Before he completed the shoe-sucking 5k DCXC course with the fastest Montgomery County time of the day, Wootton's John Riker likely put several extra miles on his legs showing around his younger teammates. The arduous display of leadership paid off when Wootton's boys team was announced as the overall winners of the DCXC championship, a feat only accomplished with contributions from every grade level.
"That is the dream. That's the dream," said Riker moments after hoisting the enormous trophy with his teammates. "We've come here every year I've been here. Sometimes we fall short just a little bit but this wasn't just one grade. This was freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors...Yeah, the emotion there at the end, that was genuine."
The DCXC Invitational combines team scores from four grade-level races to determine the overall meet champions. It requires tremendous team depth and balance. In the absence of head coach, Kellie Redmond, Riker said that he took it upon himself to try to make the younger runners feel as comfortable as possible.
Said Riker, "I don't think it killed [my legs]...I looked forward to being a leader since I was a freshman. When we won counties when I was a freshman, those seniors really made an impact on me. And to have the opportunity to be able to impact the next generation of talent, it's one of my favorite parts of cross country right now."
He added that he saw the early success of his teammates and it was contagious. He credited freshmen Armaan Salckak and Jason Wang for getting everybody fired up with strong performances in their first major race. Three hours later, Riker held off every Maryland competitor to finish third overall in the senior race in 16:34. It was the fourth consecutive year that he finished in the top 5 at the DCXC Invitational.
The Walter Johnson girls team also earned the title of DCXC overall team champions.
Said head coach, Tom Martin, "We had pretty good balance through all the classes today, and we had some kids run tough. A day like today you gotta be tough in the mud. I'm really proud of how they ran because it wasn't easy."
Had it been a standard varsity 5k race with all varsity runners in a single race, Whitman likely would have topped all Montgomery County girls teams on the strength of a strong junior class (Whitman won the junior class race handily), but the defending Maryland state champion WJ Wildcats had the strongest combination of all grade levels.
"We had a couple of my seniors that normally are not top seven kids but they really ran hard today," said Martin. "It's inspiring for me to watch how hard they ran. Victoria Pannullo [54th in the senior race and third WJ senior] had an excellent race. She probably helped make the difference."
The top female finisher from Montgomery County was Poolesville's Nandini Satsangi who finished third in the senior girls race in 19:49. She was the top Montgomery County runner of the day by 31 seconds. Like Riker, Satsangi finished top-5 at the DCXC Invitational for the fourth consecutive year.
As for all the ballyhoo about mud, it certainly slowed down times, but it was still the same pancake-flat course that it has always been. Riker said that it was nothing: "It was the kind of mud we could just go through. We came in with the mentality that it's mud for everybody. We're just going to run right through it, grit it out. I don't think it affected us."