By Greg Brill - email@example.com
WASHINGTON -- Anyone who has followed Clarke County's boys cross country team over the last decade has probably taken the Eagles for granted.
When it came time to run the Bull Run District meet, it was not uncommon for Clarke County to score under 20 points. Last season, the Eagles scored a perfect 15 for their sixth straight district championship.
The setting was the same Wednesday for this season's meet at Blue Rock Inn, but the outcome took a turn. George Mason ran more solidly as a pack this time and had enough at the end to come in with 38 points and edge the runner-up Eagles by 10.
"I'm real bummed out about [losing]," said Clarke County senior Steven Trayer, who still took top individual honors in the race. "When I first heard the news, I was stunned."
There was no shocker to lead off the races. Strasburg's Katlyn Ayers started her process of trying for another postseason three-peat by winning her second straight district championship, again blowing away the field with her time of 19 minutes and 51 seconds.
On a unseasonably warm afternoon, Ayers' time actually was 34 seconds off the mark she ran to win last season. But without much of a push (she won this time by 31 seconds), Ayers found herself out on an island by the first-mile mark.
"It was just hot today, which kind of took a toll on my time, I guess," said Ayers, the defending Group A champ. "I just try to go out strong and maintain [the lead]."
With seven postseason medals already to her credit in the sport, Ayers has grown stronger mentally and physically, according to Strasburg coach Jeff Rudy.
"Before, it was her natural ability," Rudy said. "Now, she's running with her head and her heart."
George Mason's girls made it a team sweep by scoring 21 points to repeat as district champions. Strasburg was second (45 points) and Clarke County third (98).
The Rams (89 points) also took third in the boys to qualify for next Wednesday's Region B meet, to be held at Panorama Farms near Charlottesville.
When George Mason sent its top five across in, respectively, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and 13th in the boys race, Clarke County first-season coach Charles Bowles knew the Eagles were in trouble.
Though Trayer and fellow senior Paul Myer finished one-two, the Eagles did not get another runner across until sophomore Zach Campbell finished in 12th.
"They kept their pack together -- that's what it really came down to," Bowles said. "Their entire team [did], I think."
Trayer, who placed third in last season's district meet, got a nice push from Myer before winning going away (17:02). Trayer, who improved his time by 34 seconds from 2009's race, had mixed feelings after winning his first district title.
"It's good to know that the kid behind you [Myer] is a teammate," Trayer said. "You always think they're right behind you, so I keep on pushing. I knew I had to take the last mile hard because once you get to the top of the last hill, it's downhill from there."
When the Eagles race again, Trayer hopes the team can put things together a little better.
"I think a lot of us didn't race well [Wednesday]," Trayer said. "I didn't feel like I raced very well, [either]. Next week [at the region meet], our three, four, and five [runners] need to be closer to Mason's pack. We'll need to work it. I'm more motivated than ever now."
The Eagles returned only three of their top seven from last season, possibly making George Mason's breakthrough more achievable. Myer (17:29) did get second for the second straight season and Campbell (18:35) was again all-district (top 15). But Clarke County's fourth runner was 44 seconds behind Campbell and another top-five runner fell during the race and finished out of the top 25.
"I know the top guys are a little disappointed," Bowles said. "They've never lost district, actually."
Strasburg ran very well as a group on the girls side. After Ayers, Kirsten Campbell (sixth, 21:17), Sarah Elbon (11th, 22:38), Morgan Carter (13th, 22:46), and Rachel Taylor (14th, 23:17) made sure the Rams had another top-two finish.
"I think we ran strong," Rudy said. "Kirsten Campbell came through. We held Morgan Carter out last week and she came back and ran really, really strong. We're pretty happy and want to keep going and pushing Mason next week and beyond."
The Eagles have had to fight through ailments all season, including to top runner Ally Kuehm. A senior, Kuehm did not run the first month of the season as she recovered from a bout with mononucleosis. Kuehm was back Wednesday, and placed 10th (22:09) to lead Clarke County.
"We're a little banged up," Keuhm said. "We're real happy with [third]. Our goal is to just keep making it through. We used to be a high-rated team, but, you know what, you're not like that every year, and you've got to rebuild.
"I just wanted to make it through because a month ago, I didn't know if I'd be racing."
The Rams had their share of setbacks during the boys race. Mark Colson dropped out at the two-mile mark due to the flu and Dylan Calloway did not make the trip, also due to the flu. Both are top-four runners for Strasburg, but Rudy credited the lower part of his lineup-- Josiah Hammach, Danny Reynolds, Sean Heyer, and Jordan Williams -- for picking up the slack.
"The Bull Run district is tough," Rudy said, "and we get to move on and fight for another day."
Sophomore Anthony Wallis (17:58) led the Rams, coming in fifth overall. Jordan Bowes (10th, 18:20) also made all-district.
"Anthony Wallis, great story, first-year runner, running this strong as a 10th-grader," Rudy said. "I'm really proud of him."