It is undetermined at this time what caused Sean O'Leary to struggle at the end of the 4A State Championship Race. What has been determined is that Walter Johnson High School won its second consecutive state title, and it would not have happened if O'Leary did not find the strength to stay on his feet and finish the race.
"Guts," Tom Martin said. "These guys have guts."
And he was not just referring to O'Leary.
Alex Willett bounced back from an ankle sprain and poor performance at the regional meet to lead the team and finish third overall in 17:15. Ishan Dey finished one position behind Willett in 17:20 while Nicholas Regan finished 11th in 17:43.
Josh Ellis struggled with severe dehydration, but finished the race at the point of exhaustion in 60th position. Stepping up into the fifth spot on the team for the second race in a row was Scott Sheehan, who was the 30th overall scorer in 18:17.
But truly what saved the state title from slipping away was O'Leary as he faded from a likely top ten finish to 25th position over the final 100 meters of the race. He had used up all the strength he had in his body and fallen to the ground. He struggled to get back on his feet, and then attempted to resume running. Spectators pleaded for him to just walk as he wobbled toward the finish mat. Another topple would have almost surely cost the team the win, but he managed to keep both feet underneath him until he crossed the line.
Once the final scores were added up and it was determined that WJ defeated Churchill 73-89, the team could not rightly celebrate their victory while one of the team's most valuable members received medical attention. Ask Tom Martin (or any coach for that matter) who the hero of the day was, and that honor goes to O'Leary.
While WJ's victory can be described as dramatic, Damascus's victory can be described as emotional. A cross country state title was first discussed among the team members three years ago when Ben Constantinides, Jon Constantinides and Thomas Arias were freshmen. Damascus men had not won a cross country state title since 1965 and Coach Youngblood had not experienced a cross country state title since the Damascus girls won it in 1994, his first year coaching with the team. Such a long term goal is probably the hardest thing to stick to in high school athletics, but Damascus pulled it off today with the help of a few others who joined the team along the way.
Adding to the pressure of achieving the long term goal was the idea of a goal set more recently. Damascus is attempting to win state titles in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track all in one single school year. The only Montgomery County team to ever accomplish this was the 1975-1976 Winston Churchill boys team.
Damascus won the 3A state title with 117 points over second place Quince Orchard which totaled 141 points. Damascus brothers Thomas and Alex Arias medaled by taking 9th and 15th places respectively. Charlie Ramirez, Ben Constantinides, and Lorenzo Acosta took 22nd, 30th, and 41st scoring positions, respectively.
Photo by Sue Constantinides
Montgomery County teams took five of the top six positions in the boys 4A race and four of the top seven spots in the girls 4A race. The Walter Johnson girls team, which finished third, was the highest finishing county team in the girls 4A race. Quince Orchard took fifth in the girls 3A race, one position ahead of Damascus. The Poolesville boys placed fifth in the 2A race.