Damian Hackett may become one of the best distance runners to come from the storied St. Albans program, but Nicholas Karayianis from Bullis School sent a message that the St. Albans junior can't take over the league just yet.
"I respect the kid," said Karayianis, "but it's something about a senior and a junior, or someone one year younger than me that I don't want this kid to beat me."
Not only did Hackett come out of nowhere to win the IAC cross country title over Karayianis last year, it stuck with Karayianis that Hackett also beat him on the track when Hackett kicked his way to a 4:28 1600m IAC title as just a sophomore. Word of talent like that tends to get around, but Karayianis is not ready to yield anything.
One year after getting shocked by Hackett, Karayianis used last year's experience to fuel his motivation and guide his race tactics. He recalled that last year Hackett had not been in any race results that he was aware of prior to the IAC Championship, so when Hackett made a move into the lead at about 1.5 miles, Karayianis let him get too far ahead.
"I knew this year I had to stay in front," said Karayianis, who said that he went out in 4:45 for the first mile as opposed to last year's 5:00 first mile.
Unlike last year's pack of three Bullis runners that was left asunder by Hackett, this year's lead was all Karayianis with Hackett continuously challenging for that top position according to Karayianis.
"He'd try to make a move and then I would respond," he recalled. "I didn't want to give him the lead. I just wanted to stay in front and that's basically what we were doing in the middle mile...He got the lead for a good ten seconds and then I was like, 'No, I need to get back to the front.' I made a move, surged up the hill and just kept rolling."
The Agricultural Farm Park XC course is known for having a long, wide straightaway finish. Some might even call it a deceptively long straightaway finish. Many runners have been eaten up on that straightaway while others have feasted from behind.
Karayianis turned onto the straightaway not knowing how large his lead was, but he said that he knew better than to check behind him. That was for the best because Hackett turned onto the straightaway just a few moments after Karayianis.
"I just looked to the finish, and just keeping the arms, I thought about arms, bringing the legs up, good posture. I knew that if I did all those things then I would have the best shot to win."
Karayianis won in 15:52.44 and Hackett was second in 15:59.10. No other boy in the IAC race finished within a minute of Hackett (Sidwell's Arjun Thillairajah won the MAC Championship race in 16:31.12 shortly thereafter).
Karayianis was the first boy from Bullis to win the IAC title since 1987 (Jamie Salter). He was the first boy from a Montgomery County school to win the IAC title since 2011 (Georgetown Prep's Joey Chapin).
St. Albans won the team battle with 23 points. Bullis's team was incomplete while Georgetown Prep took second with 70 points.
Sidwell Friends won the MAC Championship Meet with 30 points.