They endured hours of the coldest, rainiest, nastiest conditions of the season, and at the end of it all, the participants in the first annual Down County Consortium Cross Country Championship could not stop raving about how awesome the meet was.
Was it the fact that winning the consortium cup against similar schools was perceived as more attainable than winning a county or state title? That was at least part of it. Athletes from the Einstein boys team and Blair girls team smiled from ear to ear as they hoisted the large trophies high in the air at the end of the day, the first time any of them had ever won such a prize in the sport of cross country. Individually, 15 boys and 15 girls left the meet with medals hanging around their necks.
Yes, the competition was less distinguished than that of the giant meets attended by the distance running powerhouses in Montgomery County, but the athletes argued that it was not the awards that made the meet so special to them.
Students in the DCC have a unique connection with this particular group of schools. By nature of the consortium system, the runners know many students from the other schools either through common middle schools or other youth sports. Some runners even found themselves competing against their brothers and sisters. As an example, two of the top fifteen medalists in the boys' race were brothers attending separate schools - the elder, Sam Rivers, chose to attend Einstein while the younger, Daniel Morgan Rivers, chose his own path and enrolled at Wheaton.
Having the distinction of choosing which high school to attend and ultimately compete for, the athletes displayed extra pride and enthusiasm. While nobody went as far as using the term "rivalry," this meet was about as close to a highly-anticipated and hard-fought competition as these teams have participated in in a long time. Coaches noted that some usually shy or carefree runners seemed to put out a little more effort in their race as well as in cheering for their teammates from the sidelines. The prospect of this becoming a "rivalry meet" in the near future is very good.
While nobody cited the nasty weather as their favorite part of the meet, several of the runners were fans of the punishing 5k course that the races were held on. The first mile of the course is relatively easy with a loop around the playing fields on the Northwood High School campus and a short route through a wooded section. The second mile sent runners on a lonely journey into Northwest Branch Park. There, runners encountered steep slopes, narrow trails with roots and rocks, sharp turns, downed trees, and multiple creek crossings. After completing this momentum-busting portion of the course, runners climbed a steep hill to exit the park and return to the campus.
It was the middle section of the course that separated the men from the boys. The Einstein boys knew that Northwood would be their toughest opponent. They wanted to get out as a group and put their pack ahead of Northwood's.
Through the first mile, both teams had four runners in the race near the lead pack. After the difficult second mile, the Einstein pack was significantly up on the Northwood pack. Andrew Ceruzzi and Nick Simpson had a commanding lead over the rest of the field.
In the final half mile, Einstein coach Eric DaSilva let his guys know that the race was in hand. Ceruzzi and Simpson cruised effortlessly in to the finish line on the track to take first and second place in 18:34 and 18:36. The freshman Simpson made no attempt to try to take the victory from his older teammate.
Einstein put four runners in the top six and five in the top fourteen for a winning score of 27 points. They were missing one of their usual top five runners Milo Johnson.
The Blair girls dominated their race more than the Einstein boys dominated the boys race. They placed five runners in the top eight.
According to the Blair coaches, the Blair girls were pumped up about running in a championship meet where they felt they had a chance to win. Jennifer Sholar in particular was hoping that she could win the individual title. Competing in MCPS division II, Sholar’s dual meet opponents included Abby Spitler, Stephanie Joson, Ava Farrell, and Jessie Rubin. That did not give her much of a chance to experience winning a race this season despite her noted improvement from previous seasons.
Northwood, in contrast to Blair, competed in MCPS Division IV this season. Freshman Morgan Kershner won all of her team’s dual meets this year on the road to winning the division team title for the first time since the school reopened in 2004. This meet, however, meant a lot more to Kershner and her team than all the dual meets this season. A victory at this meet would be far more challenging, yet still attainable and more rewarding in their eyes.
From the start, Kershner and Sholar took off as if there was no one else in the race. Kershner set a rapid pace, later explaining that she likes to make it fast in the beginning. She was running hard in hopes of running her personal best time for this particular course.
The two runners remained together for the entire duration of the race. After completing the difficult second mile and returning back to the school’s campus, Kershner held onto a very slim lead. She slowly built a larger lead as she worked her way toward the finish line on the track. Sholar seemed to have no answer for Kershner’s steady acceleration in the final 300 meters. Kershner won 22:19 to 22:22 over Sholar. For Kershner, it was 2:01 faster than she ran on the course a week earlier.
After Sholar, Blair had a tight pack, placing their 2nd through 5th girls in the top 8 between 23:26 and 23:47. They beat out Northwood 24 to 66. Northwood barely edged out Kennedy 66 to 67 for second place.
Some said that the high school races were not even the best part about the meet. Even after being awarded the gold medal for being the first ever champion of the DCC XC Championship Meet, Andrew Ceruzzi said that one of his favorite things about the meet was not hoisting up the hardware, but watching the little kids run in the elementary school race.
Unfortunately, there was a scheduling conflict with the feeder middle school cross country teams and what could have been a great middle school championship race turned into a race with just seven runners.
Morgana D'ottavi and Calley Mayer-Marks were impressive in covering the 2.5k course in 10:11 and 10:21, times that indicate these two young ladies are already at a level that is competitive with high school runners.
The weather did not deter an enthusiastic bunch of elementary school kids who raced the same distance as the middle school runners, 2.5k. Conor Donahue, a top fifteen medalist from Blair’s cross country team, had the duty of “rabitting” the elementary school race. In other words, he ran the whole race making sure that the kids knew where to go. High school runners like Ceruzzi cheered on the young fearless grade schoolers.
The final race of the day had a great turnout of coaches, parents and other runners who wanted to tackle the Northwood 5k course. Many parents and coaches affiliated themselves with certain schools when they signed up. Perhaps in the future, the parent & coach race will become a competitive race for school pride just like the high school and middle school races, although some parents may be torn if they have children attending different high schools!
The essence of the meet was summed up by the cheering of the Einstein runners as their coach, Eric DaSilva, brought home the victory in the final race in 19:24. Everything the coaches wanted to accomplish through this meet was accomplished. Runners were pumped up and showing enthusiasm for their own sport of cross country and everything it has to offer. When the DCC Championship is circled on the calendar at the beginning of each year as a fun meet and an attainable victory, and when runners find themselves working together to win the DCC title each year, their hard work will carry over into the remainder of the championship season. Cross country in the DCC is moving in the right direction.