By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- The cross country season may have just gotten underway this past weekend, but Central coach Melissa Wright knows it's never too early to get an eyeball on the competition.
That's even truer this season, with the Virginia High School League's newly configured classification system dropping the Falcons into 3A East, Conference 28 with a group of schools largely unfamiliar to Central. After Wednesday's Conference 28 mini-meet on Central's home North Street cross country course, the new grouping felt a little less strange to all involved. For the other conference schools attending, getting comfortable on the North Street course is a must. The Conference 28 meet, with regional spots on the line, will be held on this same 2.9 miles of real estate next month.
"I definitely feel like it's an advantage, if you can host the conference championship," Wright said. "We're familiar with this course. Everything's new for everybody in the state, so there's a lot of unknowns. It's kind of nice to have a new tradition of hosting the first [conference meet] here."
On Wednesday, Loudoun Valley showed that the rest of the conference has a bit of catching up to do. The Vikings swept the team competition, winning the boys meet with 41 points and taking the girls race with 34. Loudoun Valley also produced both overall winners, with Drew Hunter scoring the victory in the boys race with a time of 16 minutes, 13 seconds. The Vikings' Carolyn Conley won the girls race in 20:18.18.
Warren County got a runner-up effort from Zachary Beckner in the boys race, as the Wildcats took second with 57 points, followed by Central (84), Skyline (87), William Monroe (101) and John Champe (132).
Beckner's time of 16:50.33 was well ahead of his regional qualifying pace from last year, Warren County coach Jeremy Burnworth said.
"I want to hopefully get low 16s by the end of the season," Beckner said. "The ultimate goal is to get to states this season. I went to regionals last year, and I want to go even further this year."
Other scorers for the Wildcats were Nick Myers (fifth, 17:27.17), Nathaniel Lund (sixth, 17:30.14), Zach Workman (16th, 18:30.90) and Erik Stafira (28th, 19:13.68).
"They're a state caliber team, so if we're even close to them what that shows me is we have a chance to make it to the state meet," Burnworth said of finishing second to Loudoun Valley. "And if we can bridge that gap, I don't see why we can't medal at states this year. I know that's a lot to ask from them, but I really think we're primed to do something for the first time in many years."
Tristian Lucy-Speidel (eighth, 17:53.19) paced the Falcons, who also got scoring efforts from Ryan Freiwald (17th, 18:34.57), Taylor LaFever (18th, 18:35.87), Wyatt Robinson (20th, 18:41.44) and Nick Waldron (21st, 18:49.41).
Skyline's scorers were Luke Cline (seventh, 17:49.04), Justin Haggerty (11th, 18:07.97), Tanner Steed (14th, 18:28.21), Christian Madden (23rd, 18:56.06) and David Ricks (34th, 19:47.96).
"We have a young team," Hawks coach Mike Tanner said. "All the guys that were on our state team have graduated, so this is a young and inexperienced team and I think the more the season goes on we're just going to make leaps and bounds with our times and our improvement.
"It's actually really exciting to go into the season and see all the fresh faces and the new times and the improvement and all that stuff. It's kind of cool. All of our girls that ran today are new. That was their first 5K. And they did well."
Central's girls took second with 59 points, followed by Warren County (66), William Monroe (95) and John Champe (110). Skyline didn't have enough runners to score.
The Falcons' Lexi Keller had the top finish among area runners, clocking 20:40.85 to take fifth.
"It was pretty good until the last mile, then I started to feel it," Keller said. "I think I need just a little bit more practice to get my pacing down, and then I should be OK."
Teammate Heather Landes wasn't far behind Keller, finishing seventh in 21:04.01. Other scorers for Central were Bethany Neri (ninth, 21:25.86), Elsa Garcia (19th, 22:46.43) and Emily Walker (21st, 23:49.64).
Keller was ready to see what the Falcons are up against in their new conference this season.
"There's a lot of good girls and they're really fast, but I think we have a pretty good team, too," Keller said. "I was really excited to run in this."
Warren County got scoring finishes from Fiona Sayers (sixth, 20:55.15), Rachel Oden (eighth, 21:10.11), Claire Morrow (11th, 21:47.43), Jacklyn Rankin (20th, 22:51.95) and Felicity Caldwell (24th, 24:24.20).
Shorthanded Skyline, which had just four girls runners, was led by Celeste Horton (23rd, 24:06.87).
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>