Henok Eshetu and Ayu Fantaw from Northwood High School won the boys 6-mile relay in 31:37.84 and Jenna Goldberg and Ella Gaul from Walter Johnson High School won the girls 6-mile relay in 37:41.60 at the 2019 Woodward Relays at Georgetown Prep School. Both times were the fastest Woodward Relays performances since the course was modified after the 2007 rendition. Walter Johnson won the boys team title while B-CC edged out WJ and St. John's in the girls team scoring.
The 2019 Woodward Relays finish times across the board blew away those from last year or just about any other year that the meet was hosted at Georgetown Prep School, but meet director Greg Dunston insisted that the course was the same length as last year with only one spot on the course widened for easier navigation around erosion.
Said Dunston, "The course is in good shape. They were watering some areas this morning so the grass is cut. Everything is really ready to go...same course, same length."
Dunston surmised that the improvement in times was due to weather. This was the second time that the 46-year-old Woodward XC Relays was ever contested on a Saturday morning, and the temperature at the start of the first race was in the mid-60's. That was about ten degrees cooler than last year according to Mocorunning's notes, even though the sun warmed things up considerably by the novice race at 11:00 AM. More importantly, the days leading up to this year's meet were dry while last year there was a Friday night storm beforehand.
Eshetu and Fantaw said that they were gunning for the course record (32:07.6) set by former teammates, Obsaa Feda and Eldad Mulugeta, but they surprised themselves when they consistently split between 5:11 and 5:23 to break the course record by 30 seconds.
Said Eshetu, "We were trying to get as close as possible to Obsaa and Eldad's course record and we didn't know if we were going to break it or not, but we were just working for each other."
Said Fantaw, "[Our splits] were way faster than I thought we were going to get. We were expecting to average 5:20 each. When Eldad did it, we saw last year, he sort of died out or slowed down. It was surprising because when we came through I thought it was a little slow, but it was way faster than I thought. That's when it clicked: 'Oh, we could get the record.'"
Eshetu's unofficial splits were 5:13-5:23-5:20. Fantaw's unofficial splits were 5:11-5:19-5:12. Just for reference, last year's incredible distance duo of Feda and Mulugeta split 5:17-5:24-5:17 (Feda) and 5:10-5:27-5:33 (Mulugeta).
Feda and Mulugeta went one-two at the cross-country state championship last year and later ran under 9:10 in the 3200m on the track, but Eshetu and Fantaw remained grounded about their prospects individually and as a team this season:
"We're not that deep, as you can see," said Eshetu. "We got the first two spots but we still got second because Lamar Wilson didn't run so it wasn't our 'A' team. Team-wise we should be good if we are all healthy."
Another pleasantly surprised athlete was Walter Johnson's Jenna Goldberg who logged remarkably even splits of 5:58-6:00-5:56 (unofficially). Her running partner, Ella Gaul, ran unofficial splits of 6:18-6:44-6:42. Their overall time of 37:41.60 was three minutes faster than the winning time from a year ago.
Said Goldberg, who was never challenged after she shook off an opponent from Sidwell Friends School on her first lap, "We were very happy with our first place finish and I was happy with my splits because it was significantly faster than I've ran in previous years so it shows that all my hard work has been paying off."
Last year's outdoor 3200m county champion and last year's Woodward XC Relays champion along with teammate Caroline Kennon, Goldberg split 6:19-6:24-6:40 a year ago. Her compiled time of 17:54 over three miles was an improvement of 1:29 over last year. She added that the course was not as tough as she remembered because she has become so much more comfortable with hills than she was previously.
Walter Johnson head coach Tom Martin said that he was proud of his girls and he hoped that they took away from it that they have a little more work to do. As for his winning boys team, Martin said that he kind of thought his boys could win at the Woodward Relays after analyzing time trial results. He said that it was nice to see them come together with the confidence that he believed they could have.
Bethesda Chevy Chase head coach Chad Young said that it was hard to keep track of all of the teams in the unusual relay format so the B-CC girls' victory came as a surprise. B-CC's third and fourth girls relay teams were better than the #3 relay team from any other school.
"We were a little bit surprised by some of the depth we had," said Young referring specifically to some of his team veterans. "Some of the faces are the same but they are running a lot better than last year. We got a glimpse of who people are and what they can do."
Soccer enthusiast Francesca Cetta from Holton-Arms School was in the field and carried her relay duo to second place in 39:54.43. The 5:01 miler should be expected to be a contender in Montgomery County and in the ISL in this her first cross-country season.