By Jeff Nations
THE PLAINS -- Jeff Rudy's day just kept getting better and better at Great Meadow on Saturday.
Rudy, Strasburg's cross country coach, watched his girls squad steadily stream across the finish line at Saturday's Group A state championship meet -- senior Kirsten Campbell was first across for the Rams, Sarah Elbon 10 seconds later, Morgan Carter two seconds after her, then another five seconds to Madison Orndorff before one final 22-second gap to complete the scoring with senior Rachel Taylor.
The Rams took third overall, totaling 114 points to trail only Group A girls state champion Wilson Memorial (58 points) and runner-up George Mason (84). The third-place effort capped what has been a remarkable stretch of consistency for the Rams' three seniors -- Campbell, Elbon and Taylor -- who have been a part of four straight Strasburg teams to finish among the state's top three.
"Hitting the podium all four years was probably a dream that any runner would wish to have, so to finish up their careers on such a high level is special," Rudy said. "To hoist a trophy at the state meet at Great Meadow is quite an accomplishment."
Strasburg's boys didn't get the chance to compete for a team trophy, having missed out on qualifying at last week's Region B meet. But for a best-case scenario, the Rams didn't fare too badly as both individual qualifiers Anthony Wallis (11th, 16:54) and Mark Colson (14th, 16:57) earned all-state honors as top-15 finishers.
"I guess out of the ashes of a disappointing regional meet and not making it to states, two fantastic performances by seniors Anthony Wallis and Mark Colson," Rudy said. "I was really proud to see them get all-state honors and finish their high school careers among some of the best runners in the state."
Rudy wasn't the only coach having a good time at Saturday's state championship. Count Stonewall Jackson's Mary Clanahan among that group, as well, after she watched Generals junior Ashton Davis score a breakout performance in the girls Group A meet. Davis, in just her first year competing in cross country, was fourth overall in 20:02.
"I was going for seventh," Davis said. "So it's really a surprise. I was trying to get under 19, but I got right at 20."
Davis, who finished as runner-up in the Shenandoah District meet, barely qualified for state competition after falling off to a 15th-place finish in last week's Region B meet.
"I guess everyone has their off days, and I've been training really hard this week," Davis said. "I've been training every day, trying to get everything fixed up for today and it paid off."
Clanahan said although Davis was a newcomer to the state cross country meet, her experience last year at the Group A state track and field championships (Davis finished fourth in the 400-meter run) was good preparation for the competition level.
"She's mentally there," Clanahan said. "She placed fourth in the state track meet in the 400, so she knows what state competition is all about.
"She finished second in the district and she's just been coming on and coming on. Regionals was just kind of an off meet for her. We expected her to be up in the top 15. This week we just kind of changed up the workout a little bit and backed off a little bit."
It was far from a great day at Great Meadow for Skyline's Thomas Madden, the defending Group AA state champion who slipped to seventh overall (16:07) after running at or near the front for much of the race. It appeared to simply be an off day at the worst time for the senior, who led the race after the first mile with a fast 4:44 and was still second to eventual state champion Nick Link of Blacksburg after the second mile.
Central, the only area school to qualify both boys and girls teams for competition, also had a less-than-perfect day. The Falcons, hopeful of finishing among the top three or four in both races, managed a sixth-place finish in the boys competition (172) and seventh in the girls (168).
"We were looking for our best race today," Central coach Melissa Wright said. "I think the girls ran OK. Some of them have been fighting some illness, so I think that took its toll on us today. We got some great efforts.
"The boys ran solid, like they normally do -- it looked like they closed the gap between one through five. They ran a good race, but they needed something a little extra today at states."
Strasburg's girls had that collective something extra on Saturday. Campbell, whose 11th-place finish (20:31) netted an all-state honor, thought her race wasn't the best and was glad her teammates picked her up.
"It's exciting," Campbell said. "I didn't do as well as I anticipated, but I'm still happy with my place. Everyone has an off day, and I guess today was my day.
"Training in cooler weather and then coming to a race where you're not entirely ready for the heat, it does have somewhat of an impact on your body and your performance, but I don't think that was entirely what happened to me today."
Elbon (24th, 21:01), Carter (26th, 21:09), Orndorff (34th, 21:24) and Taylor (61st, 22:34) had the scoring finishes for the Rams, but teammates Sarah Peer (73rd, 22:53) and Emily Walker (98th, 23:54) ran well enough to help if any of the top five had faltered on Saturday.
"I think we had a lot of team running in the back, so that was really helpful," Campbell said. "We had goals for today and we met those goals.
"We were very happy. Our goal was to make the podium today, so everything worked out the way it was supposed to and we're happy about everything today."
Radford won the Group A boys state title with 69 points, followed by Parry McCluer (76) and George Mason (88).
Central senior Tony Whetzel was 29th overall in 17:38. Other finishers for the Falcons were Jason Ruckman (35th, 17:45), Ryan Freiwald (50th, 18:16), Skylar Wolf (52nd, 18:17), Tristan Speidel (64th, 18:30), Nick Waldron (67th, 18:30) and Taylor LaFever (76th, 18:48).
In the girls race, finishers for the Falcons were Lexi Keller (19th, 20:52), Heather Landes (45th, 21:54), Elsa Garcia (50th, 22:08), Katie Ritenour (54th, 22:24), Bethany Neri (59th, 22:31), Chelsea Pizzuto (88th, 23:21) and Maddie Ritenour (102nd, 24;06). Wilson Memorial's Hannah Rose won her second straight individual state championship in the Group A girls race.
In Group AA, Warren County's Kayla Gibbons was 26th overall in the girls race after finishing in 19:48. Hidden Valley's Carolyn Bethel won the championship in 18:11, and Blacksburg took the girls title. In the Group AA boys race, Sherando's James Reese was 48th (16:56). Blacksburg won the boys state championship.
-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at (304) 465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org