Let's get one thing out of the way: this year's Track and Trail race course was 5,000 meters in length. Elkton coach Paul Riggio guarantees it, and he is a Gaithersburg High School cross country alumnus which means that he definitely got it right. After Walter Johnson's Abigail Green crossed the finish line in 17:54.7, Riggio conceded that the course may actually be 5,000.2 meters after his many iterations of measuring it.
With that out of the way...Walter Johnson's Abigail Green just opened the season with a 17:54.7 5k at the Track and Trail Invitational! She won the race by two minutes and five seconds over second place runner Haley Cummins of C. Milton Wright High School (20:00.9). Walter Johnson's Katriane Kirsch placed third in 20:16.3.
"I was definitely not at all expecting to break 18 this early in the season," said Green after the race. "I was just really pleasantly surprised, and I am happy that I am in a better place than last year."
You have to go back 22 years to find a Montgomery County athlete who opened up her season with a sub-18:00 5k performance. Green drew comparisons to former Walter Johnson runner Sally Glynn in the winter and spring when she went under Glynn's 3200-meter meet records at the indoor and outdoor county championship meets. Now, with a 5k PR on a hot September day while running all alone, Green is running cross country like the last female Footlocker Championship qualifier from Montgomery County, Maryland. She will have to run like a Footlocker qualifier to take down defending 4A state champion Maria Coffin later in the year.
"I definitely took the summer training a little bit more seriously this year," said Green. "Last year I didn't really do that much summer training. I just mostly swam in the summer so I was really hoping that I would be in a better place than I was last year."
Despite taking two of the top three spots, the Walter Johnson ladies were not really contenders in the team scoring due to four of seven varsity runners missing the meet for various reasons according to head coach Tom Martin. The Wootton Patriots seized the opportunity to win the girls large school varsity race.
According to Wootton head coach Kellie Redmond, there might have been some stored up energy on the team having not raced an official race prior to today.
Said Redmond, "We've practiced for four weeks and haven't raced at all, and although that's hard, I think part of it's paying off a little bit. I think we've had some great training."
Wootton scored sixty points with five girls in the top twenty five scoring positions. Wootton's first four scoring runners were sophomores.
Northwest High School had a dominating performance in the boys large school varsity race, putting five runners between places six and eleven.
"They competed today," said head coach Robert Youngblood about his boys team.
"Last week they ran because they figured, 'hey, we're going to be fine...everybody's going to come back to us,' and they didn't. Today they put it out there from the beginning and stayed with our pack plan the whole way."
One runner in particular who took the pack running plan to heart was Elton Quansah, who was only fifth on the team but stayed within six seconds of Ngoy Jeriel Yamitshi as opposed to the seventeen second gap last week at Brunswick.
"We talked about that...that he needs to be with that pack - our first five or six guys all the time - not get behind and come back up late in the race. That doesn't work."
That impressive ability to keep the fifth man in contact is going to prove effective against all levels of competition this season.
Rohann Asfaw of Richard Montgomery High School won the large schools varsity race individually with a time of 16:10.6. He said that he was initially feeling great in the morning, but the heat really set in just prior to his race which affected his strategy.
"This morning it was a lot cooler so I thought it would be pretty fast," said Asfaw after the race. "As the race started, it just started getting super hot. I was just like, 'You know what, I'm going to give it my best. I'm going to put a good effort in,' but I wasn't expecting anything super fast."
Asfaw said that he followed the leaders and clocked about 5:10 for the first mile. He took off and started running his own race after that, clocking about 10:20 for two miles and putting twenty to thirty meters on the second place runner, Jay Hall of Westlake High School. He finished the race with his signature hard kick.
When asked why he kicked so hard on a hot day when there were no opponents threatening to steal the win at the finish line, Asfaw said, "I just want to get used to getting into that mindset where I have to kick because at bigger meets like Oatlands, I need to use that kick right at the end. I need to get used to doing that so I wanted to practice that today."
It was about 80 degrees and humid during the girls varsity race at 9:00 AM. The sun burned through the clouds and started heating up the course during the boys varsity race at 9:40. It was about 88 degrees during the untimed junior varsity race at 10:30 AM. The meet organizers hosted small school varsity and junior varsity races later in the afternoon when it was surely over 90 degrees. This writer didn't stick around but it looks from the results like they survived it.
The races are contested at the Fair Hill Race Track in Cecil County on grass and wooded trail at a facility used for equestrian training and events. It is definitely not the dirt tracks that come to mind when you think of the Kentucky Derby, but it certainly has some rough and uneven footing in places. Abigail Green of Walter Johnson said that she stumbled a couple times in the woods because there were a lot of roots but there was nothing too, too bad. Riggio of host school Elkton described the ground as being very hard as opposed to the sogginess of years past, and he described the course as being deceptively difficult with several 400-meter gradual climbs. The course is very spectator friendly because the runners pass by the finish line area four times and it is said that you can see almost the entire race from the grandstands.
This meet in the farthest northeast reaches of Maryland, and nearly a two hour drive from most of Montgomery County, continues to grow in popularity among Montgomery County cross country teams. Sherwood, Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard, Wootton and Georgetown Prep have become regular attendees while Walter Johnson, Northwest, Watkins Mill, and Seneca Valley joined the bandwagon this year.