Thousands of high school students compete in track & field and cross country in Montgomery County every year, but truthfully I only personally know a handful of you, especially after this year's graduation. That is why I went to your summer cross country practices! I spent the preseason trying to get to know you and let you get to know the man behind www.mocorunning.com. Many coaches invited me to your practices, time trials, scrimmages, and even a carwash. I laced up my running shoes and jumped right in with you so that I could get better idea of who the athletes are that make up this great running community.
Sherwood Scrimmage Pictures
Sandy Spring Friends School Scrimmage Pictures 1 2
Wednesday August 29, 2007
My final stop on the MoCo Tour brought a new flavor of cross country and a whole new level of traffic. Luckily I gave myself two and a half hours to get to Sandy Spring Friends School for their All-Comers meet, because with part of Wootton Parkway getting shut down, that's about how long it took me to get there.
Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) is a small private school near Blake High School. It is a member of the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference (PVAC), which is comprised of several other small private schools around Washington D.C. They rarely attend any large meets, so a meet of this caliber is about as big as it gets for the Wildabeasts. Today they hosted Blair, Landon, St. Andrews, and Theodore Roosevelt.
There was one big coed race run on the SSFS campus, which was mostly grass and dirt trail. The Landon boys formed a pack early with a few guys from St. Andrews and Blair chasing. After the runners disappeared into the large loop, Jack Strabo, the sophomore from Landon, was the first athlete to return to the finish area with a large lead over teammate Max Marinelli. Strabo finished first in about 18:17 with Marinelli about 25 seconds later. A furious kicking Nilan Schnure from Blair moved from fifth to third over the last half mile for a finish in about 18:50. Blair teammate Rutvij Pandya came in shortly after. Less than two minutes later, the first girl, Washana Kelly from Theodore Roosevelt, came in looking very relaxed in a little over 20 minutes. Johanna Gretschel from Blair came in over a minute later taking it fairly easy. Victoria Bodnar and Megan Nash from St. Andrews were the next two finishers followed by a trail of girls from various schools.
For some athletes, it was their first experience running cross country and it was a great night for a first race. For others, it was a nice tune up for what will be a fun and competitive season. For me, it was my final opportunity to shake some hands and get to know some athletes and coaches before a season full of photos, recaps, rankings, and interviews. Thank you to all of the coaches who invited me to join them over this past week and a half. It was a great experience learning about all of the different programs across the county and I feel much better equipped to cover the entire county this year. As always, keep coming back to visit the site and continue telling your friends. Best of luck this season.
Monday August 27, 2007
St. Andrews Episcopal School was unknown territory for me. Probably like many of the MCPS athletes, I only knew the location of the school from jogging around the neighborhood when Churchill hosts a meet. After arriving late to many of my previous visits, I was determined to arrive to St. Andrews on time and found myself sitting in the parking lot about 45 minutes early. I had plenty of time to snack on a banana and wander around their small but very nice campus.
Despite the school having 450 students for 6 grades, their high school cross country team was surprisingly large with roughly 10 girls and 15 boys. The coaches gave me very nice introductions, first to the boys team and then to the girls team. This was the first school that I had been to where the boys and girls teams had distinct programs with separate coaches. This made sense since they compete in distinct but related conferences (MAC for boys, ISL for girls).
After answering some questions for the girl's team, I joined up with the boy's team for an easy 4 mile run. They had already had a mile time trial in the morning and this was their 2nd practice of the day. I hung back in the pack, trying to chat with whoever was around me. The team mostly all stayed together and a nice relaxed pace. About three miles into the run, we ran some hills, before jogging in the last mile. We stretched for a few minutes and I tried to get as much info about competing in the MAC as I could. I have always wanted to become more knowledgeable about and do a better job covering the county private schools and this visit to St. Andrews was a step in the right direction.
Saturday August 25, 2007
This morning was so hot that even my car was covered in sweat when I left home. I had to clear off my windows before heading over to Wootton's 8am practice. I got there just before the distance run began. Coach Redmond introduced me to the group and I met a few people quickly before catching up with the top group for the 8 mile run.
I believe the groups were divided by summer mileage and the top group only consisted of Kenny Siu and Tristan Griffith. We moved at a nice pace through the Lakewood Estates area of Rockville. They told me about their time trial and a few of their recent workouts. It seems like their coach expected them to run a lot over the summer, but at the same time, they were easing their way into the season.
They told me about their time trial and how the top ten boys and girls got red t-shirts so I could tell who the top runners were. Those two guys were first and second while Veronica Salcido and Jessie Rubin took the top two spots on the girl's team. The girl's team looks pretty good with Iona Machado also leading the team and a few girls who look promising to fill out the rest of the top 5. The boy's team is going to need a lot of help after Chris Boyd's departure and Max Swider and Scott Oberst opted not to run cross country.
The humidty became brutal as the sun rose higher into the sky. We made it back in good time and the team did some stretching and a core workout. I unfortunately found that my camera battery was dead so I was unable to get any shots of the team. I got the chance to further introduce myself to the team while they refueled on some granola bars and orange juice. I had to sit in the shade to dry off for a little while before getting in my car to leave.
I went home to recharge my battery before heading up to the Sherwood scrimmage. The heat and humidty was brutal by 3:00 and the coaches decided to shorten the race from a 5k to about two miles (it was probably a little further than two miles). Sherwood was host to B-CC, Walter Johnson, and Northwest.
The girls went first and the top Northwest girls cruised out in front at a tempo pace. Addie Tousley from B-CC trailed behind them the whole way before they all crossed the finish line together. I didn't recognize too many girls after that, and with no uniforms, I didn't even know which teams most of them were on.
The boy's race was a little more competitive. The early pace was hard considering the heat. Brian Graves from Walter Johnson was the first athlete to re-emerge from the back section of the course. He was moving real comfortably and brought it in for a nice first win. Managi Biggers from Northwest and Alex Prevost from B-CC trailed Graves, but Prevost didn't have such a smooth finish. With about a quarter mile to go, the heat got to him and he was forced to take a breather before finishing several places back. Biggers finished second followed by Kyle Balderson of Sherwood, Roni Teich of WJ outkicking Russell Speiden from Sherwood, and a trio from Northwest consisting of John Ingraham, Nick Gummo, and John DiNardo. So the Northwest girls put 4 in the top 5 while the Northwest boys managed 4 in the top 8.
Friday August 24, 2007
I wish I had a good excuse, but I don't. Connecticut Avenue was supposed to turn into University Blvd, but instead it turned into Leisure World. When I finally showed up to Einstein High School two hours after leaving work, the track was bare. I got lost and I completely missed their practice. I decided while I was there, I might as well do some running, so I started jogging around the track in great shame.
I only got ten minutes into a run when I saw three runners run onto the track looking like they just completed a distance run. The tall one came over to me and asked me if I was Kevin. Yes. Yes I was.
It turned out to be Einstein's top two runners Sebi Devlin-Foltz and Alex Bodaken along with their new coach Eric DaSilva. They were just finishing their workout so I did get to meet them after all. We got to know each other a little bit as the younger runners slowly trickled in. Although I didn't get to run with them, I would describe them as a team with two strong, enthusiastic runners up front and a new coach who wants to build something good. Looking at the 3A West this year, I feel like qualifying for states might be a possibility for them. On the girl's team, they think their new runner Zina will be pretty good, but we will have to wait until their first race to find out.
As a whole, they were a pretty fun, easy-going team, and I really found that out during a game of Ultimate Frisbee on the football field. I won't lie…I think my team got shut out, or at least we got beat pretty bad, but it was fun. Einstein was so sweet that they gave me a team t-shirt for stopping by. Hmmm, I guess I'll be wearing it at all the meets I go to now!
Thursday August 23, 2007
I felt like it was time to show the girls a little more love after not writing much about them the past few days. Richard Montgomery was probably the perfect place to do that. Although they were missing a few of their top girls, I consider them to be one of the better teams in the county and I knew running with them would be intense enough to keep me on my toes.
I arrived while the athletes were already warming up. For over a year, their athletic fields have been under construction. That means no football field, no track, no nothing. They meet at a small park behind their school and mostly run around the neighborhoods, although when they need to use a track, they use Montgomery College's.
After the warm up and stretching, we did a 45 minute workout with 15 minutes steady and relaxed, 15 minutes just a little bit under race pace, and 15 minutes easy. I ran it with the girls, led by Sarah Britton and Alana Moore and accompanied by several of their other top girls. The first fifteen minutes was nice and conversational, but the hard 15 minutes quickly became pretty intense. After a few minutes, it thinned out to just Sarah, Alana, and myself. We didn't do any talking during that part except for occasionally shouting out the number of minutes left. I was pretty impressed how they held that hard pace the whole time. When the fifteen minutes was up, we rounded up the rest of the girls and talked about the upcoming season for another 17 or 18 minutes.
The Hoyt brothers Ben and Tom lead the boy's team. The RM boys are in the same boat as a lot of other teams in the county. They have a lot of rebuilding to do after losing several key seniors, but they reported to me that they ran about 6-6:15 pace during the hard fifteen minutes which is a solid workout. I thought it was pretty cool that Brendan Etzel (one of the county's top sprinters) and Tyler Jackson (the county's top hurdler) were running for the cross country team, even though they probably won't be contributing too much.
After the RM girls were finished wearing me out, I headed up to Gaithersburg for my homecoming. As many of you know, I graduated from Gaithersburg in 2003, and while I will always be fair on mocorunning.com, I am a Gburg fan at heart. Coach Tolbert introduced me to the team, none of whom are old enough to have run with me, and we hit the track for the warm up. I warmed up with the top guys and like a lot of the other teams, they wanted to know how the other teams were doing and where they fit in. I honestly didn't know where they fit in, but I had a better idea after their two mile time trial on their cross country course.
I ran the first part of the time trial with my sister, which has sort of become a tradition in the last few years. Then when the leaders came out of the woods with ¾ mile to go, I cut over to the track to see the finish. Mike Limongelli and Vikas Bhatia pushed it real hard from the start. From what I could see, they exchanged the lead a few times, but they were way out in front of all the others. One of the key members of last year's tight pack, Luke Reding, was restricted to a bike due to an injury. Vikas pulled away in the final stretch to win by a few seconds in about 10:30 (I didn't get the exact time). Their pack is spread a lot thinner than last year, but I think they will still be pretty good.
Not too long afterwards, Abby Spitler came in looking real smooth in about 12:20. According to Coach Tolbert, that was one of the fastest times they have had for that preseason time trial. Although they lose their number two runner from last year, they return a lot of their varsity runners and look to possibly have a new number two for now. They look like they could break back into the top ten in the county this year with some work.
If you are wondering about Antonio Palmer, he showed up to practice for the first time after a monster summer on the track. He lowered his 800 meter PR to 1:54 this summer and took a break after nationals. He had never run a race longer than 800 meters, but he joined the cross country team today with no idea that a time trial was scheduled. He jumped in the time trial and ran about 11:30 on raw talent, finishing fourth on the team about 30 seconds behind Brendan Stepek. When Antonio gets in shape and Luke comes off his injury, they will be a force, but they might be hurting at first.
After the time trial was over, the team moved up to do 200 meter intervals on the hill. I tried to get out of there, but I was interrogated by the youngest Stepek girl (about age 6) about what I would be wearing for Halloween. That made my day.
Wednesday August 22, 2007
When I think of Rambo, I think of a jacked Sylvester Stalone running through the woods like a mad man. That is kind of how the Springbrook boys and girls looked when they charged up the hills nicknamed "Rambos." It is the type of hill that makes men out of boys. The way that these athletes handled it would have made the most hardcore movie character of all time proud.
Sharif Kronemer is Springbrook's fearless leader. He leads his team by example throughout practice and his teammates respond with enormous respect for their captain. Although the team is weary about moving back to the 4A West this year, they are all looking at where Sharif fits in and cheering for their number one guy to have a great season.
Washington DC traffic hindered the MoCo Tour for the first time today. The team had already begun their workout when I arrived about 20 minutes late so I didn't get to jump in with them like I have with the other teams so far. They were in the middle of a rotation of 7 minutes in four different areas: track, stadium steps, small hills, and RAMBOS. Coach Trapp entertained me as we watched the athletes climb the Rambos. The Rambos is a set of long steep cascaded hills in the woods that seems to go on forever. Running one is not that bad, but 7 minutes of running up them is brutal.
When the workout was over, Coach Frace graciously introduced me to the team and I got to chat with a few of the team members during the cool down. I found that mocorunning had an unexpectedly big fan base at Springbrook, and those who didn't know about the site seemed to be interested. It was another great visit with one of the smaller teams in the county on another cool, gray day in Moco.
P.S. Can you believe this weather?
Tuesday August 21, 2007
My trip to Rockville High School was everything that I wanted the MoCo Tour to be. Rockville is the ultimate "little guy" in a county full of power schools. With 6 guys and 3 girls on the team, they are probably the closest team that I am going to find. Every one of the athletes knows all of the others very well and I had no problem learning all of their names and jumping right in with them.
I discovered that Rockville High has some great places to run. They have a wooded trail right on the edge of their campus and they are in close proximity to the grassy Rockville Civic Center and the Rock Creek Bike Trail that stretches from Lake Needwood to Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C.
The plan was to run about 3 loops around the hilly Rockville Civic Center course. I thought that running with Rockville would be a recovery day after running with Whitman, but I was surprised how quickly they took off when the workout began. Two guys in particular, Billy Orndorff and Ian Kirk, looked like they put in some hard work over the summer. Ian ran a strong pace from start to finish with Billy alongside him except for when he was helping the freshman find his way around the course. I would expect both of those guys to qualify for the state championship by the end of the season.
The practice ended with a core workout and I was invited to play predator/prey in the maze of bushes in the center of the Civic Center grounds. The game is a combination of hide & seek and tag where the "tagged" become "predators" themselves. I agreed to play a round, but of course they made me the guy who has to find people. It was a flashback to the days when I played capture the flag at the Fairgrounds during indoor track practice (Gaithersburg knows what I'm talking about). The game lasted almost a half hour and was like a second workout in itself chasing those guys all over the place.
They aren't the best team and they know that, but they do well with what they got and they have a good time doing it. Their experience running cross country is unique to their school, and just like any other program in the county, that is something that the athletes will hold onto for a long time.
Monday August 20, 2007
2:30 was going to be cutting it close, but Whitman is the closest MoCo school to my job so I thought I could pull it off. Luckily there was very little traffic when I left Alexandria a little after 2:00 and I made it just in time for the warm up. The whole team did a mile jog, some stretching, and drills before breaking up into small groups and doing a distance run. I hesitantly joined the top guys along with Coach Hays for what they said would be a 10 mile run at 8 minute pace. I didn’t believe they would stay that slow for the whole run, but luckily the pace never picked up much.
I ventured into the heart of Bethesda with the Palmer brothers, Brandt Silver Korn, Dan Miller, and Coach Hays pushing a baby stroller. About ten minutes in, we were running past Chipotle and saw some of Whitman’s JV runners coming out of Chipotle with burritos. After some inquisition from the team captains, they ran off with burritos in hand.
We moved on to a few different trails and neighborhoods around Bethesda. They called it the Candy Cane City run. The pace stayed comfortable so we talked about all sorts of things: athletes, races, training, competition, movies, tv. I didn’t realize it but we must have been going downhill the whole time. When we started heading back, it was all up hill so I was doing more heavy breathing than talking. That’s not the first time Andrew Palmer has done that to me.
75 minutes went by pretty quick on the cool, overcast day. That was probably the easiest day of the week for those guys so I’m glad I was there for it. They are in really good shape and I have no doubt they will be one of the best teams in the state this year despite losing their top two runners from last year.
Saturday August 18, 2007
I couldn’t ask for a nicer day to kick off the 2007 MoCo Tour. The air was cool and the sun was rising as I left my home for Churchill’s 7:00 AM time trial.
The scene was a bit overwhelming at first, not just because of the gigantic cross country team stretching on the track, but also because of the large soccer and field hockey teams slowly arriving and filling up the stadium for their morning practices.
I caught up with the coaches and listened to their thoughts on the first few days of practice. I said hello to a few other familiar faces, but the number of new faces was daunting and I didn’t know where to begin.
The first time trial was the “fast girls.” The athletes decided themselves whether they were fast or not. The fast girls were accompanied by a recent Churchill grad Tarik Aougab who ran alongside Louise Hannallah, helping her run perfectly even splits to a 12:00 3200. The times didn’t really mean much to me. I was more impressed by the way the rest of the girls ran together. Owoade Ayorinde looked good running stride for stride with Maryam Fikri and some of their other sophomores looked like they have improved over the summer. They looked like a team that will definitely be able to pack it in with no weak links later in the season. There is no question that I was watching one of the best teams in the state.
The “slow girls” time trial would be emotional for some of the inexperienced girls who needed to complete the two miles in 18 minutes to make the team. Ms. Hannallah paced the back of the pack with a perfect 9 minute mile pace while the rest of the top girls jumped in and ran a few laps alongside anyone who was struggling. With the encouragement of their teammates, most of the girls made the cutoff while a few unfortunately did not.
Unlike the girls, a large majority of the boys deemed themselves “fast boys,” and with the pressure coming from the other athletic teams to use the track, the coaches decided to just run one heat of the boys time trial. Interestingly enough, one of their top girls, Erin McManus showed up late, missed the girls’ time trial, and opted to run with the boys. Recent grad Evan Whetsell also jumped in the race and I decided to get a little exercise myself.
The opening pace was honest. I sat about 10 or 15 back in the pack which was a pretty good view of the race at first…until the leaders got away from me. I stepped off the track 2 laps early to get a snapshot of the finishers. William Draffin and Sean King came through together followed by a steady stream of developing runners. These guys aren’t the most experienced or talented, but they’ve got numbers and a spot at the state championship seems within reach. Erin McManus placed 7th in the boys race in 12:10.
Somewhere in there I was able to talk to a few kids that I had not met before, although most of them probably went home wondering who I was. Those that I did talk to were friendly and had an optimistic outlook on the season. I couldn’t stay around too long because I had another practice to get to across the county.
Magruder was hosting Quince Orchard at their new home course for their Saturday workout at 9:00 AM. The course is at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland, not far from their old course at Lake Needwood. The course itself is on a nice plot of land, all grass, hilly with two major loops, a few sharp turns and a creek crossing. The park is so ideal for a cross country race that the Road Runners are placing a bid to host the 2009 USATF National Cross Country Championship there. If you are not fortunate enough to be on one of the teams that Magruder will host there this season, you can test out the course on Sunday, October 14th in a 6k race hosted by the Montgomery County Road Runners (more info). There may also be a high school invitational hosted there next year.
When I first arrived, Coach Timm from Magruder talked me through the course as we walked over to where the athletes were starting their workout. The workout would be 4 laps around a 1 mile loop running 5 minutes hard and 1 minute easy.
The teams made it easy on me. Magruder boys and girls mostly all wore something blue while QO almost all wore red. I felt right at home greeting the Quince Orchard guys who are always good to me. Three of their top runners (Darmody, Laratta, and Panasenkov) were missing, but I knew it would still be an impressive workout from the rest of the crew. I didn’t know any of the Magruder guys but I had an opportunity to talk to some of them right off the bat and I eventually met all of their top guys who were there.
The workout started on a steep uphill followed by a long downhill. I thought that I would at least be able to keep contact with the front guys for a lap or two, but they quickly disappeared in front of me and I didn’t feel like trying to catch them. I cut back across the field to watch them complete their first mile loop in 6 minutes (which included the easy minute). The QO guys looked real strong and Magruder’s Emilio Galis was keeping right up with them. Shortly after the top guys came QO’s Stephanie Joson and Aimee Moores looking real relaxed. Those two girls will have a great season, but the jury is still out on the depth of the QO girls’ team this season.
After the guys were good and worn out, I jumped back into the workout on the final lap, hoping this time I could keep up for just a mile. By this time, Joson and Priovolos were flying out in front so I locked onto Kris Lasko’s pace. We were moving but not quite up with the front runners. At this point I didn’t know if he knew who I was but I think he was happy to have the company on the final lap and we worked our way back up to Galis and Migdall. Rounding the final turn, there was another big hill and Kris left me in his dust. All and all, it was an impressive workout from a team that looks very much like they will live up to the hype this season.
Coach Timm led both teams on the cool down, showing us the rest of the 5k course. Our large group dodged numerous horse landmines as we went out on a gravel road, over the creek bridge, through some woods, and back out into the sun over what the athletes deemed “the rollercoaster.” “The rollercoaster” was a steep sloped left turn uphill followed by a very steep right-turning downhill with a creek crossing at the bottom. It wasn’t a creek that could be hopped over. Racers will probably have to take two steps in the ankle-high water when running full speed. Props to the girls who charged right through the water before any of the boys would. From the creek it should be a pretty fast spectator-friendly finish. It is a very fine cross country course.
After some stretching and a talk from the coaches, practice was over so I got in the car, wet socks and all, and drove away.
I took a short lunch break and headed up to Damascus to get my car washed! I don’t think that Coach Youngblood actually thought that I would show up, but my car needed a wash and anything goes on The MoCo Tour. While the kids got to work on my car, I chatted with Youngblood about cross country camp and how practice had been so far. He was pretty excited about some of his developing talent including his crop of talented sophomore boys and a few girls that he added.
Wil Z and Taylor Colbert were really friendly, introducing me to several other athletes on their team. The Constantinides twins eagerly talked to me about many things while their crazy Greek dad kept yelling at them to get back to work. Then he started yelling at me and teaching me Greek phrases to get me to move my car. I guess I was being pretty distracting, but it was time (and money) well-spent. Thanks for washing my car, guys!