From the uphill start to the famous creek crossing to the new steep downhill finish, Good Counsel sophomore Taylor Kozam managed to hold off Bishop O'Connell's Devin Nihill to win the individual WCAC title in 20:17.
For Kozam, it was a surprise win and a brave run from the front against the defending champ.
Said Kozam, "It felt really good. It would have been icing on the cake if the team came out with the win…it's still an honor to finish second."
"The girls wanted to win so badly," said Good Counsel Coach Tom Arnold. "Taylor ran a great race. Nihill is so much more experienced. Head-to-head you would think it would have gone to her."
Nihill, as it turns out, showed amazing toughness just toeing the line. For weeks she had suffered from interior shin splints and calf muscle pain. According to Bishop O'Connell Coach Cindy Walls, Nihill tried to stay in shape by aqua jogging and only once ran on solid ground in the last week. She finished 8 seconds behind Kozam in second place.
"Devin ran for the team today. She is so tough," said Walls.
Bishop O'Connell won its sixth consecutive girls WCAC title with 35 points to Good Counsel's 49. Had Nihill been unable to run, the score would have been 45 to 52 in Good Counsel's favor.
In the boys race, Good Counsel junior Collin Crilly ran away from Gonzaga junior Chris Hoyle to claim his first WCAC title in a time of 16:36. Crilly started the race conservatively, allowing Bishop O'Connell's JJ Lapointe to lead the pack through the creek crossing, but Crilly caused the pack to spread thin by pressing on the hills.
With about a half mile to go, Hoyle was still hanging onto Crilly when Crilly surged on a steep downhill that is visible from a distance to all of the spectators standing across the lake. This created an insurmountable gap between Crilly and Hoyle.
"Collin is a great hill runner," said Arnold referring to his ability to go up hills, "but it can be really hard running a steep downhill if your legs are shot."
With a second place finish, Hoyle led Gonzaga back to the top of the WCAC after a one year layoff. Gonzaga had won the four previous years before Good Counsel won in 2011.
The margin of victory between the two rivals this year was a slim ten points (33 to 43), but Gonzaga's #5 runner finished in front of Good Counsel's #3 runner.
"It wasn't terrible," said Arnold of his boys team matter-of-factly. "It takes a minimum of five guys (preferably seven) to work their butts off to win a conference title. We just needed a few guys who were behind Gonzaga runners to finish ahead of Gonzaga runners."
The weather at this year's WCAC Championship Meet was gorgeous. The sun was out and temperatures were in the mid-to-upper 60's. This contrasted with the last several WCAC Championships when it usually rained, or in the case of last year, sleeted on the varsity races. Spectators were buzzing about the luck with Hurricane Sandy expected to hit the region at the same time tomorrow. A disagreement between the management at Lake Fairfax Park and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) nearly caused the meet to move to a different location on Sunday, but the misunderstanding was resolved in time to host the meet at its originally scheduled date and location.