The Northwood High School boys cross country team has lofty goals this season. Gladiator runners and coaches spoke of the team's high expectations for winning the county, region, and state championship meets as well as the dream to qualify for NXN. You can imagine their eagerness to return to a competitive environment and prove what they can do, even if it was in the form of the non-traditional relay format at the Woodward Cross-Country Relays.
"It was just a good way to start the season with the workout and to be competitive at the same time," said Northwood Coach Giovanni Reumante. "We thought about doing like a Seahawk [South River's Invitational] or some of the other invitationals, but I don't think we needed that to open up. We know what we can do, but today was just a good way to get back into the competitive mode."
Reumante said that he wanted his runners to run in the pack and not do too much, but for his top two runners, there was no pack to run with. Eldad Mulugeta commanded the race from the very beginning and had more than a ten second lead after one circuit. Mulugeta and teammate Obsaa Feda extended that lead throughout the race and won by over 60 seconds in 32:08. It was the fastest time at the Woodward Relays since 2007 when the course was a little different.
"It went out fast," said Mulugeta. "My coach told me to just chill. After the uphill [about a quarter mile into the race] I just took the lead."
Feda, who did not have to contend with an adrenaline-fueled start, ran a particularly even race with unofficial splits of 5:17-5:24-5:17. Mulugeta's unofficial splits were 5:10-5:27-5:33.
Said Feda, "This race was like a workout...we do this stuff a lot, so we just felt like basically it was a workout."
Northwood pairs also finished 6th and 11th overall to win the team title with 18 points over runner-up Blair. Aside from the late season championship meets, Northwood has circled on its calendar the Adidas Cross Country Challenge in Cary, North Carolina on September 15.
The Walter Johnson High School girls team wants you to know that they are still fierce and, heck yeah they are aiming to win their sixth consecutive Maryland 4A state championship. They know that they lost a few key members from last year's team, but that is not affecting their mindset.
"The pressure is definitely on," said junior Caroline Kennon, "but I feel confident about it [winning states]. We can do it. We have a lot of new, eager people."
The girls race played out similarly to the boys in that no team was ever a threat to catch the winners, Jenna Goldberg and Caroline Kennon of WJ. Goldberg grabbed the early lead with a 6:19 mile, five seconds ahead of Sidwell Friends at that point. Kennon said that she picked certain points in the race to speed up as a strategy to maintain that lead.
The WJ duo won the race over another pair from WJ with a time of 40:39. WJ took the first, second, and eighth spots overall and won the meet with 11 points.
"It was definitely a good start to the season," said Goldberg after the race.
Unofficial splits for Goldberg were 6:19-6:24-6:40. Unofficial splits for Kennon were 6:47-7:31-7:00.
Said Walter Johnson head coach Tom Martin, "You get an idea in workouts that they are going to do well, but you don't really know until they actually race. So it's nice to see our top girls get out there and actually accomplish a nice race so it was good. It's fun to see."
Martin expects Ella Gaul to be the team's top runner this season, but Gaul was out of town for this first meet.
For the first time in the meet's 45-year history, the Woodward Cross-Country Relays was contested on a Saturday. The meet has always been held after school during the week. In the last few decades, it was always on the first Tuesday after Labor Day.
"Once the governor changed the starting date of public schools to the Tuesday after Labor Day," said Georgetown Prep Coach, Greg Dunston, "I thought it would be kind of tough for a team to get out of school on the first day...so I thought 'let's go on Saturday,' and it kind of worked out doing it on Saturday."
Although Dunston has been affiliated with Georgetown Prep for over ten years, his heart is always with the Montgomery County Public Schools where he taught for over three decades. Dunston explained that in his teaching days, he would not have wanted to pull students out of class on the first day of school, and he is passionate about increasing participation among MCPS teams at the Woodward Relays in the spring and fall as well as the Georgetown Prep Classic later this fall.
The Saturday schedule worked for Dunston because he felt like he had more time to set up, and it worked out for runners because the weather was not nearly as hot as it often is this time of year. The sun remained hidden by clouds throughout the meet while temperatures climbed from the mid-70s to the low 80's by late morning. The signature trash barrels of chilled water and sponges went mostly untouched. Despite heavy overnight storms, runners reported that the course was in good condition.