By Jeff Nations
Strasburg High School's girls cross country team has made a regular habit of reaching the podium at the state championship meet under coach Jeff Rudy.
The Rams have placed in the top three in the girls competition for four straight years. Strasburg's boys, however, have never done so under Rudy. On Saturday at Great Meadow in The Plains, Rudy hopes that one -- maybe both -- of his teams will take a spot once more on that podium.
"We're really excited to have both the boys and girls team racing at the state meet," Rudy said. "It's a pretty rare event for both teams to be there, but with the future hope that it's something that will become a more common occurrence for the distance program at [Strasburg]."
The Rams will be running in today's Class 2A state meet after qualifying with twin third-place finishes at last week's regional competition. Strasburg isn't the only area school to accomplish that feat -- Warren County got both its boys and girls teams through to the Class 3A state meet this year for the first time ever.
"This is definitely the first time that we've ever had both teams go," Wildcats coach Jeremy Burnworth said. "I think it's the first time since 1995 that the boys have gone."
The Wildcats aren't aiming quite so high in terms of team placement. Burnworth said the boys are rated 12th of 12 teams by the popular high school running web site milestat.com, and Warren County's girls are 10th in the ratings.
"We're going there just to run and maybe make the top 10," Burnworth said of his boys team. "That would definitely be a good goal."
Strasburg is counting on a tight pack to boost its team finish in the 2A meet. In the boys race, Max Middleton leads a group that is short on state meet experience. Only junior Nic Campbell, a two-time state wrestling champion, as run at states before.
"Even though he's only a junior, he's a father figure in a lot of ways," Rudy said of Campbell.
Strasburg is also counting on solid days from Timmy Wallis, who is still bothered by a sore foot, as well as Neelon Davis, Dylan Campbell, Brian Scholten and Ryan Davis.
The Rams don't have a true frontrunner along the lines of past standouts Katlyn Ayers or Kirsten Campbell, although senior Morgan Carter has consistently been the team's top runner this year. On Saturday, Rudy wants to see a close-knit pack of Strasburg runners feeding off each other as they complete the course.
"Our girls team has some good experience, with two seniors Morgan Carter and Madison Orndorff, that will hopefully guide the girls team to success," Rudy said.
Joining them on Saturday for Strasburg are Caroline Miller, Cheyenne Combs, Sarah Peer, Haley Garrett and Rachel Tischler.
Stonewall Jackson didn't qualify for team competition in the Class 2A meet, but the Generals did get senior Ashton Davis and freshman Brandy Webb through regional competition. Coach Mary Clanahan said the two watched a virtual course video online, and walked the layout on Thursday.
Davis, an all-state performer in last year's Group A state meet, is a strong contender to finish in the top 15 and medal once again.
"I would hope so," Clanahan said. "We just want a nice finish to cross country for her."
Warren County's boys earned the sixth and final qualifying spot in the regional meet, thanks in large part to a gutsy effort by top performer Zach Beckner. The sophomore dealt with illness, an burn injury on his leg from a cooking accident and a badly mashed toe just before the race, and it got even worse from there. At the start, Beckner said he was pushed to the ground and trampled. He still managed an 11th-place finish, and Burnworth thinks he has a good shot at earning all-state honors.
"He's doing a lot better," Burnworth said. "The kid's as tough as nails. As long as nothing happens to him in the next couple days ... he just can't catch a break, health-wise."
Warren County will also have Nic Myers, Nathaniel Lund, Erik Stafira, Zack Workman, Michael Mallery and Isaac Shanks running on Saturday.
The Wildcats are counting on a solid day from top runner Rachel Oden in the girls race, and continued improvement by runners like Fiona Sayers and Jacklyn Rankin.
"Fiona, if you look back at last year, that girl's three minutes faster than she was last year," Burnworth said. "I've never been around a runner who improved that much. Jacklyn [Rankin] and her have improved their times by minutes."
Also running for the Wildcats are Claire Morrow, Karley Shanks, Mara Brown and Katie Davis.
Central's girls just missed out in the Class 3A team competition with a seventh-place finish at the regional meet, but did qualify Lexi Keller and Elsa Garcia as individuals. The Falcons also have Ivan Alvarado running in the boys race.
Skyline also placed one runner in the state competition. Luke Cline will represent the Hawks in today's Class 3A meet.
The Class 3A girls state meet is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., followed by the boys race at 11:15 a.m. The Class 2A girls race is set for 11:45 a.m., followed by the boys race at 12:30 p.m.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>