Next February, the best runners in the country will convene at the Agricultural Farm Park for the USA Cross Country Championships. This Saturday, amongst a field of 23 high school teams, one runner stands out as one who may someday run with the best in the US. Solomon Haile of Sherwood High School is in a league of his own, as he has proven by winning last year's 5000-meter races at Nike Indoor Nationals and Nike Outdoor Nationals. The Magruder Invitational will be his first stop on the road to the 2008 Footlocker National Championships in November. Teammates, coaches, opponents, and even observers from afar will be excited to see how he begins his season.
The rest of the field will chase after Haile with some of the best runners that Maryland has to offer. The DeMatha duo of Cory Puffett and Robert Patterson will be in the lead pack. Patterson is coming off a win at the Mount St. Mary’s Invitational, whereas Puffett sat the meet out with a mild injury. Vikas Bhatia and Antonio Palmer, who led most of the race at Mount St. Mary’s, will see if they can hang on to the lead later into the race. Nearly all of Montgomery County’s best will battle it out in this early season showdown including Matt Davey-Karlson of B-CC, Kyle Balderson of Sherwood, Wayne Bartholomew of QO, Jack Strabo of Landon, Sean King of Churchill, and Nicolas Escobar from the host school Magruder. It’s a good thing that Andrew Palmer of Whitman won’t be there because then there would be nothing left to look forward to this year.
The Northwest boys should be the class of the field, even though trying to predict their order of finish is harder than predicting which school systems will cancel activities in a hurricane. In their first two meets, it has been the sophomore Bobby Sonken stepping up to lead the way while their deep pack follows in not too far behind. The Good Counsel boys will see if they can catch up after finishing one spot behind Northwest at Mount St. Mary’s, and the Churchill boys think they’ve got the depth to match up with the top teams as well.
The top eight girls in Montgomery County (as voted on by mocorunning.com fans) will be in the race at the Magruder Invitational, but it is the rematch between Northwest's Britt Eckerstrom and Gaithersburg's Abby Spitler that fans will be excited to see. After Eckerstrom dominated county competition for much of her freshman year, Spitler came out on top at the season-opening cross country meet at Mount St. Mary's. Eckerstrom won't be caught off guard by Spitler in this meet, but a number of girls could show up and steal the show including Wootton's Jessie Rubin who has not raced yet, Churchill's Maryam Fikri, and B-CC's Addie Tousley.
Team-wise, this meet will surely come down to the Churchill and Northwest girls, ultimately establishing the favorite for the Montgomery County Championship Meet...at least until the next time they meet. Both teams lost a lot of talent from graduation, but due to their depth and tradition, they are once again at the top of the county. Northwest placed second last week against a strong team from Virginia, while Churchill placed sixth last weekend against very tough Pennsylvania competition. The Good Counsel, Quince Orchard, and Wootton girls (in no particular order) will likely round out the top five teams in this meet.