeCeault said. "I think everybody ran really well today. It's really exciting to be able to win as a team. Hopefully we can all race well next week at regionals."
Amber Hawkins finished fifth in the girls race in her first race of the season. The James Wood sophomore transferred from Central this year and had to sit out most of the season due to the transfer eligibility rule.
"It's been tough having to watch them run all season, but running today makes it all worth it," Hawkins said. "I wanted to at least make the top 10 and I did that. Next week my goal is just to move on to states. I'm just going to try my best."
Handley has a young squad this year with several freshman running in the top five, making their regional berth an even better feeling.
"I think we all did really well today," said Handley junior Cindy Quarles, who finished sixth. "It's really exciting for us to be going to regionals. Hopefully we can make it to states as a team or at least have three or four individuals go to states."
Millbrook's Ryan Farnan (17:18) finished third in the boys race, followed by Skyline's Clay Jones (17:23) and Marshall Eckert (17:33).
The Region II meet will be held Nov. 4 at Kernstown Battlefield. Madden and Delaney could get a repeat of their showdown next week, along with several other top contenders from around the region.
"I know this course pretty well, so that will help," Madden said. "I'm just going to try to do what I usually do. There will be a lot of big names in the race. It will be a tough race, I'm sure of that."