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Devil Takes the Hindmost Recap
By: Mark Byrd

This year's Quince Orchard Cougar Relays began with its signature distance event: The Devil Takes the Hindmost.

"As my high school track coach Jerry Link would tell me," explains Quince Orchard Coach Seann Pelkey, "the devil will try to make you doubt yourself in a race."

In this unique event, the winner is the last runner standing because after the second lap, up to three of the hindmost runners in the field drop from competition every lap. Additionally, every lapped runner finishes the race at that lap.

As a result, each year's race can be different lengths based on the number of runners and how fast the top runners push the pace. Fall too far behind, and you may begin to hear Coach Pelkey motivating runners to stay in the race in his own devilish way. Wearing horns and holding a trident, red-caped Pelkey embodies doubt as he trots down the straightaway, letting runners know that it's now or never.

Will this be the last lap? The devil thinks so.

"It's up to you whether you listen to the devil," says Coach Pelkey.

Margaret Lilyestrom and Elizabeth Cassell of home team Quince Orchard pushed the pace early in the girls' race, holding the top two positions in the third lap. In the second mile of the race, other runners began competing for top positions including Wootton's Grace Dellapa who emerged from the anonymity of the pack when it began to string out. Dellapa, of course, is anything but anonymous. She had the strongest running resume of anyone in the field, a resume which includes top ten state finishes in the 3200m and in cross country.

By the start of the third mile, Dellapa, Lilyestrom, and Holly Mordoff of Clarksburg had separated from the pack. Although a slight snow started around this time, the devil was completely un-phased as he prepared this time to identify the third place finisher. Dellapa pulled away in the second-to-last lap, leaving a close sprint between Mordoff and Lilystrom. The sprint for second was won by Mordoff, but it left her with no chance of catching Dellapa for the win.

Dellapa widened her lead in the last lap, winning the 15-lap race in a time of approximately 24:14. According to Dellapa, although she had never run a race like Devil Takes the Hindmost before, she talked to her coach about competing after seeing it last year. While she was confident in her ability to perform late in the race, she says that the win was also a reflection of her teammates.

In the boys' race, Wootton and Quince Orchard runners led early on, with four runners emerging from the pack by the second mile. As Wootton's Jacob Rushkoff pushed three QO runners with fast, even lap times, they began lapping slower runners before the third mile, which shortens the race as dictated by the official race rules.

Rushkoff retained the lead for the third mile with Quince Orchard sophomore Chris Thoms close behind in second place. In the second-to-last lap, Rushkoff lost the lead briefly before regaining it. In the final lap, Thoms made his move, establishing himself as the leader and pulling away for most of the lap. In the final straightaway, Rushkoff fought back, catching up to Thoms as it became a dead sprint to the finish for first.

Near the finish, shoulder-to-shoulder jostling caused Thoms to lose balance and fall off the track. The runners finished in step but Rushkoff was nevertheless disqualified for the contact. Thoms of Quince Orchard won the 14-lap race with a time of 19:37. While disappointed with the DQ, Rushkoff, who dictated the pace of the race, explained after the race that his strategy was to run fast at 5k cross-country pace, but was surprised by the length of this year's race.


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