Athlete of the Week: Couillard continues Warriors’ string of success at Stonewall Invitational

Olivia Couillard

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando High School sophomore Olivia Couillard said she likes “the feel” of the Stonewall Jackson Invitational cross country meet held each year at the New Market Battlefield. It’s a sentiment likely shared by her teammates.

For the third straight year the Warriors’ girls team took home the top honors in the event held last Saturday, and this season it was the sophomore Couillard who spearheaded that victory, as she crossed the finish line in second place with a time of 21:19 on the 5k course.

“The course, it’s not easy. Like it’s got a lot of hills but we train a lot for that so I feel like since we train so hard with hills and stuff the course seems better for us,” said Couillard, who finished sixth overall in the same race last season. “And the competition, like there’s a lot, but it’s kind of like good competition, like we can race them really well.”

Competing in a field that included 120 girls (44 in the “Blue” division designated for schools of a Virginia High School League classification of 3A or higher), Couillard – The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for Sept. 19-25 – demonstrated some of the growth she’s experienced as a runner since joining the high school ranks last season.

It began with her handling of what Sherando head coach Jamie McCarty called a “confusing” bit of weather that presented temperatures higher than most were expecting on Saturday morning.

“For her to be able to kind of adapt to that was important,” McCarty said. “She’s had some races in the past where when it’s been hot she’s struggled but I think that’s something that she’s worked to mentally make herself a little bit more prepared for things like that.”

Couillard stuck with her willingness to be patient at the outset of the race on Saturday. McCarty said the sophomore was in fifth or sixth place as far into the race as the first mile and kept a steady rhythm throughout, putting Couillard in a prime position to contend for the top spot. Only Fairfax’s Jordyn Salow (21:04) ran a faster time among female competitors.

“I normally like to start a little slower than my other teammates, like Paige (Conner) and Stella (Williams),” Couillard said. “I like to kind of stay behind them the first half-mile then kind of surge and really pick up the pace with them because they’ll go with me when I’m trying to surge.”

Conner ended up finishing eighth for Sherando, while Williams followed in 11th, Katie Sommerfeld 12th, Hannah Lothrop 16th and Gillian Liedke 17th.

The Warriors (49), who feature three sophomores (Couillard, Williams and Sommerfeld) and a junior (Conner) in their top six (sophomore Camryn Ubert, last year’s Stonewall Invitational champ, has been battling injuries), beat Blue division runner-up Broad Run by 11 points for the team championship a week after placing second in the 18-team Hood College Invitational.

“We’re really proud,” McCarty said. “Obviously we kind of didn’t know what to expect coming in with some people. We’ve had four races and Olivia’s been our one for two and Stella’s been our one for two. We haven’t really had that one dominant person that we had last year.

“We feel really good for our first four girls, and our two seniors are doing a solid job at five and six but we’re gonna have to improve. We saw the results from this past weekend, you know, and Woodgrove and Handley and Millbrook all ran really well up in Pennsylvania, so it’s gonna be a dogfight on Oct. 26 (at the Conference 21 West meet). We fully expect that.”

Much like the Warriors as a group, Couillard has enjoyed increasing success in Sherando’s four major meets so far this season. After placing 27th at the Chancellor High School Invitational in her first cross country meet of 2016, Couillard was 14th out of 212 girls at the Knights Crossing Invitational and 6th out of 163 runners at the Hood College Invitational.

“I think you’re just seeing the fruits of a really good summer,” McCarty said. “She had a good summer. She put in her mileage, she did all the other stuff that we’ve been working on. … I think this year you’re seeing that there’s a little more consistency and just overall better strength and understanding of what high school’s kind of like when you’re racing and training.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or