With a sweep of individual county, region, and state titles and a third place team finish by the Walter Johnson girls team, senior Jenna Goldberg got everything that she wanted out of her final high school cross country season to this point.
Shortly after winning the individual 4A state title in 17:50.47, Goldberg spoke of her teammates as the most rewarding part of the experience.
Said Goldberg, "Just seeing my team who I adore completely - we've all been working for it so hard ever since August, just to see all of our hard work pay off, because they all had amazing races, super strong finishes - it's just really rewarding to see everything pay off."
While rival Walt Whitman High School was missing a key top-five runner, WJ came out as the best girls team from Montgomery County in third place. Howard High School from Howard County and Severna Park High School from Anne Arundel County finished first and second respectively. Broadneck finished fourth and the Montgomery County champions, Walt Whitman, finished fifth.
The individual battle in the girls 4A race was all Montgomery County up front as Goldberg collided with Richard Montgomery's Charlotte Turesson in the first five minutes as they had done in the previous two races. There is about a two minute span of time between where runners exit the baseball field for the first time, disappear from spectator view, and then re-enter the baseball field for the second time. Between three minutes and five minutes into the race, Turesson and Goldberg both went from mid-pack to gapping the field.
As with many state championship meet races, the race did not really begin until runners descended the dip for the first time at about 1.25 miles. That is where Turesson says that she lost the lead for the first time.
Said Turesson, "Going down the dip, she went down pretty fast, and I just wasn't...I'm kind of cautious on the downhills which I probably shouldn't have been. She made a little gap there going down the dip and then had 10 meters or 5 meters coming back up the dip."
Goldberg was not specifically targeting that moment in the race to open up a gap, but her race strategy in general was to use downhills to her advantage.
Said Goldberg, "I just knew that the uphills were going to be significantly harder to make that gap so I was thinking that if I was going to make a gap, I need to make it now on the downhills while it's going to be easier...I was able to feel really good and use the hills to my advantage. I feel like a did a really good job of doing that today."
According to Turesson, that five-to-ten meter gap remained steady for another mile into the race until a little after the two mile mark when Goldberg appeared to be pressing again. Turesson said that she kept up her pace and intensity, but that did not prevent Goldberg from slipping further away. Goldberg said that using hills to her advantage allowed her to attack the "flatter" middle section of the course including the soccer field and the maze.
Goldberg's time of 17:50.47 was just off the state meet record of 17:49.40 set by Annapolis's Maria Coffin in 2017. She is now #2 all-time at the state meet. Turesson's time of 18:23.55 will be the new #7 time on the state course according to the MPSSAA state record book.
Many of the names that Goldberg surpassed on the all-time state list are former Footlocker Finalists. Goldberg will attempt to become a Footlocker Finalist herself in three weeks at the Footlocker Northeast Regional in New York City. It is a longer than usual layoff between the state meet and FLNE as the qualifying weekend has almost always fallen two weeks after the Maryland state meet.
On her individual victory, Goldberg said, "It means a lot to me especially because this is something that I've been working for and dreaming of ever since I joined cross country and got serious about it."
Richard Montgomery's Garrett Suhr made an honest attempt at winning the 4A state title, and he paid the price for attempting to keep up with the torrid pace of Sam Keeny of South River High School. Suhr faded from second place to fifth place in the final half mile, and he was sorely disappointed with the outcome.
Said Suhr, "I was right on him until we went to the baseball field back there [beginning of third mile]. There is an uphill before that and he gapped me slightly on that and my legs were just not working enough to catch up, and it was like that for the rest of the race."
He said that he wasn't sure if anyone was near him at the point but he felt like he was in no man's land. While ascending the dip for the final time, he maintained his position in second place, but he said that he felt like he was walking.
"It was so bad. My legs were not working at all. I was trying to pump my arms and it literally felt like I was walking...Usually, I have a kick at the end of these races...and I was trying to latch on to Tanner when he passed me and it just did not happen. My legs were not moving the way they're used to."
His time of 15:54.95 was a good one, and had four runners not finished in front of him, the time would have ranked among the top ten in state meet history according to the MPSSAA record book. Not even news that it was an historic, record-breaking race by Keeny softened the blow of disappointment in Suhr's mind. He had finished fourth in the state as a sophomore, and after a less healthy junior year, all he could focus on immediately following the race was that he finished fifth as a senior.
"I just want it to be track season again," Suhr said, echoing his sentiment from the county meet three weeks earlier. He speculated that he may not have performed his best because he recently discovered he added a few pounds of muscle which should help him on the track.
He said that he will still race at NXR in Cary, North Carolina where his objectives are binary. He wants to break 15:00 in the 5k and get that sweet NXN gear that he saw his former teammate Rohann Asfaw score in 2016.
The only team that scored any hardware on Saturday was the Northwood boys team which placed second in the 4A state race behind Severna Park, 43 to 130. Coach Giovanni Reumante had seen Severna Park firsthand at the Great American XC Festival and he knew how tough they would be. While he was realistic that second place may have been their best case scenario, he was still disappointed by how they finished second. He thought that his boys could have been fifty points better. He wanted his top four boys to finish in the top fifteen, which is what Severna Park successfully accomplished.
"Watching the race, I was like, 'Oh, this is not looking good,' just because our top four were not in the positions we expected them to be. Lamar [Wilson], surprisingly, he hasn't really been running for most of the season, but he really stepped up today. He finished [45th] and that's a lot higher than we expected for our number five guy. So our front guys didn't have their best day, but because he stepped up that was the reason we were able to hold on for second."
Reumante speculated that his guys were tired because they went hard after division, county, and regional titles, all while attempting to overcome a lack of depth. He said that the key to becoming the next Severna Park is to get more kids out on the team. He believes that he has proven that Northwood's program can develop talent, but inspiring new generations will be the never-ending challenge. He pointed to the junior varsity runners in attendance as spectators as the greatest evidence that the program is still just getting off the ground after two years as Montgomery County's top dog.
Photo by John Giaudrone