Meredith Gotzman from St. Johns College High School became the first girl to break 19:00 at the Landon Invitational, and Francesca Cetta from Holton-Arms School pushed her every step of the way in her high school 5k debut. The freshman beat the senior, 18:57 to 19:07.
If you are unfamiliar with the names, it's because both are high school cross-country rookies who raced their first high school 5k on Landon School's scenic and deceptively difficult course. Both were hoping to find an opponent to key off of in their debut and it did not take long for Gotzman to meet Cetta at the front of the pack. Neither knew anything about their opponent except for their apparent unwillingness to relent.
If you ARE familiar with the names, the truth is that neither Gotzman nor Cetta can aptly be described as rookies. Gotzman, the high school freshman, was arguably the veteran distance runner between the two. Cetta, the senior, holds some of the finest returning middle distance track credentials in the DC area.
"I ran CYO since fourth grade," said Gotzman in a post-race interview. She further explained that last year she won the DC/MD Middle School Championships and placed third in an age group XC national championship meet.
As for her high school 5k debut, she repeatedly said that she simply liked it.
Said Gotzman. "I really liked it. It helped pace me better. It helped me have confidence. I liked it. I like running next to people. I liked it. It helped push me harder and I'm sure it helped her too."
She was referring to Cetta, three years her elder, who pushed her every step of the race.
Said Cetta, "My coach advised me that if I'm a little nervous just stay behind [the leader]...she ended up being really fast so I didn't pass her in the end. She pulled away."
The 5:01 miler from Holton-Arms traveled a different journey to the sport of cross-country.
Said Cetta, "I started to really like running in my sophomore season during track. I played soccer in the fall and then I started training for my junior track season and I realized that I really wanted to run in college so I thought that it would be beneficial to have a year of cross country under my belt before running against college athletes."
According to both girls, the lead was swapped upwards of a half dozen times, particularly in a wooded section out of view from most of the spectators. Gotzman nearly made a critical mistake when she missed a turn with about three quarters of a mile to go. Cetta took over the lead briefly, but Gotzman refocused and took it back almost as quickly as she lost it.
Cetta said that she learned from the savvy freshman.
"I think I learned that I need to work on pushing up the hills a little bit more. She passed me on the hill over there and got a larger lead at some areas," said Cetta, who laughed that cross-country is very different from track.
St. John's College High School dominated the team scoring in both the boys and girls varsity races. The boys packed five runners into the top seven in the varsity 'A' field, and the girls had five in the top fifteen.
Said head coach Desmond Dunham, "We're very pleased with the outcome today. Our boys have been putting in the miles in the offseason in the summer time. They've just been very focused and team-oriented. First 5k of the season we are more than please with the start."
The key for both his boys and girls teams is bonding through team events from team dinner nights to Nationals baseball games and a Broadway play in New York.
"We spend more time doing team events and that way when we ask them to run for one another to move together as a pack, it's not really an issue. They're out here running for one another."
Chris Teter of St. Johns School was 14th in the field at last year's Landon Invitational, but this year he remained in the top pack to give himself a chance to win. He gained the lead in the final quarter mile but then lost the lead in the final 200 meters. He regained the lead at the final moment with a thrilling kick over an opponent from St. Mary's.
On getting passed in the final minute, Teter said, "That was a terrible feeling. I'm a senior and this is my last Landon race ever, so I motivated myself to beat him at the end...It feels amazing. Just an amazing feeling."