One would assume that the top tier teams in Montgomery County are putting on their game faces and getting serious about the upcoming championship meets. On the contrary, Coach Steve Hays of Whitman High School and Tom Martin from Walter Johnson High School had identical goals for Saturday's Georgetown Prep Cross Country Classic: just have fun.
"We've recently been pressing a little bit and making it harder than it needs to be," said Hays, "so today we just wanted to come out and have fun. The weather was great. Just enjoy the race."
Hays specifically pointed to the Great American Invitational and to a lesser degree the Manhattan Invitational where his runners put too much pressure on themselves. The "have fun" strategy worked out well as Whitman swept the boys and girls seeded races on Georgetown Prep's hilly campus.
"We definitely had all the girls in the top part of the race," said Hays just moments after the seeded varsity girls race concluded. No one needed to see the score sheet to know that Whitman was going home with the team trophy.
"Sometimes when you start pressing too much or start putting pressure on yourself you forget about having fun, and when you are out there having fun, that's when good things happen. We just want to keep having fun and see what happens."
Whitman's girls posted an incredible 34 second top-5 spread, which was smaller than their usual gap between their #2 and #3 runners. Whitman added two more runners in the top 18 positions of the race to easily defeat rival Walter Johnson, 32 to 58, in a showdown of two of Montgomery County's best girls teams just one week before the Montgomery County Championship Meet.
Speaking for his team, Walter Johnson Coach Tom Martin said that the result was not disappointing.
"I'm happy because my kids had fun today. And that's really all that matters to me is that they have fun. I do love the fact that they make this important to them, okay, but I don't want it ever to be a source of stress."
"...One of the things I want to emphasize to them is that this is just high school cross country. We're not going to solve global warming. We're not going to cure cancer. We're here to have fun."
Don't mistake Martin's emphasis on fun for a lack of competitive drive amongst team members. Even during a five year state title winning streak, Walter Johnson's girls teams have been down at times and always found a way to come out on top.
"We plan on going after everything. This is their goal and I am going to try and help them get to where they want to go."
The story of the Whitman boys team is one of unforeseen injuries that hampered the squad during the month of September. Aaron Bratt (tendonitis), Obi Onwuanaegbu (hip issue) and Benjamin Lesser are all rounding into form after dealing with early season injuries. Their varsity team on Saturday resembled more closely the team that won last year's county title with all sophomores and juniors.
"The boys got a lot of good senior leadership," said Hays. "We've got some guys coming back from injury and getting better and better. They did a great job in New York and they are coming together really well as a team."
"I think they did great [today]," concluded Hays after it was published that Whitman won the seeded race with 77 points. "They keep seeming to get closer and closer, and we've got some freshmen that are helping out. Who knows? They're having fun and that's what it's all about and I hope they continue to do that."
Luke Tewalt and Zoe Edelman of the Washington Latin School individually won the varsity seeded races in 16:45.12 and 19:41.18, respectively.