Good Counsel won its third consecutive boys WCAC cross country title at Lake Fairfax on Saturday. While that is the outcome that most fans would have predicted, the dominance exhibited by Good Counsel came a little unexpectedly. Good Counsel and Gonzaga were pretty evenly matched during their only other matchup this season when Good Counsel won the Chancellor Invitational in September with 42 points to Gonzaga's 57. Gonzaga had broken up Good Counsel's pack reasonably well that day and placed its #5 runner in front of Good Counsel's #5.
"We absolutely knew Gonzaga was a team that would beat us if we didn't really work hard over the course of the season...if we didn't really want it on the day of the WCAC championship," said Good Counsel head coach Tom Arnold shortly after the race. "I think our guys made a decision somewhere this week or maybe it was even during the race today that we're going to make it awfully, awfully hard for anybody to stay with us late in this race."
"I'm pretty amazed," Arnold continued. "And not that we won because we expected if we ran really well, we'd win, but [amazed] that our guys wanted it so badly."
"...Jack [Wavering] had the thing won after a mile and a half, but the rest of our guys...just before two miles we started to apply a little pressure but the Gonzaga guys were right there. It was still anybody's race."
"I'm at the top of the dam and all of a sudden here comes Jack. Yeah, alright Jack, nice job. Then boom! There's Lopez. And boom! There's Vazzana. Boom! There's McGivern. I'm thinking, 'Did the Gonzaga guys turn the wrong way?' and it wasn't that."
"It was just our guys, I think, were really ornery today. They really wanted that badly. So yeah. I'm amazed."
Gonzaga's top two runners were running with minor injuries according to Gonzaga head coach John Ausema, but he gave all the credit to Good Counsel for their decisive win.
"A half mile to go we were still in the race," said Ausema. "We were a little behind but we were doing pretty well and Good Counsel just really poured it on the last half mile. They ran the best last half mile I've ever seen anybody run on this course."
Good Counsel's top four runners took the top four spots in the race with times under 17:09 on the difficult 5k course. Jack Wavering won his second individual WCAC title in 16:32.8. Good Counsel also took 8th and 10th places, only fielding six runners in the varsity race.
Bishop O'Connell won its ninth consecutive girls WCAC cross country title with 32 points behind an individual victory by Isabell Baltimore in 20:41.2. Good Counsel placed second with 50 points behind Megan Crilly's runner-up finish in 20:47.3. For Crilly, it was eight seconds faster than she ran in 2013 when she won the individual WCAC title.
Coach Arnold, who catches a motorized cart to view more of the race than anyone else on the spectator-unfriendly XC course, described the race up front as follows:
"Baltimore took it out hard, but Megan reeled her in at about three quarters of a mile...On the soccer fields it was pretty much Megan and Isabell just surging on each other and I think with maybe 500 meters to go, Isabell put a little bit of a surge and Megan couldn't quite match it. But I couldn't be any more proud of Megan and the way she raced."
Coach Arnold wore his emotions on his sleeve when discussing his girls team performance and how it was affected by a scheduling change that he was not made aware of until September 22.
"We were missing three of our top five girls and they still made a race of it," said Arnold. "I only had five girls to race today because we were missing people."
By no means was Good Counsel guaranteed or even favored to win the girls race had they been at full strength. Bishop O'Connell defeated Good Counsel earlier this season at the Oatlands Invitational when both teams were at full strength. O'Connell again defeated Good Counsel at the Glory Days Invitational when Good Counsel was missing a few bodies, but Coach Arnold believed that his girls team had its best chances of winning in years.
"It is what it is. It's disappointing because O'Connell has beaten up on us for nine years in a row and our girls knew that this is the year that we have what it takes. We've got the legs to win it. And then to have it taken away from us by a bunch of bureaucratic errors is really frustrating."
The WCAC Cross Country Championship Meet had been scheduled for the final Saturday in October since 2005 when the meet was moved from the second weekend in November to accommodate the MD-DC Private Schools State Championship Meet. In the spring of 2015, there was an athletic directors meeting where the championship meet was announced to be scheduled for October 24. According to Arnold, this was a case of a mistaken announcement, and despite requests from multiple coaches to correct the mistake, the meet organizers would not move the date. Prior to discovering the mistake, Arnold planned his season around the incorrect traditional date which would have been October 31, and some of his varsity runners made alternate plans including ACT testing on what they believed would be a non-racing day on October 24.
Runners with alternate plans included Claudia Wendt who was the defending WCAC cross country champion and is considered the strongest runner in the conference. Also missing from today's meet was Good Counsel's #3 and #5 runners, Maggie Ralston and Elizabeth Kaniecki, and one of Good Counsel's top seven varsity boys, Jeremiah Melton, which explains why Good Counsel only entered six runners in the boys varsity race.