Wildcats, Falcons tops for Conf. 28

By Jim Laise – sports@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK — For Warren County, it was the first time since 1995 that both the girls and the boys qualified for a regional cross-country championship, while Central made it three in a row Wednesday at the North Street course in the Conference 28 meet.

Warren’s girls finished second with 62 points and its boys tabbed third with 73 tallies, while Central’s girls clocked a third place with 70 points and its boys finished second (68).

Team-wise, Loudoun Valley won both the girls and boys meets on the 2.95-mile course under 70 degree temperatures.

Individually, the Vikings’ Ciara Donohue (18 minutes, 34.68 seconds) and Andrew Hunter (15:59.08) won their respective individual meets. Hunter, a sophomore, had run what was then the third best 5K time of any Virginia boys participant prior to this meet.

Warren County graduated two top seniors from last year’s team; so, in a way, head coach Jeremy Burnworth and assistant Michael Waurio were planning on a rebuilding campaign, particularly because they, like Central and Skyline, which also qualified individuals for the regional meet-were jumping in competition from Group AA to Class 3A.

The 3A East Regional takes place in Culpeper Wednesday at 2 p.m.

“Last year, what would be this year’s seniors were our depth, but this year they were our leaders,” said Waurio after the girls’ race had concluded.

Rachel Oden, who finished fifth overall (19:33.84); Fiona Sayers (sixth, 19:41.40) and Claire Morrow (eighth, 19:42.25) formed the nucleus for a Wildcat girls team that finished 33 points behind Valley’s winning aggregate of 29. Several of these girls had run together since they were freshman — in fact, as a first-year member in 2010, Oden was part of the Warren team which finished third in the state.

“My goal this year was to qualify for the regionals by myself, if my team did not qualify. Of course I wanted us to qualify too,” Oden said.

The top three teams in the boys and girls races qualified for the regional, along with the 10 best finishers outside of those teams. Since Oden’s team qualified, it meant that she was going to the race in Culpeper.

Oden, Sayers, Morrow and Jacklyn Rankin (19th, 21:18.75) all set personal bests on this rolling course which was just a touch shorter than the usual 3-mile course of high school meets.

“I think what you saw out of them was that they all ran hard throughout the race and finished strong,” said Burnworth, who was running high school cross country the last time Warren saw both teams qualify for a regional.

“We lost some really good seniors last year, so I think we did better than expected,” said Sayers. “If anything, I think it’s a credit to the team overall. We really communicated this year and picked each other up. If we couldn’t go on one day, we pulled together and moved our workout to another so everybody could run.”

For Oden, who said “my legs felt tired today,” her qualifying marked the capitulation of a year-long recuperation from a problem she had with a slowly maturing growth plate in one of her hips that kept her out part of the spring 2013 track season.

The plate did not fully form until August, when her physician gave her the go-ahead to begin cross-country training. She ran a 19:58.10 at the Warren Invitational; hauled in a 20:24.10 at the Third Battle Invitational and was second overall (20:48) at the Bull Run Championship meet.

Recovering from injury was the story for Warren’s best boy finisher — sophomore Zach Beckner — who ran about 17 seconds behind individual champ Hunter.

Probably the most talented overall runner at this meet, Hunter was the second highest Virginia finisher at the Oatlands Invitational earlier this season. That meet drew about 3,000 runners in multiple classifications from a myriad of states.

But Beckner, also a member of Warren County’s wrestling team, held the lead over Hunter for what he estimated was about two-thirds of the race. It was an effort that both surprised and satisfied him.

“He’s [Hunter] really something, and to do that was pretty good,” he said. “The last time we raced here, he led me by about 250 meters from the outset.”

Beckner, who wrestles at 106 pounds, had not run seriously for about 10 days because he had been suffering from bronchitis. On top of that he suffered a burn on his right hip in a cooking accident at about the same time.

“My leg felt really good out there. In fact, the 10-day layoff probably helped me some because my legs were fresh. I had trouble getting my breath though,” he said.

While qualifying in both the boys and girls races was something new for Warren County, this was the third consecutive time that Central has made it to the regionals, though obviously the first time in Class 3A.

Central coach Melissa Wright credited the jump in competition as to why her boys and girls were swift.

“The competition was strong,” she said. “In your regular meets you’re running to win, but in this one, you’re running to qualify. I’m happy to continue coaching this group for another meet.”

Lexi Keller finished ninth individually (19:36.41), while Else Garcia (20:15.08), Heather Landes (20:33.79) and Bethany Neri (20:39.35) finished 12th through 14th for the Falcons.

Boys-wise, Ivan Alvarado (seventh, 16:38. 45) paced Central, but Taylor LaFever (17:07.78), Zach Zollner (17:09.65) and Tristan Lucy-Speidel (17:10.25) finished 13th through 15th.

“We run in bunches,” said Wright. “What you usually want is to have your group finish within a minute of each other, so we did a good job there.”

Along with Warren County and Central qualifying for the regional, Celeste Horton (25th, 22:20.39), of Skyline will make it to the next round on an individual basis. On the boys side, the Hawks’ Tanner Steed (sixth, 16:37.86), Luke Cline (10th, 16:51.67) and Justin Haggerty (12th, 16:58.16) will fly solo.