When Paint Branch's Yasmine Kass ran onto the track with 300 meters to go in a 5000 meter race, Michael Sauter made announcements to the crowd over the stadium loudspeakers.
The meet record seemed within reach. It wasn't just any meet record. It was the meet record set by Paint Branch's Bethlehem Taye a year earlier. Kass was chasing Taye's ghost and Sauter was letting everyone know the stakes.
"One minute to break the records. 45 seconds to break the record," boomed Sauter.
Bethlehem Taye - the two-time track state champion...the 10:35 two-miler and quite simply one of Montgomery County's all-time greatest prep distance runners - had been in communication with Kass before the race.
"I didn't think I would be that close to Beth's record," said Kass, "but I was talking to Beth a couple days ago and she was like, 'no, you should definitely be able to smother my record.'"
The race was not all smooth-sailing for Kass who was also the Montgomery County 1600-meter champion last spring and clearly improved on her cross country running this fall. She went out in about 6 minutes for the relatively flat first mile hoping that others would lead, but no one was willing to go as fast as she wanted. She attacked the middle section of the course all alone, but after she climbed "the hill" at about two miles, she heard breathing behind her.
"I felt myself getting faster until we got to about the creek [about midway]. I kind of started slowing down going up the hill...which is a big hill... I started hearing someone breathing hard and so I surged a little bit. From there I knew the race was coming to an end so I had to pick it up."
When she hit the track, she heard the stadium announcements for the first time.
"I didn't think I was going as fast as I was going so when I heard that I was going that fast...that's when I started picking it up and I was like 'let's try.' But it wasn't there."
Kass's time of 19:33 was the second fastest female performance ever recorded on the Northwood course and just seven seconds behind Taye's record of 19:26. Taye was one of the first people that Kass reached out to after the race.
Northwood's Obsaa Feda also heard breathing in the final half mile of his first Consortia XC Championship. While spectators saw him decisively pull away from Einstein High School opponent Simeon Mussie in the final half mile, Feda said that doubt was racing through his mind.
"I was hearing the sound behind me," said Feda. "...I could hear his footsteps and his breathing...I was like, 'Oh, I'm done. I'm going to get second place.'"
But he wasn't done and he didn't get second place. After he won by seventeen seconds in 16:45, Feda credited the win to the race strategy developed by his coach, Giovanni Reumante. Reumante urged Feda to use the entire 5k course to drain the kick out of the legs of Mussie, who they believed was a speed guy. Although Feda second-guessed his ability in the final half mile, he could also sense that Mussie was tired and the strategy might work.
"I kind of had confidence. I did what my coach told me and I really believe in my coach so I was just using his word. He told me to wear him out on the run and not make it a speed finish."
Feda ended up beating Mussie by a full straightaway in a race that was neck and neck for about three miles. The two rivals (Feda and Mussie can certainly be called DCC rivals as they are both non-seniors and will repeat this battle next year) finished with the third and eighth fastest performances in meet history.
Feda is from the Oromo area of Ethiopia. Now a sophomore in his first season of cross country, he came to the US five years ago and just began running this spring when he was a freshman.
The girls and boys team titles were won by Montgomery Blair girls and the Albert Einstein boys. Again. Each team has won six of the first eight Consortia Cups including two Down County Consortium Cups from before the meet expanded in 2011.
Outsiders may write that off as a lack of competition within the Consortia, but you really have to look deeper to see that it is not as automatic as it may seem. For example, many people may not realize that Blair has done this with three different head coaches in the last six years.
Mike Zick isn't exactly a newcomer to the Blair program, but he is a youngster at twenty five years old. After helping out Angie Bosse with cross country for the last few years and helping out with the track team, he took over the reigns as head XC coach this season.
The term "instant success" comes to mind as Blair won the girls Division III title and the Consortia Cup in Zick's first season running the show, but he chalks it up to having great kids.
"This is the easiest group of kids," said Zick. "I've coached five different sports at Blair in my three years there. This is the easiest group of kids to coach because they are workers. As far as coaching anything, if you have kids that are willing to work, it really makes it a pleasure. It's nice to see it pay dividends for them. They're definitely an effort-centric team."
Most of the boys Consortia Championships prior to this year have been dreadfully predictable and were decided by 40 points or more. This year's meet was decided by two points, making it the tightest margin of victory in boys meet history (the 2012 girls Cup was also decided by two points). It was a heartbreaking loss for Paint Branch who was looking to return to the top and they will no doubt be looking to get even with Einstein at the county championship next week.
The uncompetitive days of 40 point wins may be gone forever, as this meet seems to be a motivator, a driving factor pushing teams to aim for something more than a division title, even if a county or state title is out of reach. And as Ryun Anderson predicted in his meet preview article, one athlete from every school was represented in the male All-Consortia Team (top 15).
Side Note #1: Between Andrew Brodeur of Blake, Zick of Blair, and Reumante of Northwood, MCPS Consortia schools now have three head cross country coaches in their mid-twenties. Fellow Mocorunning writer and Paint Brach assistant coach Ryun Anderson is probably the most energetic coach in the school group at the ripe age of nineteen.
A former track state champion at Northwood, Reumante actually took over management of the Consortia Championships this year. He said that it was more work than he expected, but everyone agreed that he did a great job. In particular, the course trails were in fantastic shape.
Said Zick, "I love this meet just because it's a great course. It's got a good mix of everything. My kids are always so used to running between beltway exits that - even though Northwood is just up the road - to be able to run in the woods is such an exciting day for them...I think it's a really unique race. I love that Northwood puts it on for us."
Side Note #2: I have written about "the hill" at Northwood at least a half dozen times over the years. It is such a long and difficult hill and such a defining feature of the course. Every athlete that I have ever spoken to says that the hill defines the race in some way or another. The tradition of this meet has come so far including the participation in the elementary, middle school and open races. I say that it is about time that "the hill" gets a real nickname. Of course, Northwood High School should decide on the name and ensure that it sticks, but I want to encourage readers to write suggestions in the comments for "the hill's" new nickname. I throw out "Gladiator Hill" as an obvious nickname in sticking with the school's mascot, but you could take it in any number of directions.
A photo cannot capture the complete breadth of the hill because it bends as it climbs. The above photos show three of the bends.