Few schools in Montgomery County can host a cross country race entirely on campus grounds. Most schools that attempt to host their home meets on-campus tend to direct runners around soccer and baseball fields for a repetitive and dull 3.1 mile experience.
Not Watkins Mill High School.
Carved into the Great Seneca Stream Valley Park, the campus of Watkins Mill High School offers a more scenic and secluded backdrop for a cross country race than any high school in the county. The topography is steep in places as the school sits atop a hill that rolls down to the Great Seneca Creek. When the leaves begin to turn and there is a chill in the air, it is the type of place you want to be for an October cross country race in Maryland. A Marylander might even say that it is Hereford-esque.
"Especially with Bull Run not being run this year," said Watkins Mill Head Coach Bryant Adams, "(and we don't foresee the next time it's going to run)...this is a really good course to prepare for states. We have the long downhills...the long uphills. This is not a flat course. This is a really good course to come run on to get your kids prepared for states."
Watkins Mill has a rich history of hosting cross country races. In the very first year that Watkins Mill High School opened its doors, the school hosted no less than three divisional meets and the county championship meet. It hosted the Montgomery County Championship Meet from 1989 through 1997 with the exception of 1994. Dozens of regional championship meets have been contested on the slopes of Watkins Mill, but until last year the school never hosted a home invitational.
Bryant explained the origins of the Wolverine Run Invitational.
"We hosted regionals for 3A West and when we switched to 3A South a lot of schools were in southern Maryland. They don't always have the opportunity to come up here and run this course. So last year me and Coach Jason Tringone said 'hey, we want to go ahead and start an invitational and give these teams an opportunity to come up.'"
The inaugural Wolverine Run in 2015 was originally scheduled for a Saturday, but it moved to a Thursday afternoon so as not to compete with another major invitational in the area. Only four visiting teams, all from Montgomery County, made it out to that first meet. The meet nearly tripled in size this year, and Huntingtown made the trip up from Southern Maryland to preview their regional course.
Another newcomer to Watkins Mill was Head Coach Justin Meyers and his team from The Heights School. Even before he knew the outcome, Meyers was feeling good when he put five boys in the top twenty scoring positions of the boys varsity race. The Heights won the boys varsity race with 45 points.
"This was the first time we've ever run here so I didn't know what to expect. This is a good meet. Our expectations...we didn't know. We didn't have any expectations to win, we were just trying to see what we could do."
His top two boys, Matthew Zischkau and Ian Denis, were only around fifteenth place midway through the race, but they made up ground and caught everyone but the race winner, Edward Belsoi of Eleanor Roosevelt. The remaining varsity runners all showed improvement relative to a race they ran earlier in the season against Georgetown Prep and Gaithersburg, which he said gives him confidence.
"I'm very encouraged today with these times," said Meyers. "We're looking ahead to Georgetown Prep [Classic]. We're going to run in the seeded race which we don't usually do because we're so small...that's going to be our biggest test obviously...the seeded race at the Prep Classic."
The Heights School aims to win the small schools DC-MD state title at the end of the season where it anticipates that Bishop Walsh will be a tough opponent again this year. It is also realistic for The Heights to win the private schools version of the Montgomery County Championship Meet for the first time ever now that The Heights has defeated Landon and Georgetown Prep so far this season. They will likely also see tough competition from Jewish Day School in that meet.
Damascus won the girls team title with forty points led by the one-two finish of junior Heather Delaplaine and freshman Alexis Whitehorn-Coriz. Delaplaine, who said that she was aiming to win and set a PR, ran in impressive time of 19:52.95. It was not a true PR, but it was her fastest 5k time so far this season.
"I wasn't really thinking about the course. I wasn't really thinking of how hard it was. I was kind of just like, 'Run! Go Fast! Increase your speed.'"
For some perspective, 19:52.95 was the fastest time by a Montgomery County female at Watkins Mill High School since 2010 when it last hosted the 4A West Regional. The 5k course has changed very little over the years so times are comparable. Coach Adams said that the biggest change to the course recently is the widening of the paths around the baseball and upper practice fields in the first half mile.
"I liked the course," said Delaplaine. "I liked how it was fun. It wasn't just flat. It was hilly, and I like how the downhills accelerate you for the uphills."
Delaplaine said that she has the state championship circled on her calendar. She hopes to improve on her fourth place 3A state finish from last year.