It's funny how you can travel to a race two states away and still see friends and familiar faces everywhere you look. But when it comes to those familiar faces racing against the rest of the southeast region, everyone cheers for the familiar faces just like any other teammate. This was demonstrated by the roar of the crowd that Jessie Rubin heard as she was announced as an individual qualifier for the Nike Cross Country Nationals Championship in Portland, Oregon on December 5. Despite Rubin only having one Wootton High School teammate present, coaches, athletes, and parents from other Montgomery County schools who have watched her develop over the last several years applauded her loudly as she stepped onto stage with the other nationally elite runners.
Rubin was pessimistic about qualifying because she had not approached the times in the low 18's that it took to qualify last year. But Brandon Miles of Milestat.com ranked her 9th in the region after analyzing the entries, later saying that he was impressed by her margin of victory in the last several races. He added that only her sixth place finish at Oatlands prevented him from ranking her ahead of the likes of Kaitlyn Davis and Ariel Karabinus.
The course was firm with good footing, few hills, and no sharp turns. Temperatures were cool without a cloud in the sky. With a good race, the fast time would come naturally.
She ran smart, hanging with the leaders to run a first mile in 5:30. She faded on the second mile with a time over 6 minutes and found herself in between two packs. Over the final mile, she worked to move back up with the lead pack, although the Stevens twins from Blacksburg were long gone by that point.
Coming up the final hill (which is not as steep as it is long and draining), she was in 8th place with about 600 meters to go. An 8th place finish would give her a good chance at qualifying for nationals considering the girls who took the top 4 spots were all on strong teams with a chance at qualifying. This included the twins from Blacksburg who were almost certain to qualify with their team. A 7th place finish would almost guarantee her a spot to nationals. These are the things that fans were shouting to her in the final stretch.
Ironically, she saw a Team VA singlet from the Battle of the Potomac race directly in front of her. She thought about the Team MD singlet that she was wearing and decided she wanted to try to beat the VA girl. She didn't know that it was Kaitlyn Davis of Mountain View High School, who recently won the Battle of the Potomac, the Virginia AAA state title and also defeated her convincingly at the Oatlands Invitational earlier in the season. So with Karabinus (who won the Oatlands Invitational) directly behind her, Rubin moved into 7th place ahead of Davis in a personal best time of 18:05.
The Walter Johnson girls competed as a team and finished tenth overall. Anna Bosse led the team with a 25th place finish in 18:40.2.
While Rubin worked with her friends to figure out if she qualified for nationals and exchanged a few words with her future coach at Duke University, Andrew Palmer and the MoCo boys from Walter Johnson and Churchill High Schools took to the course.
Palmer moved to the front from nearly the beginning. The pace was notably slower than last year, so Palmer put in a surge mid race to create some separation. That must have played perfectly into the hands of Jamestown's Colin Mearns as Mearns stuck with Palmer and made a huge move later in the race for which no one had an answer. Palmer and Tyler Anyan of "Snellville XC Club" worked to try to catch Mearns to no avail. On the final uphill stretch with 400 meters to go, Palmer worked his way past Anyan, but was quickly re-passed. Mearns won in 15:16.5, Anyan was second in 15:20.6, and Palmer was third in 15:21.5.
Palmer noted that he was a little disappointed that he couldn't come away with the win, but said that his goal was first and foremost to qualify for nationals. He planned his whole season around peaking for nationals.
Almost as soon as I got to the race course, both sides were asking me, "Hey KP, Churchill or WJ?"
WJ's Sean O'Leary was present, but not competing. There is still no definitive smoking gun as to why he collapsed at the end of the state championship race, and therefore the decision was made to play it safe and not race so soon after that incident.
With O'Leary out of the competition, it was more of a level playing field between the two teams. The Churchill guys knew it was not a legit victory over the 2009 WJ team without arguably their #1 runner, but they still saw an opportunity that they had every reason to take advantage of.
Trying to watch the team battle was simply overwhelming. Even trying to watch a "Churchill vs. WJ" fight seemed impossible. There were just too many bodies, all of which were much further back than they usually were.
There seemed to be a sense of underachievement after the race. That is just a testament to how good the competition was. Churchill put six guys under 17 minutes. Fast course or not, that is impressive. They finished sixth overall, better than the seventh place finish by the 2007 Quince Orchard boys team. The crazy part is that the Churchill boys really only went to the race to gain experience for next year. They will return 5 of their top 6 runners next year. Finishing sixth at such an elite meet will surely garner some recognition on the national (or at least regional) level for next year.
The Walter Johnson boys finished 12th with five guys at 17:00 or faster.
Churchill was led by their strong top three runners, Will Conway (16:03), Tarek Elhage (16:04), and Zach Weinstein (16:10). Conway and Weinstein were the #2 and #3 sophomores in the meet, and for that they earned spots on the "NXN Regional All-Sophomore Team."