It was the first ISL title for Holton-Arms school since 2004, and coaches claimed that their title run was entirely athlete-driven.
Said coach Carrie Braun, "They came to practice on the first day of preseason ready to go after an ISL championship. We've been moving up the ranks over the past couple of years and they've been wanting to win."
Of course, Holton-Arms was not the only team that wanted to win. In speaking with ISL coaches before the race, it was largely expected to be a tight race between four teams. Among the expected top four teams, Holton-Arms was expected to contend with National Cathedral, Stone Ridge, and Georgetown Visitation, but Holton's depth was in question.
National Cathedral School demonstrated by far the best depth with seven girls ahead of any other team's #4 runner on Saturday, but NCS did not have the strength up front to match Holton's three girls in the top ten. Holton's #4, 5, and 6 did enough to slam the door on their challengers. Holton-Arms won with 79 points to National Cathedral's 99. Georgetown Visitation and Stone Ridge proved correct the predictions of a close four-team race with 106 and 108 points respectively.
Said Coach Toni Henderson, "Everybody stepped up. Times were remarkable. Girls were cutting off minutes and seconds off their times just to get the places that they wanted to get."
No one emulated that statement more than Holton's #3 runner Lusya Engen. Engen's personal best 5k tumbled to 20:33 just a week earlier at the Skip Grant Invitational where Holton finished second behind National Cathedral. Engen chopped another chunk of time off her personal best on Saturday with a time of 19:57.54. Engen's ninth place finish gave Holton a legitimate "Big Three" along with first place Francesca Cetta and fourth place Natalie DeSarbo, all of whom executed their race plans for the benefit of the team.
Said Henderson, "I think they wanted it more. I think they came out with the guts and the tenacity to just want it more than anything, because as we said, we've been moving up the ranks throughout the year and this is the year that they felt like...they could do this."
New to the cross country team this year, Holton-Arms track star Francesca Cetta traversed the Agricultural Farm Park course like an experienced veteran despite having limited experience as a cross country runner. She spoke highly of her teammates and coaches first and foremost.
Said Cetta, "I think Holton has definitely been on the cusp of being a really competitive distance program just from the type of really dedicated girls that run for us, and I think this was a major breakthrough...We definitely trained really hard for it and I think we competed really well, too. We had a lot of PR's, so I think it looks great for Holton distance running."
The Duke-bound senior said that she joined the team in lieu of soccer just to gain experience before joining the prestigious running program in Durham. After debuting against the now-WCAC champion Meredith Gotzman at the Landon Invitational in September, she said that she missed the DCXC Invitational due to illness. DCXC would have been her best opportunity to gain experience against some of the best senior distance runners in the DC area, and after winning the ISL Championship on Saturday, she still found herself second-guessing some of her own choices.
"I definitely have some more to learn with my pacing...start controlling my nerves I guess."
She said that she thought that she was a comparable runner to Episcopal's Alli Boehm and that the plan was to race Boehm for the win, but in the first ten seconds, she panicked a little bit when she was not in the lead, so in her words, she "let it rip." She split 5:39 at the first mile marker and 11:52 (6:13) at the second mile marker. At no point after that first mile was Boehm even in her rear view.
"I just stayed with a really aggressive pace and let my adrenaline rule how I ran," she said.
The ISL Champion in the 800m, 1600, 3200m, and now 5000m says that she has her sights set on Footlocker Regionals in New York in late November.
"My running has definitely taken off with the guidance of my coaches, and I am really grateful for that," she said.