By Brad Fauber
There was a point in time when Warren County cross country coach Jeremy Burnworth was unsure whether Rachel Oden would be able to race for the Wildcats during her senior season.
Oden, who also runs track at Warren County, suffered a hip injury as a result of a separated growth plate prior to the Region II track and field meet last spring, according to Burnworth, and Oden's entire summer was spent resting in the hope that she could return to the Wildcats' cross country team this fall.
Oden's hip healed in time for the fall season, but it wasn't until last Wednesday's home quad meet that Burnworth saw the senior return to true form on the course.
"Last Wednesday was the first meet where I really saw her start to feel it," Burnworth said. "She's looking really strong, her stride's back."
Oden, The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week for the week of Sept. 15-21, won Warren County's four-team meet with a time of 19:58, 10 seconds ahead of teammate Claire Morrow. Oden was one of four Wildcats to finish in the top five, a feat that helped Warren County (24 total points) to an easy win over second-place Strasburg (50).
Oden followed last Wednesday's win with a fifth-place finish in the 55th Annual William and Mary Cross Country Invitational in Williamsburg on Saturday. Oden's time of 21:30.50 was nearly a minute behind Landstown High School's Kayla Fisher, who won the varsity "B" race with a time of 20:32.10.
Burnworth said the course at William and Mary -- which is 3.1 miles in length -- was grassy and uneven, and the 87-degree heat led to some elevated times across the board.
Still, Warren County faired well at the event, finishing second as a team in the 14-team "B" race. In addition to Oden's fifth-place finish, senior Fiona Sayers (eighth, 21:49.50) and Morrow (15th, 22:33.40) also placed in the top-15 for Warren County.
The Wildcats finished with a team total of 94 points, while winner C. Milton Wright High School totaled 49 points.
"When you look at it from the start of the race, you're like 'I'd be happy with top five.' I'm a little surprised with how well the girls team has come together," Burnworth said.
Burnworth said he has been pleased with the emergence of some of the Wildcats' younger runners, especially Morrow -- a sophomore who ran for Warren County last season -- and freshman Karley Shanks.
Much of the success from the younger girls can be attributed to Oden's role as a leader and a role model for Warren County this year, Burnworth said.
"She is the last of that group when we got to [the Group AA state meet] a few years ago. She brings a lot of experience and know-how," said Burnworth. "She's rubbed off on the younger girls. They saw how she works and they took some pointers from her.
"Her leadership has been invaluable."
Oden, who finished second in the Evergreen District meet last season, just missed out on qualifying for the state meet last year at a tough Region II race. Burnworth said Oden has her sights set on qualifying for the Class 3A meet this year, although she still has some work to do in the meantime.
"Right now it's just about getting her back into race shape. I didn't see any ill effects of [the hip injury] ... it's looking really good right now," Burnworth said. "Personally, my goal is to get her to the state meet and medal."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD