WINCHESTER — James Harris had a strategy and it worked.
The Sherando junior went out strong and hung with powerhouse Loudoun Valley’s pack of runners. Harris was able to hang with them throughout Thursday’s Region 4C Cross Country Championships at the Kernstown Battlefield course and finished fifth to qualify for next week’s Class 4 State Championships at Great Meadows course in The Plains.
“Sticking with them is amazing,” Harris said. “I usually don’t stick with them, I’m usually falling back. But I felt a lot stronger, my training was good this week. And I kind of just wanted to go out there and get redemption on the people like (Liberty’s) Sam (Rodman) who beat me last week (in the Class 4 Northwestern District meet) — that was my main goal. My main goal was to get top 10. Coming in fifth made me extremely happy, and I’m just really proud of what we did today.”
Harris was the only state qualifier from Sherando’s boys or girls squads on Thursday. Both teams finished sixth overall. The top three teams qualify for the state meet along with the top five individuals not on those three teams.
Harris said he talked to one of Loudoun Valley’s runners before the race and found out that they weren’t planning on going out too fast for the first mile. Harris took advantage of it and grabbed the lead for the first mile of the race with Loudoun Valley’s pack of five runners right behind him.
“At the start of the race, the cannon went off and I felt good,” Harris said. “Going up the hill I looked around to see where everyone was, where Valley was, and I could see them settling in behind me. Earlier this week, we came here to practice and we practiced working the downhills and attacking the uphills. So I kind of used that strategy throughout the first mile.”
Harris said it was the fastest he had ever run the first mile at the Kernstown Battlefield course. Shortly after the first mile, four of Loudoun Valley’s runners began to pass him. Harris said that he was in fourth a couple times during the rest of the race and tried to push for third once but couldn’t quite achieve it.
Loudoun Valley’s Kellen Hasle won the race in a time of 15:57.8. Harris was in a battle for fourth as they came down the final hill, but Loudoun Valley’s Jeremiah Mussmon held him off down the final stretch. Harris finished the race in a time of 16:23.5.
“At the end they outkicked me, but overall I’m pretty happy with this race,” Harris said. “After coming back from last week, I just wanted to show what I could do on the harder courses. And I think I was really happy with myself today.”
Sherando coach Megan Roberts said she was very pleased with how Harris performed in the race.
“That’s his thing — he’ll take it out hard and he can hold it,” Roberts said of Harris’ strong start. “He’s tough enough. He’s strong enough — that works for him. I really liked his race, his determination. I think he’s ready to go for the state meet.”
The Warriors were without brothers Ty and Luke Waits. Ty Waits suffered a knee injury last week and wasn’t able to race and Luke was out due to illness.
Sherando still had other strong performances. Junior Jonathan Gates finished 14th and just missed a state-qualifying place by one spot. He ran the race in a time of 17:08.8. He was followed by teammates sophomore Graham Schultz (20th, 17:25.3), freshman Ben Freilich (50th, 18:45.8) and sophomore Justin Dante (51st, 18:52.1).
“For what we had today, I don’t think you could ask any more out of any of them,” Roberts said. “We can walk away knowing that we put in all that we had — that’s all I can ask out of them.”
Loudoun Valley won the boys meet with 16 points, followed by James Wood (104) and Millbrook (111). Sherando finished with 128.
Sherando’s girls team was led by freshman Eva Winston, who finished 18th in a time of 20:28.8.
“I think it was a big race, so I kind of went out faster than I usually do,” Winston said. “But I think that I hung in there. At the end of those last hills and the downhill finish you just had to push through. Gravity’s going to take you downhill, but even going downhill is hard because you’re surrounded by people and everyone is just trying to finish fast.”
The Warriors have a young girls squad with seven freshmen on the team and no seniors in the top seven. Roberts said Winston, much like the rest of the squad, doesn’t realize how good she can be.
“I don’t think she has realized how good she is,” Roberts said. “I don’t think as a team they’ve all realized how much potential they have. I think that’s going to leave her hungry for more. Hopefully that will create more drive for next year.”
Roberts said junior Molly Robinson has been sick this week, but still ran and helped the team out even though she wasn’t 100 percent.
Freshman Emma Ahrens was 20th in a time of 20:38.6, followed by sophomore Karli Brown (27th, 21:15.7), freshman Ryleigh Combs (34th, 21:40.8) and Robinson (45th, 21:55.5).
Loudoun Valley won the girls team title with 32 points, followed by James Wood (74) and Millbrook (98). Sherando finished with 138 points. Broad Run’s Ellie Desmond won the girls race in a time of 18:23.7.
Winston said that the experience the team had this season will motivate them for next year.
“I think next year we’re going to come back really strong and our team is going to be ready to do it together,” Winston said. “I think we’re just going to train a lot and do our best because we really want to go as a team (to states) next year.”