By Jeff Nations
THE PLAINS -- Strasburg High School sophomore Max Middleton took his place among the top 15 runners in Class 2A on Saturday at Great Meadow.
Middleton had just turned in a 12th-place effort for the Rams, good enough to earn one of those coveted podium spots and a "very fast" time for the Strasburg runner.
Middleton was glad to be up there on that podium, but he was mostly wishing his teammates were there with him Saturday.
That was one goal the Rams couldn't quite attain on Saturday in the Class 2A cross country state championships. Strasburg's boys just missed out on a top-three finish with a fourth-place effort, and the Rams' girls weren't far off with a fifth-place finish.
Middleton wasn't the only area all-state performer on Saturday. In the girls 2A meet, Stonewall Jackson senior Ashton Davis repeated as an all-state runner by taking 14th in 20 minutes, 8 seconds. Davis and teammate Brandy Webb (23rd, 20:53) both had great days running as individuals for the Generals.
"With the division change, it was more about time," said Davis, who finished fourth in the Group A state meet last year. "When you have different competition, you can't really base it on [finish.]. You have to work with you time."
Stonewall Jackson coach Mary Clanahan knew the competition, mainly in the form of powerhouse Maggie Walker, would be much stiffer this year. Sure enough, Maggie Walker dominated the field to win the state championship with 23 combined points. The Dragons placed all seven of their runners in the top-15 to earn all-state honors.
"That was her goal this year, to finish up there in the top 15," Clanahan said. "She finished last year in fourth, but we knew Maggie Walker was coming in with a phenomenal team. She cracked them again this week."
Even though her time Saturday was better than last year's state meet effort, Davis thought she could have done even better on a foggy morning at Great Meadow.
"I was focused and I felt really fast when I started, and then I just kind of died because we've been working a lot with speed this week," Davis said. "I guess my endurance just kind of went down."
Middleton didn't have any complaints after finishing in 16:51.
"I'm real happy that I placed," Middleton said. "It's my first time being in states. It was a really nice day for running. The course is awesome. It's impossible to get lost -- flat, most of it, one or two hills. It's great."
Rams coach Jeff Rudy was happy to see Middleton come up with one of his best races when it mattered most.
"Good day for Max," Rudy said. "We were hoping for good results, and it went well today."
Other scorers for Strasburg, which tallied 135 points, included Nic Campbell (19th, 17:17), Dylan Campbell (29th, 17:45), Timmy Wallis (35th, 17:50) and Ryan Davis (54th, 18:14).
Maggie Walker also won the boys meet with 21 points, well ahead of runner-up George Mason (118).
"The exciting news for the boys is that we bring everybody back except for Timmy Wallis, who is a senior," Rudy said. "Next year with a little more race experience and a little bit more training, we expect really big things from the boys."
Senior Morgan Carter led the Rams in the girls meet with a 20th-place finish in 20:39. Other scorers for Strasburg were Caroline Miller (34th, 21:21), Cheyanne Combs (42nd, 21:44), Sarah Peer (46th, 21:52) and Madison Orndorff (47th, 21:54).
"The times were where we wanted them to be," Rudy said. "It's just that the competition's really strong. Morgan did another great job running the final race of her high school career to lead us to a fifth-place finish."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>