After the Bishop O'Connell girls won their fourth consecutive WCAC cross country title, the team enjoyed lunch together in a casual setting. Not a word was spoken about Coach Cindy Walls' upcoming marathon. Saturday was all about the success of the girls on the team, and so Coach Walls instead chose to quietly go about her day on the eve of the Marine Corps Marathon. Little did she know that the girls on her team were quietly scheming. Secret unspoken plans were developed via Facebook to navigate the DC metro system and cheer for their coach in various locations along the 26.2 mile route.
Coach Walls, not a marathon novice, admits that she was dragging a little bit after the midway mark. At fifteen miles, she couldn't help but dwell on how much longer she would need to run before finishing. Then she spotted one of her runners along the side of the course, then another, then an entire wall of ten girls cheering and screaming, "Go Coach Walls!"
Some of the girls were wearing shorts and short sleeves on the chilly morning. Some of the girls had their shirts pulled up to reveal painted stomachs.
"That was so amazing," Walls later said. "I had no idea they were going to do that."
What most impressed Walls was their organization. Not only did they organize the trip into DC via metro, the girls met their coach right on time at miles 15, 17, and 20. Senior Alex Nihill explained that they ran between the different locations to get their Sunday miles in.
"Coach does so much for us and we thought this would be a great way to give back to her."
As expected, the Bishop O'Connell girls won their fourth consecutive WCAC title on Saturday with a 1-2-3 sweep at the front of the pack. According to Walls, it was another milestone in the team's goal to win the Arlington County Championship, WCAC Championship, and VIS Championship in four consecutive years. An additional meet added to the schedule this year is the NXN Regional Meet in Cary, North Carolina. Walls believes the talent level on the team gives them an "outside chance" at qualifying for the national meet if everyone has a good day.
Sarah McCarthy won the race by 29 seconds in 19:52. Walls says that the difference this year for McCarthy is she had health issues last year that were taken care of and now everything is balancing out. She describes her as a "diamond in the rough" for potential college recruiters because of the relative low mileage in her high school career with only two years of running.
While Bishop O'Connell is still in great shape for next year, three of their top six girls were seniors and Walls noticed the improvement of the Good Counsel girls who placed second with 54 points with one senior in the top five. Walls welcomes the competition, explaining that the competition is more exciting and makes everyone better.
Six weeks ago, Collin Leibold would have been the easy pick to win the WCAC title, but tendonitis held him back for two weeks as the championship season approached. Again in the days leading up to the big meet, the injury flared up and called into question his ability to race and help his team to its third consecutive WCAC title. Leibold toed the line and fortunately for him, he completed the race symptom-free.
At the famous creek crossing just past the first half-mile on the course, Good Counsel's trio of runners trailed closely behind Gonzaga's Leibold and Mike Crozier, but a steep uphill approaching the first mile mark created some separation. Only Riely held onto the two Gonzaga runners as the hill leveled off. Allen Meringolo and Michael Fitgerald were joined by Kevin Pitts of Gonzaga in the chase pack.
Over the final mile, Crozier and Leibold broke Riely and ran the remainder of the course without pressure from any Good Counsel runner. Leibold crossed the line first in 16:43, doing the Sign of the Cross. Crozier finished just a second behind, crossing the line smiling from ear to ear with his arms spread wide open.
The surprise of the meet came when Gonzaga's Kevin Pitts crossed the line third, topping all of Good Counsel's big three. Coach John Ausema described it as a pleasant surprise.
Several of the Gonzaga runners were running for something extra. Father Allen Novotny passed away at the age of 58 three days prior to the meet. Novotny was the president of the school and Ausema explains that all of the athletes knew who he was and what he worked to do for students of the school. The seniors on the junior varsity squad came up with the idea of writing Father Novotny's name on their arms. The idea caught on with several of the younger team members, and eventually dozens of Gonzaga runners completed the race with Father Novotny symbolically at their side.
Ausema explains that Gonzaga is unique in that the team has senior leadership in runners of all ability levels on the varsity and junior varsity squads. JP Raynal and Ryan McGlynn came up with the idea.
Gonzaga won the varsity race over Good Counsel 26 to 39.