By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- With the Stonewall Jackson Invitational looming just over the horizon, it would've been understandable if Central's cross country team approached Wednesday's tri-meet at Strasburg as a tune-up for this weekend.
But for the Falcons, there are no "tune-ups."
"We approach every meet as a race day and we come out here competitive ... and that's how I want my kids to be trained," Falcons coach Melissa Wright said.
That mentality was on display on Wednesday, as Central swept both the girls and boys events, beating out fellow Bull Run District members Strasburg and Madison County.
The Falcons won the girls event with a five-runner total of 27 points, followed by Strasburg (45) and Madison County (48). In the boys race, Central tallied 31 points, again followed by Strasburg (36) and Madison County (53).
Sophomore Lexi Keller led Central's girls on Wednesday, finishing in second place with a time of 21:35. Keller led for the first mile of the race before Madison County's Katie Berry closed the gap. The two emerged from the woods stride for stride with a little less than a mile remaining, but Berry was able to create some distance over the final third of the race.
Berry won the girls race with a time of 21:09.
"I was in first for quite a bit and I was really hoping to keep that," Keller said. "I ended up second, but I was happy with it. I just lost my pace."
Teammates Elsa Garcia (22:09) and Bethany Neri (22:26) followed behind Keller for third and fourth, respectively, giving Central three runners in the top five, and Heather Landes came in seventh with a time of 22:53. Senior Emily Walker (11th, 23:32) rounded out the scoring for the Falcons.
"I thought Elsa had a tremendous day. She ran a very solid race," Wright said. "Bethany Neri, she's just such a hard worker and she continues improving. Those top three or four girls had great days."
Strasburg, which lost a lot of talent from its girls squad to graduation, was led by sophomore Sarah Peer, who finished sixth with a time of 22:53. Peer was quickly followed by three teammates, as freshman Caroline Miller (22:55), junior Haley Garrett (22:57) and junior Rachel Tischler (23:09) finished eighth, ninth and10th, respectively.
Junior Cheyanne Combs finished 12th with a time of 23:36 to cap the scoring for the Rams.
"It's exciting to see the girls. It's a new team, we lost a lot of great people ... seeing these new faces step up and be a part of the program and be a part of our distant family is really enjoyable to see," Rams coach Jeff Rudy said.
Rudy said the Rams were using Wednesday's race as a way to prepare for Saturday, but that didn't stop Strasburg from taking the first two places in the boys' race.
Sophomore Max Middleton crossed the finish line first for Strasburg, finishing the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes. Teammate Timothy Wallis followed shortly after with a time of 18:12, finishing just ahead of Central's Tristan Lucy-Speidel (18:13) and Ivan Alvardo (18:14).
"[Middleton] is running extremely well," Rudy said. "We still have four or five weeks before the championship season begins, so we just want to sort of keep the reins on our horses, so to speak, and keep things in perspective and know where the important races are -- invitationals and championship season."
Central had five runners place in the top 10 of the boys race, as Zackery Zollner (seventh, 18:55), Taylor LaFever (eighth, 18:59) and Ryan Freiwald (ninth, 19:03) finished shortly after Speidel and Alvardo.
With Wednesday's meet now out of the way, the Falcons can now turn their attention to Saturday's race at New Market Battlefield, an event that Wright said will consist of around 20 teams.
"My kids are super pumped about it. It's a tough course but many of them like it, and they seem to do well," Wright said. "We hope to be very competitive."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD