Ris, Gilmore lead way in Central Invitational

WOODSTOCK – The future of local racing may have been on display Saturday at the second Central Invitational cross-country meet at the town’s North Street Course.

There, a pair of sophomores made names for themselves as Central took home the boys’ first place trophy and improving Warren County finished runner-up for the girls’ hardware.

Members of 11 teams and some 120 varsity runners competed on the rolling Wetzel Farm just west of town. Team trophies were handed out for the championship squads and the top 15 individuals medaled.

The Falcons’ Thomas Gilmore and the Wildcats’ Jacqui Ris were special in this, the opening meet of their respective second years of racing on the varsity level. They finished fifth and third respectively.

Meanwhile, Skyline finished runner-up on the boys’ side and Strasburg, Stonewall Jackson, and Warren County finished fifth, sixth and eighth respectively on the 3-mile course in hot, humid conditions.

Among the girls, Stonewall Jackson (third), Central (fourth), Strasburg (fifth) and Skyline (eighth) finished among the local team leaders.

Front Royal’s Chelsea Academy earned seventh place among the girls, while the school’s boys finished ninth.

The temperature was in the low 70s when the racers began to line up about 9:30 a.m., but by the time the developmental runners got on the course following the two major races, temperatures rested in the mid-80s.

Clarke County won the girls event, as Skylar Bragg (19:17) took home the Jessica Pumphrey Memorial award. The Eagles’ Ian Doors (16:32) claimed the first-place Jason Long Memorial plaudit. The late Pumphrey and Long were Central runners who passed away in auto and air accidents.

“I was the seventh runner on a seven-person team last year, so I got lucky; I was able to compete as a freshman,” said Ris, who covered the terrain in 19 minutes, 49 seconds.

Paul Ranney has taken over the boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams for the Wildcats, and already local fans can see a difference in the Wildcat program.

Ranney’s daughter, Rebecca, a freshman, finished in 12th place in the girls’ event.

“Coach Ranney has gone above-and-beyond the call of duty for us this season, and for that I’m thankful,” said Warren senior Claire Morrow, a state qualifier in 2014.

Morrow’s time of 19:59.04 put her right behind Ris in the girls’ race, good enough for fourth place.

Other local girls who finished in the top 15 included Central’s Lexi Keller (eighth, 20:50), Strasburg’s Sarah Peer (13th, 21:34) and Stonewall Jackson’s LuLu Funkhouser (14th, 21:38).

On the boys’ side, local contestants from Central, Skyline and Strasburg finished anywhere from fifth to 15th – with the exception of 11th place.

Closely trailing Gilmore (17:21) were David Ricks on Skyline (sixth, 17:23), Strasburg’s Ryan Davis (seventh, 17:26), Central’s Sawyer Lucy-Speidel (eighth, 17:28), Skyline’s Demetry Arnold (ninth, 17:22) and Central’s Wyatt Robinson (10th, 17:32).

“I think the big thing Coach Ranney has done is sit down with us and talk about racing strategies. We did that (Friday) and I think it made a big difference today,” added Morrow.

“This year, our coach is good. He has put so much into it, you can’t help but improve,” said Ris.

“I knew I needed to get out strongly and, in my head, I wanted to do a sub-20-minute race. The big thing for me was to press the hills.”

“The most important factor we tried to stress today was that this – being our first meet – we didn’t want to get out too fast. You know – first race – the adrenaline’s pumping. But we wanted them to have something left for the end,” said coach Ranney.

Such was the case for both Ris and Morrow. The sophomore trailed the senior in fourth place until the mile-and-a-half mark, when she pushed ahead.

“I’m glad I had something left,” Ris said.

“Usually, I just try to put it all out there,” said Gilmore. “I wasn’t specific about what my plan was. I just wanted to run hard and see if I had anything left at the end.”

Gilmore said he was in eighth place among the boys after the first mile “when Central assistant coach (Larry) Bullock told me to pick it up.”

The sophomore was able to pass three participants in the final two miles.

“Thomas Gilmore has been on a mission,” said Central head coach Melissa Wright. “I think all our boys were disappointed about their finish last year, and they have gone out this summer and put the time in to improve. This was a good start for them.”

Wright added that Gilmore sustained an injury at the tail-end of last spring’s outdoor track season, which has served to provide even more of a push, in her estimation.

“One thing about the boys team,” she said, “you don’t have to do a lot to motivate them.”

Skyline coach Mike Tanner said he was pleased with the Hawks’ finish, but is hoping for further improvement.

The Hawks’ Ricks, who also was coming off an off-season injury; Arnold, Christian Madden (17:35) and Tanner Steed (17:45) finished sixth, ninth, 12th and 14th respectively.

Now, the coach said, it’s a matter of the squad’s fifth man pulling closer to that bunch to deduct points and put the Hawks in the best chance to win.

“But we’ll take this for a starter,” Tanner said.

Also happy about the girls’ outcome was Stonewall Jackson coach Mary Clanahan.

The Generals’ girls finished 13 points behind runner-up Warren County. They were four points ahead of Central and 16 tallies in front of Strasburg. Skyline’s girls finished eighth.

Virginia High School League rules specify that participants have at least 20 days of officially organized practices before they may participate in their first meet.

And even though Clanahan has met some of the members of the team on early Saturday mornings since the Aug. 3 start of training, several Generals failed to qualify for this meet because of being out-of-town during a portion of the preseason.

Nonetheless, the entire team traveled here to see Funkhouser, Hayley Gibson (17th, 22:01), J.J. Dellinger (24th, 23:04), Carley Bennett (27th, 23:25), Haley Bennett (28th, 23:44) and others compete.

“We were two points from qualifying for the state meet last year and I think that has festered a little bit with the team over the off-season. We aim to do better this season,” said Clanahan.