As the last weekend of October looms, returning WCAC cross country runners are once again realizing their love/hate relationship with Lake Fairfax. Athletes who've never ran it are in for a surprise, and will soon discover the reason why the Fairfax, VA park hasn't hosted a major invitational since 2004: this course is HARD. With creek crossings, monster hills, precious little time to recover, and zero chance of setting personal bests, Lake Fairfax truly separates the men from the boys. This Saturday, the battle begins.
Who to Watch
Since many of the league's athletes raced in last Saturday's Georgetown Prep Classic, fans already have a rough idea of what to expect. DeMatha senior Robert Patterson, who hadn't lost to a WCAC competitor for the entire season, was a casualty of teammate Cory Puffett's breakout performance on the 3.07-mile course at Prep. Puffett (pictured left by Ted Plunkett, Milestat.com) spent most of the season recovering from a hamstring problem but is rounding into shape just in time, and his twenty-one second victory over Patterson brings Puffett one step closer to his second consecutive WCAC title. Don't expect Gonzaga's Bill Ledder to make things easy, though. Ledder's chances of doing well this Saturday are all but guaranteed after a string of impressive performances in his first-ever cross country season established Ledder as a first-rate competitor. Exactly where he stands in relation to DeMatha's duo remains to be seen, however, because Ledder sat out last week's matchup at Prep. Also in the hunt for strong finishes will be Virginia State Catholic Champion Ian McGinn of Paul VI, Kyle Graves of Good Counsel, and Gonzaga's number-two runner Will Fleury, who all could play major roles in how the race unfolds.
Teams to Beat
The Gonzaga Eagles have been the class of the league since the beginning of the season. Ledder is a lock for placing in the top three, and the strong supporting cast of Will Fleury, Billy Lewis, Mike Kerrigan, Kevin Creamer, and Ben Zeiss knows what it takes to race against the best. Also worth mentioning is sophomore Colin Leibold, who has also woven his way up through the varsity ranks all season and could be just what Gonzaga needs to seal away a victory. Nothing is set in stone, of course, but this year, the title is Gonzaga's to lose.
As a team, Good Counsel is the league's biggest question mark. A great performance at the Magruder Invitational in early September convinced many that the Falcons would win their second straight title, but after bombing the Maymont Invitational, the Falcons laid low. Really low. Top runner Sam Rainard and freshman standout Jack Riely haven't raced at all since then, and GC has split up its remaining runners among incomplete varsity and JV teams in each subsequent meet, save for Georgetown Prep this past weekend. If X-factors Rainard and Riely return, Gonzaga will have their hands full, but right now the only thing certain for GC is a strong showing in the freshman race.
DeMatha's been in the hunt for another WCAC title as well, but they've spent the entire season looking for solid 4th and 5th men to complement Patterson, Puffett, and senior Brian Benkhadra. Their search may be over at last, as freshman Onyx Johnson and sophomore Grant Abernathy had their best races of the season at Georgetown Prep. Should those two improve, DeMatha has a decent shot at victory, but losing anyone could give a slew of other teams, such as Virginia State Catholic Championship team victor Paul VI, an opportunity to move up.