Walter Johnson High School assistant track coach Ashley St. Denis said that the kids on the team would not know if she was 25 or 45, but when she dropped a Captain Planet reference, I knew immediately that she and I could have been in third grade together.
The Walter Johnson girls cross country team enters this season in defense of its third consecutive state title and in pursuit of its fourth consecutive state title. Believe it or not, Walter Johnson won four consecutive cross country state titles twice before in school history. The girls team did it from 1996 to 1999 and the boys team did it from 2008 to 2011.
Head coach Tom Martin said that it is too early to tell exactly what they have, but a fourth consecutive state title could potentially be in the cards.
"There is always work to do," said Martin. "August is where we find out just how much."
Saturday will be the first test of the year when the Wildcats head to River Hill High School for a scrimmage.
Martin continued, "We have a nucleus of kids who have the opportunity to repeat. Kati [Katriane Kirsch] had a good summer that is really going to help the girls team. [Abigail Green] had her first summer of training ever and from what I get it was intense. So we will see."
St. Denis said that a state title is the end-goal, but they have not talked about it.
"Everybody has a part to play," said St. Denis. "Kati brings the intensity. Sadie [Sadie Keller] is the goofball and brings humor. Janet [Janet Scott] is really level-headed and someone that the other girls look up to. She brings the positivity."
St. Denis paused and said, "It sounds like I am describing Captain Planet. Earth! Wind!"
It was a reference probably lost on most people reading this article, but that is what Youtube is for.
Martin chimed in with respects to Sophia Scobell.
"Track changed Sophia's mindset towards running," said Martin. "She sees herself as a runner now."
Then there is Abigail Green, the clear #1 runner on the team. She is the defending county champion and state runner-up. Her 10:37.60 3200-meter performance at last year's Viking Invitational was one of the greatest long distance performances ever recorded on Montgomery County soil. If Walter Johnson's cross country team really was a team of superheroes, Green would be the muscle...the taciturn protagonist leading by example.
Green ran with the boys during a Monday afternoon workout at Timberlawn Park in North Bethesda. It was 83 degrees and partly cloudy. It was warm when the sun came out but humidity was low and it was about as nice as you could ask for on an August afternoon. The assignment was 8 double loops around the park at lactate threshold pace, or just slightly off 5k race pace. The loops were not measured but were approximately a half mile. Running with the boys is the norm for Green according to coaches, and in fact she finished most of the half mile loops ahead of all but one boy.
"Abbey's work ethic leads by example," said St. Denis. "Her goal is to beat [Footlocker National Qualifier and defending 4A state champion] Maria Coffin."
Kirsch, the only senior expected to be on the varsity squad and the only runner with the potential to be a part of four cross country state titles in four years, is the vocal leader of the girls team. She led the girls pack through the repetitions in about 3:25. She led the girls in core exercises before everyone ran back to Walter Johnson High School.
Andrew Burklow was the only boy consistently outrunning Green. He finished his repeats in around 2:40. The top non-senior from last year's WJ team, Saahr Edouard, transferred. Stefan Lehman and Jackson May are the returning runners with varsity experience. Burklow, Lehman, and May will work to reinvigorate a traditional cross country powerhouse that lost its top five runners from last year.
Said Martin, "The boys are just trying to get to the state meet. I am trying to get a young team excited about running."