WINCHESTER — Cross country coaches often talk about the importance of having a strong pack of runners.
The Sherando girls' top trio is definitely one to envy.
Emma Ahrens, Molly Robinson and Eva Winston took fifth through seventh, respectively, to help the Warriors take second place and qualify for regionals at Saturday's Class 4 Northwestern District meet at Millbrook's Third Battle of Winchester course.
Only the top two teams (and top six individuals outside of those two teams) at Saturday's meet qualified for the Region 4C meet on April 13 at Morven Park in Leesburg, and Sherando scored 62 points to edge its Frederick County rivals James Wood (66) and Millbrook (68) at the eight-school meet. Fauquier captured the title with 56 points.
Sherando was the only team in the meet to place three runners in the top 10. They were just six seconds apart on Saturday. Ahrens recorded a time of 20 minutes, 23.8 seconds, Robinson finished in 20:25.8 and Winston followed in 20:29.4 over 3.1 miles.
"When they race together, they help each other race smart," Sherando coach Megan Roberts said. "When I first saw them in the woods [in the first half of the race], they weren't up with the first pack. They had put themselves in a good spot and hadn't gone out too fast.
"They were within striking distance, which is right where they needed to be. Then they took advantage of that in the second half."
Ahrens said the three runners feed off each other, and they worked well together to achieve an impressive team finish.
"We tried to take the first mile out just a little bit slower, and then we would gradually speed up through the second and third miles and try and pick off as many people as we could towards the finish," Ahrens said.
Roberts said she was proud of the entire team. The Warriors were also led by sophomores Ryleigh Combs (22nd in 22:05.5) and Emily Fisher (26th in 23:08.8).
"I knew going in that we had a shot [to qualify for regionals], but it was going to take everyone having a good day," she said. "They didn't let nerves get to them, which is something I was worried about. They went out there and took care of business."
Ailments have limited the Warriors this season — Robinson and Fisher each missed significant stretches of time — so Ahrens was glad everything came together Saturday.
"We all worked really hard today," she said. "We haven't really had a race where we've been 100 percent the whole season. It was just really nice to show what we can do and advance to regionals."
The Sherando boys placed sixth as a team with 118 points and will only send James Harris to the Region 4C meet. The senior placed sixth in a time of 16:42.4.
In the fall of 2019, Harris placed second at the Class 4 Northwestern District meet, kicking off a postseason that ended with him placing 12th and earning all-state honors at the Class 4 meet.
Because of COVID-19, this year has been a lot different. Harris also plays basketball and baseball, and because Frederick County delayed its winter sports season until after the Virginia High School League winter season, the basketball and cross country seasons both started on March 1 in Frederick County.
The basketball season is over, but Harris is currently prepping for the baseball season that starts later this month. Juggling three sports has made it difficult for Harris to put in the type of mileage that he put in during last year's cross country season. Harris said he put in 40 to 50 miles per week during the regular season and 20 to 30 miles during the postseason in 2019, and now 20 to 30 miles per week has been the norm.
"With my training, I try to stay consistent and try to go on runs when I can," Harris said. "When I also had basketball going on, I was maybe running twice a week the last couple of weeks. I'd go three miles if I wasn't too sore.
"It's a big difference from last year [with mileage], but I've had to save my legs as much as I can with everything I've been doing. Next week, I'm going to eat well, sleep well and hopefully do well against Loudoun Valley and the other top competition today."
On Saturday, Harris said he fell off from the top five runners after the first half mile. Harris was never too far behind the group, though, and he nearly beat City-County champion Nico Schianchi of Handley for fifth. Harris finished eight seconds behind James Wood's Chris White for fourth and was outkicked in the final stretch to finish two seconds behind Schianchi.
Other scoring runners for Sherando on Saturday were Ben Freilich (14th in 17:21), Dylan McGraw (28th in 18:18.9), Camden Palmer (36th in 18:32.6) and Connor Sanders (37th in 18:32.6).
In the boys' team competition, James Wood won its third straight district title with 40 points and Millbrook took second with 57 to also qualify for regionals.
Individually, Millbrook sophomore Madison Murphy defended her district title in the girls' race with a time of 18:37.9, and Fauquier freshman Cassidy Scott was second in 18:56.7. They were the only two girls to break 20 minutes. James Wood junior Nathaniel Woshner won the boys' race in 16:07.6 to beat defending champion Sam Rodman by 1.5 seconds. Rodman had a time of 16:09.1.