The Good Counsel boys team won its fourth consecutive WCAC title with a 25 to 35 win over Gonzaga at Lake
Fairfax on Saturday. It was perhaps the hardest fought team title in Good Counsel's history. Nothing about it came easily.
First there was the graduation of five varsity runners from last year's team. Good Counsel had runners step up throughout the year including four runners who moved
up from the JV squad and one freshman who worked his way onto the varsity squad top 5.
Then a foot injury and stomach illness hit lead runner Jimmy Vazzana in the two days leading up to the meet putting his status in doubt (Vazzana overcame his
ailments on race day).
Then there was the course itself. The traditional WCAC Championship Course was known as one of the most difficult courses in the area. It usually produced times
about a minute slower than a course like Glory Days. This year's course had to be modified due to construction and essentially a brand new course was created while
only a few elements of the traditional Lake Fairfax course were retained.
Most notably, the start and finish lines were moved which eliminated the fan-favorite knee-high creek crossing. The new start consisted of an unorthodox steep uphill
sprint, an adjacent steep downhill, and a second steep uphill in an 'S' shape. The rollercoaster terrain surely took runners' heart rates on a ride in the first two
minutes of the race. The course added a new branch of trail with never-ending hills, roots, rocks, creeks, and hills that caused Good Counsel Head Coach Tom Arnold
to question why they did that to themselves.
"This new course...this is one of the most brutal courses I've ever seen," said Arnold. "And now...it's a
whole lot tougher with the new section back in the woods. It is absolutely god-awful. The footing is really bad and I don't think there is an inch of flat space for
about three quarters of a mile back there. It's just nothing but steep up and down."
Gonzaga Coach John Ausema echoed that sentiment.
"I think the course is really too rugged to be a championship cross country course. Particularly this year's version because the trail they used this year that we
don't normally use was very, very rugged."
The show had to go on and the course difficulty did not deter Arnold from developing an aggressive race strategy for his boys.
"Our goal was to try to have our pack when we crossed the cricket fields going into the woods where you really can't pass for about three quarters of a mile...we
wanted to have our pack ahead of Gonzaga's number three. I didn't know if it was possible, but I knew if we could, it was going to give us a good shot at winning."
Arnold observed his boys in perfect position at the cricket fields and thought that they improved throughout
the race, but even a diehard coach could only see so much on this spectator-unfriendly out-and-back course.
Good Counsel's lead runner Jimmy Vazzana said that they expected Gonzaga to run aggressively, particularly their top two runners, but that was not what happened.
Vazzana led for about half the race and said that all fourteen runners from Good Counsel and Gonzaga were within ten seconds at the midway point when the race
transitioned from narrow trails to open grassy fields. That is where Gonzaga's Harry Monroe and John Colucci made a surge and broke open the race. By the time the
runners re-entered the woods for the return trip to the finish line, the order was re-shuffled with Monroe and Colucci leading the pack, but Good Counsel had the
advantage in the team scoring.
Monroe, who ran 15:21 at the DCXC Invitational, crossed the finish line first in 17:20 while Colucci shook
off Vazzana with a strong kick in 17:40. Then the Good Counsel runners swarmed in: a string of six uninterrupted Falcons took places 3 through 8 in a 33 second span.
The score was 25 to 35 before a runner from any other school crossed the finish line.
It wasn't supposed to be that way on paper.
Said Good Counsel's Jimmy Vazzana, "We were thinking there was a 50-50 chance of winning because at Glory Days in the dual meet score they beat us 27 to 28 so we
were assuming that it would be just like that."
So what happened?
One of Gonzaga's expected top five runners went down and did not finish the race. Had that runner finished with a typical performance, it would have narrowed the
scores, but Gonzaga likely still would have needed one more runner to break up Good Counsel's top five to reverse the outcome. According to Gonzaga Coach John
Ausema, it was a matter of his team not responding as the race unfolded.
"It was really kind of a split-personality performance," said Ausema. "Our first two guys ran great. They did exactly what they were hoping to do. The rest of the
team just didn't rise to the challenge. Good Counsel's pack ran really, really well and our guys couldn't respond and they ended up just a little ways back."
Coach Arnold concluded: "I could not be any more pleased with how they raced today. I think they were just about perfect."
"It's awesome," said Vazzana. "We can say that we've won the WCAC Championship all four years that we've been here."
Bishop O'Connell won the girls team title for the tenth consecutive year with 56 points while Good Counsel just held on to second place over St. John's College High
School, 88 to 89. This was unlikely to be the year that Good Counsel toppled Bishop O'Connell's girls as Good Counsel has struggled with low numbers all season, but
without #1 runner Claudia Wendt, Good Counsel stood no chance of winning. Wendt is out with mononucleosis and may return for the state championship in two weeks.
Freshman Cady Hyde of St. John's College High School won the girls varsity race in 20:39. She became the first
runner not from Good Counsel or Bishop O'Connell to win the individual conference title since 2003 when Jennifer Chichester of Archbishop Carroll was champion.
Most people wanted this to be the first and last year of the "new course," casting their hypothetical votes in favor of returning to the traditional WCAC course next
year. Good Counsel's #2 runner George Drewyer was a dissenter, expressing his preference to keep the challenging course the way it was this weekend, but even he
admitted that he wants to see the creek crossing return.
According to the Fairfax County Government website, the construction projects at Lake Fairfax should be completed by May 2017.