Despite a tough Bullis course that was made even tougher by all-night rains, coach Jim Ehrenhaft was able to get the most out of his runners on Saturday at the IAC/MAC/ISL Cross Country Championships held in Potomac. Confronted with a water-logged course that proved more challenging than ever, Ehrenhaft pulled a one-two punch by guiding not only the National Cathedral School to victory in the ISL championship race but also his St. Alban's squad in the IAC championship run. Both teams have run with confidence all season and Saturday was no different. Nick Bax, who has distinguished himself as one of the finest runners in the area this fall, led the way for St. Alban's while Raina Davis and Kat Dougherty paced National Cathedral to victory.
Coming into Saturday's championship races, Ehrenhaft felt confident that both his teams were capable of victory. "I told the girls not to get too excited and simply run their own races," said Ehrenhaft. "And they responded well with a very good team performance." In a race that has seen the team title switch hands every year for the last six years, National Cathedral School defeated defending champions St. Andrew's and ten other schools. NCS faced a fairly serious challenge from a reconstituted Potomac team that led NCS through four runners. But a solid team effort on NCS's part allowed them to edge Potomac 56-64. Davis and Dougherty took sixth and seventh and were followed closely across the line by Molly Pritchard who finished ninth overall to also secure All-ISL honors. Lottie Hedden (15th) and Yoriko Nakamura (19th) secured the victory for NCS. What was most impressive for the NCS squad was that less than a minutes separated their top five runners. A much improved Sidwell team led by Lauren Lewis's second place finish took third place in the team race.
Moira Ryan of Georgetown Vistation took top honors in the race easily outdistancing the next competitor by 44 seconds. Ryan, who won her race at the Bull Run Invite earlier in the season, knew she had a chance at taking the ISL individual title. "I felt like I had a shot at it.," said Ryan. "I felt like if I could get through the first mile in a good position, I could control the race." Her strategy paid off as she was well ahead of the field before the two mile point. As her coach Kevin Hughes stated, "I told her to be in control and she did that in outstanding way. Moira ran the perfect race."
In an outstanding team performance, St. Alban's boys placed its top five runners in the top ten and its top seven in the top fifteen to win big over Georgetown Prep and four other league rivals. Ehrenhaft's strategy for his St. Alban's squad was no different than that of his NCS girls' team: "Run your own race." As Ehrenhaft stated, "We have run a lot of invites this fall and this race being much smaller was different. I told the guys that they had to keep their focus and keep their eyes on the competition. They did that very well. Nick Bax's performance speaks for itself. Brian Rooney is a tough runner also. When one considers we went 1-3-6-8-10, there is no question it was a great team effort."
Bax was pleased with his performance as well. Despite a challenge from Georgetown Prep's Mat Abernethy in the first half of the race, Bax started pulling away before the two mile mark. According to Bax, "Mat was definitely putting a lot of pressure on me in the first mile or so. I knew he would give me some good competition. I am just happy I ran as well as I did." With the individual victory, Bax added another individual honor in a season that has seen him win the Peter Geraghty, Mercersburg, and Salesianum Invites.
The MAC championship race turned out to be perhaps the most exciting team race of the day as the Potomac School and Georgetown Day School were expected to go head to head for the team title. Potomac had edged out GDS at the Mercersburg Invite and GDS had done the same to Potomac at Salesianum. St. Andrew's however, who had been beaten rather soundly by both teams throughout the course of the season, stepped in to mount a serious challenge to both teams. In the end, Potomac beat out St. Andrew's for the team title by a mere five points. Using one of the best 1-2 combinations in the area in Johns Ross and Stephen Serene, Potomac attacked the Bullis course with a confidence that they had the ability to win the team title.
Head coach Mike Schroer believed that his runners were capable of winning it all as long as their strategy played out right. Schroer stated, "Our strategy was to have Ross and Serene go 1-2 and then have our 3rd, 4th, and 5th guys get ahead of Georgetown Day's 4th man. If we did that, first was attainable." The strategy worked. However St. Andrew's was the team that ended up going head to head with Potomac. Potomac and St. Andrew's were nearly even through their fourth men. Despite fine efforts from Joe Peterson (3rd), Tom Belikove (7th), and Dylan Thayer (8th) to nab All-MAC honors, Potomac was able to get their fifth man Vincent Parenti (15th) ahead of St. Andrew's fifth man. Potomac was also helped to victory by Teddy Watson's All-MAC 10th place finish.
Schroer admitted he was surprised by St. Andrew's performance. He stated, "We knew they had a solid top three, but didn't figure their 4th and 5th guys would do as well as they did." Georgetown Day suffered a serious blow in their attempt to defend their title when their number one runner Jason Campbell fell injured during the race. Campbell, though, gustily ran through the pain and managed to finished to keep his team in the race.
Johns Ross summed it up well for himself and the entire Potomac team when he stated he was "unbelievably happy." "We were confident we could go 1-2, but we knew the whole team had to come through. Position was what counted for us. I am just so happy for all of us, especially the seniors who have waited for so long for a title. It was a great team race," said Ross.
All the teams will be gearing up for their state championships that take place on Saturday November 11th.