This Saturday, the Washington DC and Maryland Private Schools Cross Country Championship will be held at the third different site in the meet's seven year existence. But as they say, the third time's the charm, as it looks like the Championship's new home at the Agricultural History Farm Park is the best yet. Rolling hills, creek crossings, and above all, the opportunity to run fast times await the private school athletes prepared to lay it on the line in their final race of the season.
The Georgetown Prep Classic, held in October, was the first time this season that top runners from every private school league in the area raced head-to-head, and though there were some key athletes not in attendance, the meet gave a great preview of what might happen tomorrow. In the race, won by Virginia standout Ben DeJarnette, junior Corey Puffett of DeMatha had a finish strong to defeat one of Maryland's best runners, senior Zach Sullivan of Archbishop Spalding, by less than two seconds. Puffett, who won the WCAC individual title last year and this year, and Sullivan, who won the MIAA individual title last year and this year, are easily two of the area's top runners, and the battle between them will no doubt be one of the best races in the history of this meet.
When asked about his chances coming in to the race, Puffett had this to say:
"I think I have a great chance at winning. I saw this course during the Magruder Invitational earlier this season, so that gives me an advantage over some of the other competition. Obviously I'll have to contend with my teammate Rob Patterson as well as Billy Ledder and Zach Sullivan. Sullivan has really stepped it up this year, and Ledder deciding to compete in XC has really spiced things up too. So I'm going to go out and try to win individually so I can score as low as possible and give my team a better opportunity to win. Whether I'll go out hard like usual or try something else, I haven't decided yet, and likely won't until the gun is fired. I'm just going to focus on doing my best, let the other guys do the same, and then I can't be disappointed with whatever outcome occurs."
Behind Puffett and Sullivan is a virtual laundry list of some of the area's best runners, many of whom are racing each other for the first time. MAC Champion John McGowan put down the fastest time of the day at the IAC/MAC/ISL Championships, and has been undefeated amongst private school runners in the area, except for Gonzaga's Bill Ledder. He crushed McGowan by seventeen seconds at the Mercersburg Invitational, and is also undefeated among his private school competition, excluding Puffett and his teammate Robert Patterson, the 2006 WCAC Champion. The IAC's best runners, Jack Strabo of Landon, Ramsey Chapin of Georgetown Prep, and Tom Harrison of St. Alban's, will be in the mix as well, along with the MIAA's best runners, including Sullivan's teammates Ryan Topita and JR Spencer, Calvert Hall's Chris Swisko, and Demetrios Pagonis of McDonough.
Team wise, two-time defending champion Calvert Hall looks to be the favorite after a strong showing in the Elite race at the Maymont XC Festival in September. But Gonzaga has a good shot at ending Calvert Hall's streak, as the "Men of Eye Street" have been running strong all season. The enigmatic Good Counsel team, which didn't field a full team for almost the entire month of October, finished a mere six points behind Gonzaga at the WCAC Championships, and is the dark horse coming in to the meet this Saturday. Georgetown Prep also won its conference meet by a slim margin over St. Albans, and both of those teams should place highly. Last but not least, Archbishop Spalding, which defeated both St. Albans and Prep at the Georgetown Prep Classic, should not be forgotten after strong team showings all season.
For those of you who have paying attention, an interesting sub-plot has been brewing all season: just about every league has received at least one standout freshman who has run 17:30 or below. Though not all of them know it yet, this meet is the beginning of rivalries which will last for the next four years and beyond. This Saturday, standouts Andrew Gyenis of Georgetown Prep, Dave Ozarowski of Archbishop Curley, Jack Riely of Good Counsel, and Matthew Kim of Sidwell Friends will battle it out for the title of "Best Freshman in the Area." If you're still following cross country four years later, remember this meet as the start of something big.
By an act of divine mercy, Anneka Wilson of the Potomac School, who has beaten every private school and public school runner she's faced this year, is competing for the Virginia Independent School state title and not the DC/Maryland Private School title. So what does this mean for area girls who have faced defeat time and time again this season? It's time to win a title! The fastest ladies of the ISL, 2006 DC/MD State Champion Moira Ryan of Visitation, National Cathedral's Lottie Hedden, and Marisa Repka of Sidwell Friends, have been finishing close together in just about all the races they've run, and each has a shot at taking the title this weekend. They'll have to stick together if they want to defeat their strongest opponent, Elizabeth Tauber of John Carroll. Tauber is the only girl in the field to have run under 19 minutes this season, and looks like the favorite. She won her conference pretty handily, but should have a much tougher time this time around as she races the ISL's best along with Chiny Asher and Katie Koenig, from Holy Cross and Good Counsel, respectively. Asher has only raced three times this season, but placed second in both her conference meet this year, and the state meet last year. Koenig placed fourth in her conference meet, six seconds behind Asher, but her best 5K time is the second-fastest among Maryland private school girls. She could easily slip into the top 5 on Saturday.
Though just about all of the teams competing have been depleted by injuries or graduation, the race for the team title will still be tight. National Cathedral School of Washington, DC won the ISL title and will probably win this meet as well. Notre Dame Prep lost to them by six points at the Mercersburg Invitational, and won the IAAM title last week over John Carroll, so expect them to place highly. After them, the ISL's Georgetown Visitation, St. Andrews, and Sidwell Friends should make up the rest of the top teams.