For the second time in history and the first time since 1995, a returning Footlocker national finalist
tops Montgomery County's preseason cross country rankings, but nobody at Walter Johnson High School is talking about individual accolades. When asked about
goals for the upcoming season after a Saturday morning workout, Abigail Green, a nationally ranked runner, spoke first and foremost about the team.
"I think definitely a big [goal] is helping the team get their fifth state cross country title. That's a really, really big one. It would be really special. I
think it might be a record? I'm not sure."
Five would indeed be a record for the most consecutive cross country state titles by a girls team in Maryland. Multiple Maryland teams have won four state
titles in a row. Only two boys teams have ever won more than four in a row: the Oakland Mills boys program (6) from 1984 to 1989, and the Southern boys
program (5) from 1993 to 1997, according to the MPSSAA state record book.
"I think we really want to try to get five especially for me and for the other three seniors that were on the team for all four years. That would be really
special. I think that's definitely...I really want to help us with that."
Walter Johnson brings back six of its top seven from last year's state-winning team, and according
to Head Coach Tom Martin, it will be harder for every returning varsity runner to remain in the top seven. WJ had two freshman, Jenna Goldberg and Katherine
Weaver, break through with sub-12:00 3200m performances last year, and both are running for the team this fall. Martin is also hopeful over a few new freshman
that "want to be runners."
"My goal is to get them to want to do something," said Martin. "If that's it [winning the state title], fantastic. We will do what we can to get them
there. They should be competitive for sure, but I think the field will be better than it was last year all the way around."
The glue, according to Martin, is the core of seniors behind Green who rarely get credit for their contributions: Janet Scott, Sophia Scobell, and Sadie
Keller. He spoke especially highly of Scott, who he said is the vocal leader of the team and is currently in tremendous shape.
"Others fall in line because of [Scott's] character and leadership. She's just a good kid. She's the type of kid that makes me want to be a better
Saturday was the Gooseneck Loop workout day - a Walter Johnson tradition and a workout that
predates Martin's 21 years with the team. It was a "Dunston workout," which refers to the WJ distance coach of the 90's and early 2000's, Greg Dunston. The
team ran loops on the Gooseneck Trail in Cabin John Park in the style of a relay, with partners alternating running and recovery time.
The workout was not solely about conditioning. It was also a lesson in trail running. Coaches urged runners to stay in control, watch for roots, take the
turns cautiously, be courteous to other trail users, and avoid poison ivy.
"Don't run like a maniac like I used to," said assistant coach, Chris Moen, a former WJ distance runner.
Coaches estimated that the loop was about 600 meters. It included an uphill, a crest, and a downhill. It took Green and some of the top boys about 1:55 to
complete the loop. Ten circuits were completed by all, and according to Martin, it was the first time in 21 years that everyone finished the workout.
"It was a pretty intense hill so...it was a good workout," said Green. "I really like doing it because it teaches you both the uphill and the downhill. Today
was probably...it's hard to know. I would say it was a good solid workout. I was definitely trying to push the hills so that I can build up muscles to be able
to handle bigger hills in the future...I'll need to recover from it the next couple of days."
Normally very sure of herself and her level of fitness, Green is cautious about the upcoming season, explaining that the illness that plagued her in the
spring continued to hold her back all summer. Even as she finished third at the USATF Junior Championships in the 3,000m and traveled to Peru to represent the
United States in the Pan-American Under-20 Championships, she was not completely well. Her training was suppressed this summer and she spoke not at all about
repeating any of the accomplishments from her junior year.
"Individually, I know I kind of stress this every year," said Green, "but [the goal is] just kind of improving every year. Right now I know that might not
happen as quickly as I like it but once I get better I feel like I can be stronger than I was last year."
While the WJ girls are shooting for the stars, the WJ boys are aiming to get out of the cellar. It
weighed particularly heavy on Moen that WJ finished 13th out of 13 teams at last year's 4A West regional. He and Martin pointed to four boys that might help
WJ return to relevance: Owen Hananel, Rodrigo Yepez-Lopez, Jacob Marks, and William Moulec.
"The boys: we just want big improvements out of them in order to get back to a mentality where they understand what hard work is and where it gets you," said