By Brian Eller
NOKESVILLE -- A mile into the cross country course at Nokesville Park, there's a winding turn that circles around a set of trees. Running around it provides camouflage for just a few seconds, eventually revealing the rest of the 3.1-mile course.
Heading into Tuesday's Evergreen District meet, that's where Warren County's runners decided they would make their moves, using those few precious seconds to distance themselves from their opponents. And for both girls runner Kayla Gibbons and boys runner Seumas O'Reilly, the strategy worked perfectly. Gibbons and O'Reilly finished first overall in their respective races, as O'Reilly qualified for regionals along with teammate Kyle Sayers, while Gibbons set the pace for a Wildcats unit that captured its first district championship, overtaking a strong Brentsville team to win the title and advance to regionals.
"I know my big objective going in was just to beat the top Brentsville girl," Gibbons said after finishing the race in 18:56, a new personal record. "I actually broke through pretty early around that [first] mile marker and then had to worry about keeping my pace up."
It didn't take long for Gibbons to separate herself from the rest of the pack. As the cluster of runners emerged from the woods early on, Gibbons held a slight advantage over teammate Leanna Eisenman, with the duo already gaining distance between the next runners.
After using the wooded turn to push out in front, Gibbons and the runners disappeared into the woods, only to come back out to begin the home stretch. By then Gibbons and Eisenman were way out in front, with teammates Rachel Oden, Ariel Asher and Tiffany Hatcher not far behind. All five needed to cross before Brentsville could put its top five runners across in order to win the title.
As Gibbons and Eisenman finished first and second, the Tigers too sent their first two runners across, followed by a Fauquier runner and a third Tiger. But before any other Brentsville runner could finish, Warren County's trio of Oden, Asher and Hatcher crossed seventh, eighth and ninth, securing the Wildcats' district championship.
"I told the girls when I get home I would jump around and squeal," Warren County coach Jeremy Burnworth said. "But for now I don't even know what to say. Kayla and Leanna really set the pace for us, and I told Leanna before the race, 'just stay with Kayla' and the rest of our girls, Ariel set a personal record, Rachel dropped 15 seconds off her average and Tiffany fell behind a bit but picked it up in the end. It's just an unreal feeling."
Before Warren County's girls team could even catch its collective breath, O'Reilly was already setting the pace in the boys race, also using that patented wooded curve at the first mile to jump out in front. From then on, it was all a mental race for the senior. Without the benefit of having any competition alongside of him to keep the pressure up,
O'Reilly said all he could do was keep his focus up and make sure the closest runner wasn't gaining any distance.
"It is harder running by yourself," O'Reilly said. "Because when you're with another guy you at least know how fast you need to keep your pace. When you're all alone it's tougher and you really have to make sure you don't let up."
O'Reilly finished in 15:51, while Sayers crossed in eighth place. Both runners will represent Warren County at the Region II meet on Nov. 4.
As for the girls team, its goal of capturing a district championship was reached. Now, according to Gibbons, it's time to take the next step.
"We're ready for regionals," she said. "We're ready to show the region what we can do."