Trio of Warriors qualify for meet

Sherando's Hayden Williams leads this pack of runners during the Conference 21 cross country match Wednesday at Kernstown. Williams placed 14th in the event. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – In what was an otherwise disappointing day for Sherando High School’s cross country teams at the Conference 21 West championships Wednesday afternoon at the Kernstown Battlefield, the Williams siblings had something to celebrate.

Warriors sophomore Stella Williams placed fourth in the girls race to lead all Sherando runners in the meet, while her older brother, senior Hayden Williams, placed 14th in the boys event. Both runners, plus junior Paige Conner – who finished 15th in the girls championship race – advanced to next Wednesday’s Region 4A West championships to be held at the same location.

Stella Williams completed the rolling course, which requires runners to tackle a lengthy incline off the starting line and again just before the race’s halfway mark, in a time of 20 minutes, 23 seconds.

“I felt pretty good,” Stella said. “I surprised myself a lot because I haven’t raced really well these past meets and I was just really excited for this because we like hills. Our team trains on them a lot.”

As she approached the first mile, Stella lurked just outside of the top 10 and held that same position as runners began their second trek up the approximately 800-foot long incline that marks the race’s start. After cresting the hill, she pushed her way into the top five over the final mile.

Sherando's Stella Williams, right, runs by Millbrook's Emily Muldowney, left, in the last 100 yards during the Conference 21 Cross Country match Wednesday in Kernstown. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I started to just really think in my mind like, ‘I can do this. I’ve been training all season for this.’ I just lowered my arms and just started going and I passed a bunch of girls,” Stella Williams said.

“I was just hoping to get top 15. I couldn’t believe I got fourth. It was just crazy.”

The top 15 individuals qualified for next week’s regional meet, as did the top three teams in each race, meaning Conner’s 15th-place effort provided the cutoff line for the rest of the girls who didn’t compete for Handley (50 points), Woodgrove (62) or Millbrook (72), the girls race’s top three teams.

Conner finished the race in a time of 20:57.

“I knew it was really, really close and I had a little bit of a breakdown after (the race) because I knew it was gonna be close and I really, really wanted it so bad,” Conner said. “And it just wasn’t a good day and I thought if I could at least skim by today that next week I could do better.”

Sherando's Isaac Chapman runs during the Conference 21 cross country meet Wednesday at Kernstown. Chapman finished 24th in the event. Rich Cooley/Daily

Conner kept pace with Stella Williams for about the first half of the race before the latter made her push over the final mile.

“I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to,” Conner said. “I knew it was gonna be a tough course. I ran here freshman year, ran pretty well, so I kind of had an expectation of doing well so I was a little let down. I know I still made it, which I’m happy about, but I still wish – I think I could’ve done better.”

Hayden Williams ended his race in the boys event in a fashion similar to Conner. After maintaining hold of seventh place as he began climbing the hill approaching the course’s second mile, Hayden, who has been battling tightness in his hamstring, lost ground over the final mile to finish one spot ahead of the regional qualifying cutoff.

He clocked in with a time of 17:57.30.

“I felt like I was in like the 20s until I heard someone yell, ‘You’re in 15th.’ (It was) someone behind me. And then I was like, ‘I better keep going,'” Hayden said.

Sherando's Paige Conner, left, and Stella Williams, right, pace each other early during the Conference 21 Cross Country meet Wednesday in Kernstown. Williams placed fourth and Conner 15th. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Like three or four passed me on that hill, and I kept looking back the whole time and there was like a Handley guy behind me I kept seeing, so I was just trying to keep ahead of him the same distance.”

Hayden Williams will be the only regional representative for Sherando’s boys team, which finished last out of the conference’s six teams with 144 points a year after winning the conference crown. Handley (57 points), Millbrook (62) and Woodgrove (66) finished atop the boys team standings.

Millbrook’s Alex Schrank (16:05.50) won the boys individual conference title, while James Wood’s Mackenzie Konyar (19:46.20) was the girls champ.

Aside from the performances of Stella Williams and Conner, the Warriors’ girls ended their season in disappointing fashion while sophomores Olivia Couillard and Katie Sommerfeld entered the meet battling “leg problems,” according to head coach Jamie McCarty. Sherando was also without sophomore Camryn Ubert, one of the Warriors’ top runners last season alongside Couillard, who has battled an injury for most of the season.

“I mean they tried to get through it but in a race like this and with the good competition in a good conference, the margin for error is real thin,” McCarty said of Couillard and Sommerfeld.

Couillard, who led the Warriors with a seventh-place finish in the conference meet last season, placed 33rd on Wednesday, while Sommerfeld, in what McCarty called a “tough, gritty” effort, just missed regional qualification with a 16th-place finish (21:08.90).

Sherando’s girls (96 points) placed fifth as a team.

“I’m still proud of the girls. They had a really good season,” McCarty said. “We had a lot of girls run (personal records) this year and had great performances. The good news is they’re all coming back. We lose two seniors but we bring a really talented group back. It hurts a little bit and I know a couple of them are hurting that they didn’t have the days they wanted but they’ll get over it and we’ll move on and we’ll be better for it.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com