An Unlikely Showdown
It was an unlikely showdown between a freshman from Sherwood High School, Katie Kaneko, and last year's 14th place county finisher from Richard Montgomery High School, Charlotte Turesson. Nobody would have predicted it a year ago, but as the 2018 season opened up, it became apparent that Turesson was running on a new level, and that Kaneko was a special freshman.
Turesson opened up the season with an 18:05 5k time trial at her school and a win in 18:29.7 at the Interstate Classic in Clear Spring, Maryland. In October, she recorded a jaw-dropping 18:09 5k at the Great American Invitational. It was one of the fastest 5k times by a Montgomery County girl in the past decade.
To what did she attribute her rapid improvement from her freshman year to her sophomore year?
"Definitely my summer," said Turesson. "If I didn't run, I would not be as fast as I am today...That was when I could build and get back in shape for cross country season and that's when I could get used to getting faster."
She said that she ran no workouts at all. She simply followed the schedule that her coach gave her which included a few progression runs and tempo runs.
"It definitely helped me get a good foundation for during the season," she said.
Turesson explained that she had no running experience prior to her freshman year and she did no running during the summer before her freshman year. By contrast, Sherwood freshman Katie Kaneko said that she has been running since she was seven years old.
"I've been running for six and a half years...I've done distance, hills, and sprinting," said Kaneko.
It is not too surprising then that she was fit when the season began. She finished 12th at the Seahawk Invitational in early September. She finished directly behind Whitman's Breanna McDonald in that race and that was the last time Kaneko lost to a Montgomery County runner prior to the Montgomery County Championship Meet. Showing great consistency and improvement throughout the season, she finished second at the Manhattan Invitational in the varsity D race where she defeated McDonald and all Whitman runners by 23 seconds or more.
Turesson and Kaneko had never matched up, but Turesson at least had an idea of who would be there in the front pack as the county championship race unfolded on Saturday. In the opening minutes of the race, the leader was pre-race favorite, Nandini Satsangi of Poolesville High School, but it was not Satsangi's day as she dropped out in the first mile. The lead pack thinned out quickly after that. Turesson who planned to stay on the hips of whoever was leading, found herself leading sooner than expected. When Kaneko worked her way up to the front after a more conservative first mile, Kaneko and Turesson dropped the rest of the field.
Kaneko described the race from her perspective: "Around the middle, it was just [Turesson] and I. I was inching ahead of her, but she was staying really close to me, and right on this downhill [around 2.25 miles], she just got away from me."
Said Turesson, "At the 2.25-ish mark, I just tried to open up 20 meters at least. I feel like I ran hard so I could keep that lead and just try to finish hard."
Turesson won the race in 19:02. It was the 33rd fastest time in course history on a rainy and muddy day that was not suitable for breaking records. She was the first female county champion from Richard Montgomery High School.
Kaneko was second in 19:20. She was the highest placing female finisher from Sherwood High School in meet history. She was just the third all-county (top ten) female finisher from Sherwood in meet history.
Motivation and Execution
Whitman Head Coach Steve Hays used Mocorunning's pre-meet poll for his pre-meet motivation speech.
Said Hays, "I just asked them if they saw the Mocorunning poll that had us at third. We felt a little disrespected. We thought we were better than third. I just asked them if they had seen that. I told them that those people that were voting in that poll didn't know something that I knew about this team and that was that they have a lot of heart."
"I said go out and show me what heart you have, and they did. They did a great job."
In defense of Mocorunning's voters, most of those ballots were cast before the Georgetown Prep Classic last week in which Whitman posted a very impressive 34-second top-5 spread to route Walter Johnson. Voters, too, were impressed by Wootton's season which included a division I win and a win at the Bull Run Invitational. There was simply very little cross-over between Wootton, Whitman, and Walter Johnson for comparison prior to the county championship meet.
Individually, voters seemed to favor Walter Johnson and Wootton's strong 1-2 punches over Whitman's Breanna McDonald and Alicia Lauwers, but McDonald and Lauwers were on-point with fourth and fifth place finishes on Saturday. Paula Bathalon and Emmerson Weinberg finished before any other team's #3 runner and Julia Johnson sealed the deal with a 29th place finish.
Pack-running was again the key for Hays. Even though their top-5 spread was 1:26 on Saturday, they were happy to take it with the low finishes of McDonald and Lauwers.
Said Hays, "I felt like in order to win, you gotta have five in the top twenty five. Our five was 29th today so that was pretty close. Every place is a point and if we can just keep that pack tight we figure we can do pretty well."
Whitman's 21 point margin of victory over Wootton made it one of the tighter races in meet history, and Wootton couldn't help walking away with a sour taste. Aside from the obvious disappointment of finishing second for the third consecutive year, Head Coach Kellie Redmond listed a number of specific things that did not go as planned.
"It wasn't a strong race from start to finish for us," said Redmond. "I think there were some very good things that happened, but I think there are some things that we have to discuss and try to adjust going into the next phase of the season."
From a historical perspective, Whitman regained a tie for the lead with Walter Johnson for the most girls county titles in meet history: ten. Whitman now has 24 county titles between the boys and girls team. The Whitman girls are also the only team in meet history, female or male, to never finish outside of the top ten. That was previously an honor shared by Whitman and Quince Orchard until this year.
But all of that is ancient history mostly pertaining to the 80's and 90's. Coach Hays was pleased to return to the top of the podium for his girls accomplishments for the first time since 2010. The girls of WWXC now have a quick five day turnaround to fend off Wootton and Walter Johnson at the 4A West Regional.