|Photo Art by Mike McCary|
It was the warmest county championship in recent memory with temperatures reaching nearly 70 degrees and sunny. Despite some overnight rain, conditions seemed to be perfect for some course records to fall. The defending champion Morgane Gay of Whitman was poised to take down her own record of 18:14 from a year earlier. There was also buzz around Neal Darmody of Quince Orchard making an attempt on Andrew Jesien's 4-year-old course record. The Quince Orchard boys were looking to repeat as county champions with a varsity squad of 7 seniors. The Churchill girls were looking to end Northwest's run of four consecutive county titles. These are the things that everyone expected to see, but would everything go as planned?
The freshmen of Montgomery County were the first of the day to test out the course. Several freshman pushed the pace early, but after a mile it was the freshman pair from WJ, Nicholas Regan and Alexander Willett, out in front. The two worked together to lead the race throughout the Farm Park and back onto the Gaithersburg High School grounds. Up the final hill, Shane Stepek of Gaithersburg began to creep up on the two, but Stepek faded down the final hill and settled for third in 18:05. Both WJ athletes had great kicks, but Regan out-leaned Willett for the win in 18:01. It was a coed race and Diana Bojanova from Churchill was the first female finisher.
Next up was the main event: the varsity girls race. Girls from all over the county stepped to the starting line, prepared to do what they had trained for the whole season. To no one's surprise, it only took Gay 100 meters to take the lead. She emerged from behind the baseball field with a noticeable gap on the entire field. The chase pack consisting of Louise Hannallah, Britt Eckerstrom, and Jessie Rubin kept her in sight, but she was noticeably building her lead with every stride. By the time she came through the mile mark in about 5:35, she was all alone with pure determination on her face. Barring a disaster, she had already won the race at this point and it became her against the clock in an assault on the record books.
Meanwhile, unfolding behind her was one heck of a race. Hannallah brought the rest of the field through the mile about 20 seconds behind Gay in 5:53. Rubin of Wootton, who sat out a race with an injury a week earlier, was keeping stride for stride with Hannallah and Eckerstrom. The three pulled away from the rest of the field over the next mile and came through two mile in about 12:40. They were still tightly packed when they returned to the Gaithersburg High School grounds for the final half mile.
Up front, Morgane Gay never missed a step and held her 20 second lead over the field for the entirety of the race. She might have been able to see the clock in the 17's when she rounded the final turn. A sub-18 performance was not meant to be, but she pushed herself to a personal best 5k time and new county course record of 18:09.42.
The senior Louise Hannallah had the most heart in the last half mile and pulled away from the freshman and sophomore for a 2nd place finish in 18:31.81. Britt Eckerstrom finished 3rd in 18:37.42. The first year runner Jessie Rubin faded in the final stretch and was almost caught by Churchill senior Erin McManus. Rubin was 4th in 18:55.40 and McManus was 5th in 18:58.59. It was not the first time that 5 girls broke 19:00 in a single race at Gaithersburg, but the impressive performances did not stop there. 21 girls proceeded to break 20:00, marking the deepest, most talented field hosted at Gaithersburg High School.
Leading the way in that deep and talented field was the Churchill girls' team. Highlighted by two runners in the top 5, two more in the top 20, and still two more in the top 30, Churchill won their first cross country county title in 16 years.
The varsity girls' race lived up to the hype and predictions, but would the boys' race be able to live up to the girls' race? Quince Orchard's Neal Darmody pushed the pace early on and challenged everyone else to come with him. David Laratta's strategy was to stick with Darmody for the whole race. Wil Zahorodny of Damascus, whose usual strategy is to not have a strategy, rounded out a trio that pulled away from the field in the first quarter mile. A pack consisting of Antonio Palmer, Russell Speiden, and Chris Moen, each of whom were executing a strategy of their own, led a field that stretched out the length of the football field along the first uphill.
Each runner worked his way into a position leading up to the first mile. Darmody still led the field through in 4:45, while Zahorodny and Laratta tried to stick with him. Roughly ten runners back in the pack was Andrew Palmer, executing what he thought was his best strategy. Palmer came through the mile in 5:05 feeling much more comfortable than those around him. He appeared to be completely out of the race for a top five spot, but with two miles to go, no one knew the endurance that he would unleash for the remainder of the race. Palmer began to pick people off one by one over the next half mile. By the midway point of the 5k race, Palmer had moved up to 4th place with Laratta and Zahorodny in his sites.
Though Darmody admits that it was hard to maintain concentration in the second mile, he had built a 15 second lead over Zahorodny by the two mile mark. Palmer of Whitman in the mean time had passed by Laratta and Zahorodny before re-entering the Gaithersburg High School grounds for the finale.
All of the wild cheering from fans helped Darmody regain his focus in the final half mile. He was not content with the win. He rounded the final corner at top speed, as if the former record holder Andrew Jesien was right there with him. His furious kick was more than enough to topple the former record of 15:48, as he crossed the finish line in 15:41.09.
Palmer would hold onto 2nd place, but would come up just short of his goal of breaking 16:00. His time of 16:05.08 was a personal best for the sophomore, who has now twice finished in the top ten in the county. Zahorodny was 3rd in 16:13. Dylan Straughan of B-CC managed to distance himself from Sherwood's Kyle Balderson and even catch David Laratta over the final half mile, but Laratta did not give up. Laratta furiously kicked to catch Straughan at the finish in what was the best finish of the day, but the officials gave the nod to Straughan for fourth place in 16:18. Balderson was still able to hold off Antonio Palmer who was able to pick off Nicolas Escobar and Kyle Short in the final half mile.
Quince Orchard won the boys team title as expected with 5 guys in the top 25 and 51 points, but perhaps the real story of the meet was the Bethesda-Chevy Chase boys who finished 2nd with 77 points and a top 3 that was neck and neck with Quince Orchard. B-CC returned this cross country season looking like a team that had been chewed up and spit out. They lost their top two runners and were banking their season on Dylan Straughan, Alex Prevost, and Matthew Davey-Karlson who were at best characterized as injury-prone and inconsistent. They quickly showed that they weren't the same team as last year by posting fast times in dual meets and winning the Bull Run Invitational. Even then, people only grouped them into the pool of several teams that could place 2nd. By the time this championship meet rolled around, they were injury-free and ready to make a statement with some newly acquired rookie seniors including Kyle Short who placed 8th and Walter Beller-Morales who placed 36th.
The preconceived notion that 2nd place was completely up for grabs turned into an intense battle for 3rd place behind QO and B-CC. Whitman placed 3rd with 139 points, Northwest was 4th in 142 points, and Gaithersburg was 5th with 143 points.
Fun Fact: Top 5 most improved boys and girls between last year's county championship and this year's county championship among those who ran varsity both years (junior varsity results from 2006 unavailable)
5. Matthew Bernstein, Churchill 19:03-17:38 = 1:25|
4. Soren Klaverkamp, Northwood 20:19-18:40 = 1:39
3. Nicolas Escobar, Magruder 18:16-16:30 = 1:46
2. Matt Davey-Karlson, B-CC 18:44-16:57 = 1:47
1. Alex Bodaken, Einstein 19:19-16:57 = 2:22
5. Janna Domico, Damascus 22:52-21:09 = 1:43|
4. Addie Tousley, B-CC 20:53-19:09 = 1:43
3. Lizzy Fisher, Rockville 26:15-24:06 = 2:08
2. Erin McManus, Churchill 21:36-18:58 = 2:38
1. Sisi Reid, Einstein 25:05-22:18 = 2:47
Photos in article by Michael Menase and Ryan Janes