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NTN SE Region Recap
By: Kevin Milsted

Orchard XC Club Finishes 7th

The Lady Dawgs Finish 6th

It is a very cold and breezy November morning in Hoover, Alabama. The sun begins to peak through the clouds, and small packs of runners wearing hats, gloves, and layers of clothing jog around the grassy regional course. The cold may be bothering the girls from the south, but the Churchill girls probably aren't thinking much about the weather. They traveled from further away than anyone. They worked the entire season just to make it to this meet. Coming off a devastating 4th place finish at the Maryland State Championship, this is a chance for redemption, a rare opportunity to burry their final regular season meet and run at least one more race as a team.

Although the boys' race is an hour after the start of the girls' race, the Quince Orchard boys are warming up even before the girls line up at the starting line. The men in red stick together like family in everything they do. When they warm up, stretch, huddle, and most importantly when they race, they watch out for one another every step of the way. That is how they conducted themselves from the first day of practice in August. That is how they conducted themselves as they moved up and down rankings all season, and that is how they got where they stand today: Maryland State Champions representing their home state in perhaps the most elite assembly of high school cross country teams ever assembled in the south.

The 2007 Churchill girls' and Quince Orchard boys' cross country teams are special. Every member athlete knows it. Every local coach and fan who follows the sport knows it. In both cases, the teams emerged as powerhouses from a rare converging of talent. That's not to take away from the work that the coaches put in to build an enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding program that anyone in the state would want to be a part of. Certainly that is the cornerstone of their success. That's also not to take away from the training and hard work that the athletes put in to develop their talent and contribute to the team. The bottom line with these two teams is that they discovered one runner after another who had the physical talent and the right attitude to accomplish whatever they set out to do. And for this year only, both of these very special teams find themselves toeing the starting line with the dream of going to the Nike Team National Championship Meet.

The Churchill girls, or the "Lady Dawgs" as they called themselves, were once again reminded of their 4th place finish at the state championship when the meet announcer introduced them as the 4th place team that missed a state title by 16 points. Shortly thereafter, the gun was fired and they raced as a pack down the wide open 400-meter grassy starting stretch. It was a flat and fast start followed by a bottleneck into the woods. The remainder of the course would be run on a smooth, hard gravel path.

A lead-pack of four runners emerged from the woods running back towards the starting area. The would-be winner Madeline Morgan was already pushing the pace in the front. Two Lady Dawgs, Louise Hannallah and Erin McManus, led the rest of the field through the first mile in 5th and 6th places. Teammates Alex Geidd and Maryam Fikri were not far behind as they hurdled the haystacks that were intentionally placed on the course just after the first mile.

About a mile and a half into the race, the runners entered a wooded back section of the course that was lined with very few spectators. This challenging section of the course was reported to break a few competitors before making a final ascent to a long flat finish.

The Lady Dawgs appeared to hold their position well throughout the race. Both Hannallah and McManus ran the entire race stride for stride for 4th and 5th place, easily finishing in front of same-state opponents Teshika Rivers and Dominique Lockhart from Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt, however, got their third and fourth runners in well before those of the Lady Dawgs.

After the race was over, there was a general feeling of satisfaction and success. Whatever the final score turned out to be, they all felt that they ran their best and redeemed their performance at the state meet. They eventually put their layers of clothes back on and readied themselves to enjoy watching the boys' race.

Unlike the Churchill girls who had to prove themselves to the county, state, and region all year long, Quince Orchard was well-known and highly regarded the entire season. They felt that they belonged among the best and envisioned toeing the start line at NTN regionals ever since before the season began. They were collectively focused at the start line and when the gun went off, they moved fast.

Neal Darmody quickly moved to the front, feeling that he had what it took to win the race and score the low point for his team. He led the race through the first mile in right around five minutes, which was fast but not furious. David Laratta was about 6 runners back in the pack and shortly following him was Josh Joson. Unfortunately, the rest of the team seemed to be lagging in the back half of the pack, which was not conducive to earning a ticket to the national championship meet.

Each runner ran his heart out, but the situation did not improve over the back section of the course. In the end, many of them including Darmody faded a few spots, and while they still had a very respectable showing, they didn't have that extra boost that they needed on this day. Following the race, they generally felt pretty down and disappointed, knowing that they had not performed up to their own expectations.

The awards ceremony was long and drawn out. Medals were awarded to runners in various categories for over 30 minutes before getting to the point. The meet directors had not shared the results with anyone prior to the ceremony, so the suspense grew and grew. David Laratta and Neal Darmody of the Orchard boys both earned individual medals while Erin McManus and Louise Hannallah came home with medals of their own.

The Lady Dawgs thought that they had a chance at a top 4 spot, but when the top 4 teams were announced in alphabetical order, the Dawgs remained in their seats. Their season came to an end right there on those cold metal bleachers in Hoover, Alabama. The Orchard boys, who had no expectation of a top 4 spot by that time, were standing in the back just waiting to hear where they placed. Lady Dawgs were 6th. Orchard boys were 7th.

Read 2007 XC Season Recap


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