Gaithersburg has now extended its streak to twelve consecutive trips to the state championship meet and would also like to make it twelve consecutive top ten finishes.
Coach Tolbert explains, "Twelve points separated 5th - 8th. For us to have finished that close to fifth [at regionals] is the best we could have expected. We're certainly not where we normally are…but we're trying to prepare them for next year."
Of course seniors Vikas Bhatia and Antonio Palmer won't be back next year and will both be looking for all-state honors. Tolbert is especially in awe of Palmer who he describes as a "big time performer" who can tap into whatever it is to make things happen. Palmer will be looking to improve on last year's fourth place finish.
Like Gaithersburg, Whitman is a team that is accustomed to success, and Coach Steve Hays felt that his team may have underperformed so far this year.
"Hopefully everyone puts it on the line and makes [states] the best race of the season."
Like many other teams, Whitman visited the Hereford course last Saturday. Hays explains that so much of cross country is mental preparation and understanding what needs to be done to succeed.
Perhaps nobody understands that better than Andrew Palmer. Few runners prepare more physically and mentally to attack the task at hand. Palmer has put together the finest season by any county athlete in recent memory with the exception of one man. Sherwood's Solomon Haile has stolen the spotlight and overshadowed Palmer all year, but the state championship is the ultimate stage to achieve greatness. It has been one of Palmer's goals all year to defend his state title on the course where a year ago he upset Neal Darmody for the win as a sophomore. Haile must be considered the favorite, but don't count out Palmer.
The Magruder boys have come a long way from the beginning of the season when they appeared to be one of the most spread out teams in the county. Coach Timm explains that the early meets simply don't mean much and they train to peak on courses like Watkins Mill and Hereford.
Magruder certainly has the big guns up front to be competitive, but, "The pack is beginning to get it," Timm explains. "In practice they really play off each other. Everyone has a different strength. It's fun to watch."
Magurder's success depends on where that 3-4-5 pack lands.
"Finishing in the 90's like last year, you know...but if they finish 30-50, then you never know."
While Sherwood star Solomon Haile has captured most of the attention locally and nationally this season, the rest of the Sherwood team has been closing the gaps amongst themselves. The boys, like the girls, had a significant loss when Cole Balderson went out with a stress fracture, but others have stepped up.
Coach Dan Reeks hopes that they can bounce back from a sub-par showing at regionals and finish in the top five at the state meet. Kyle Balderson had an uncharacteristic race where a new race strategy backfired, and Jacob Lowe was unable to compete due to illness. Another big jump by Jackson Reams allowed Sherwood to easily qualify for the state meet, putting last year's regional disaster out of sight and out of mind.
Haile showed last week at Watkins Mill that the hills do not faze him as he distanced himself from the regional field in the first minute of the race and would never be challenged. He will be considered the favorite to win the Maryland 4A state title.
There is something to be said about how far the Churchill boys have come in the last few years. Last year it was a big deal to make it to states. This year it was expected. But they have had setbacks and inconsistencies that have really prevented them from competing for team titles. A top 3 performance would be a big accomplishment at this point, especially if they can get back at Northwest.
After finishing second at the 4A West Regional championship, the Northwest boys finally began to smile. It seems that a season of high expectations coupled with a string of disappointing early season races dragged down the spirits of the jaguars. They are no longer the favorites to win the state title, but are without a doubt coming on strong at the right time.
Explains Muehl, "They are starting to finally achieve what was expected at the beginning of the season. They are excited about what they did at regionals and are looking forward to states."
A fourth place regional finish by Chris Miller shows that he is ready to live up to his preseason goal of a top ten finish at the state meet.
While the success of this year's Walter Johnson team is a little bit of a surprise to everyone, the reason for it is very simple: commitment and hard work.
"I have been very impressed this year with the commitment levels of our teams, especially the boys who have placed their workouts above all other things," explains Coach Martin.
A lot of teams may have just as much talent, but the WJ guys put in the work over the summer and continued to work hard together throughout the season. One of the team's top runners, Sean O'Leary says, "The training has been really rough, but thus far it seems like it's payed off for all of us."
That hard work won them the MCPS Division I title, the Montgomery County Championship Title, and the 4A West Region title. Now they are in a position to win the first cross country state title in school history. It's hard to believe, isn't it? With so much talent at WJ over the years, they have never won a state title.
Senior Roni Teich comments, "We have our sights set on the first team state title in our school's history. Being the favorite to win gives us confidence going into the state meet, but it has not blinded us to the fact that there will be a host of strong teams gunning for us."