Twelve Montgomery County athletes are facing the bittersweet reality of finishing out the cross country season on the biggest stage without their full team competing behind them. Most of these athletes run for teams on the rise and are thrilled to represent their team at the state championship. Others are struggling with the concept of running alone after failing to help their team reach the state meet.
Abby Spitler is all too familiar with the state qualification system. She has had no problem finishing in the top 25% of her regional competition in each of her three years of high school. She has been running stronger than ever this year, and the individual state title is not out of reach.
"I feel blessed that God gave me good legs to run on, and I am excited to run in this big meet and see where my training has brought me... I do have mixed feelings because I would love to have the rest of my teammates running with me."
At the state championship, she just hopes to have fun and finish the season well.
Rutvij Pandya of Blair returns to the state championship as an individual qualifier for the second consecutive year. His ninth place regional finish showed great improvement over last year's finish.
"Making states is really special for me this year because as a senior I wanted to lay it all out, and Hereford is the place to do it. I'm just excited that I could build off a good season last year and represent Blair at the state level again."
Based on the way he has been running, Pandya should greatly improve on last year's 48th place finish.
Fans would think that the Quince Orchard runners are devastated after the defending state champs failed to qualify for the state championship meet. Senior Wayne Bartholomew, who qualified individually, puts it best.
"It's not that bad. I'm really proud of these guys .It's their first season on varsity and running in varsity races and they just needed to get use to the pace. I know that next year they will be a better team, but there is no doubt that they tried their best, and that's all that Pelkey could ask for."
QO sophomore Conor Spaulding also qualified to run at states individually.
"It was definitely a big jump to becoming a team leader this past season. Since we lost our entire varsity team last year I knew I was really going to have to step up as the number two runner."
Both QO runners are excited to run together at Hereford and are shooting for top 25 finishes.
Last year, Watkins Mill was the surprise qualifying team in the 3A West region. This year, they had no such luck, but WM's #1 runner David Gaynor will return to Hereford.
"Since this is my last year it would be nice to be able to 'go out with a bang'... end my season on a high note. But just getting to states again I feel is in itself 'going out with a bang.'"
Gaynor is simply hoping for improvement over last year's performance since he finished with the same time and place at regionals as last year.
Wheaton senior Kevin Garzon is the first Wheaton runner to qualify for the cross country state championship since their boys' team qualified for the 2A state meet in 2001 and 2002.
"The feeling is overwhelming! ... all that time I spent at practice, the pain! THE BLISTERS!! ... It's what I've been striving for since freshman year, and it's finally come true...Coming from a school where our athletics aren't great, I feel like I've truly represented my school in better standings...All in all it's been one of the best experiences ever."
For Garzon, his coaches, his teammates and everyone in his school, qualifying for states is a huge deal. He will be featured on his school's video morning announcements on Friday.
Rockville pulled in two track runners to run cross country for the first time and it is paying off. They still came up short of a team bid, but juniors Nathan Austin and Amy Ferro qualified individually for the 2A state meet. Ferro has already run at the state level during track season.
"It means a lot to qualify not only for my first year doing cross country, but also being able to qualify at all. It's really exciting and an amazing opportunity for me to compete against the best of the best which will push me to do my best and work the hardest I've ever worked before."
After her fifth place finish at regionals, Ferro is hoping for a top ten finish at the state meet.
Austin's run to the state meet was less likely than Ferro's. He is encouraged at how his times compare to former Rockville standout Billy Orndorff and is hoping that his experience at the Bull Run Invitational earlier this season gives him an advantage and a chance at a top 20 finish.
"The thought of the state meet never crossed my mind this year until my coach told me I ran a similar time to Billy Orndorff at the county meet when he was a junior. I went to regionals in attempt to beat Billy's junior year time at Middletown and was able to score two in one by beating his time and happening to qualify for states too."
Ricco Reumante of Northwood has more than made up for the loss of his older brother Giovanni this season.
"It's been my goal all season to qualify for states. So now I want to go out there and run a smart race and hopefully run sub-18:00 and place in the top 25."
In Clarksburg's third year of existence, they have still not qualified their boys' team to the state championship, but Narang continues the tradition of Clarksburg having individual representatives.
"Qualifying for the state meet means a lot to me because I have been working very hard hard throughout the summer and through the season. It is nice to have something to show for it. It would've been nice to qualify as a team but this is the next best thing."
Austin, Reumante, and Narang all have realistic shots at top twenty finishes in the 2A state meet.
Poolesville's Jenny Reid and Megan Gerdes are first year cross country runners. Both qualified for the 1A State Championship, but have very different stories. Gerdes is a freshman who has improved rapidly in every race she has run, going from a 24 minute 5k runner to a fifteenth place finish in 21:55 at the 1A West Regional Meet.
Reid is a senior and a defending 1A 1600-meter state champion. She played soccer in her first three years of high school but opted to run cross country in her senior year. Now she gets to experience the hills of Hereford and the thrills of the cross country state meet before she graduates.
The Poolesville girls missed qualifying for the 1A State Championship Meet as a team by 1 point.