Battle of the Potomac Recap
By: Dave Watt
Friday, November 21, 2008

Bethesda, MD TEAM VA was clearly the group of cross country runners prepared to handle the wind, rain and ensuing mud. The VA boys' squad had lost the Potomac XC Cup each of the first two years of the "Battle of the Potomac". The girls of TEAM VA were buoyed by the upset win in 2007. The VA Girls team last year proved that depth can overtake a few stars. Optimism for a repeat win was apparent when the TEAM VA Girls walked to the line to face their cross river rivals. Maybe it was just a day for both teams to revel in the elements and have fun. It came down to who wanted to dig deeper into the rain soaked grass and jump farther across the rain swollen stream. TEAM VA was the "mudders" and victors. The VA Boys toppled MD's Boys for the first time 79 -131 while VA's Girls won their 2nd straight Potomac XC Cup 82 - 128.

Depth was what TEAM VA's honorary coach Mike Mangan (Lake Braddock Secondary School) was banking on for his boys' group. Prevailing opinions of sideline XC pundits were that VA's high school teams had an edge when it comes to runners #3 through #5. Maryland's boys appeared to have the pre-race speed despite the absence of Maryland's top 2 boys Solomon Haile and Andrew Palmer. TEAM VA Boys top state finisher was Le Degfae of Edison with his 3rd place finish in the VA AAA Championship while TEAM MD had the MD-DC Private School Champion in Zach Sullivan and the MD 2A Champion Craig Morgan. You could make the argument that Maryland's team with two state champions had the edge. Yet cross country racing comes down to who wants to gut it out the toughest. Give the nod to TEAM VA for their gutsy win. The VA boys were led by Edison High School senior Leoule Degfae as he battled Team MD's Corey Puffett of DeMatha over the second half of the 5K course at Smokey Glen Farm. Degfae and Puffett ran an impressive 5:14 pace over the challenging double loop course bogged down by the downpour in earlier races. Degfae edged out Puffett in an exciting sprint to the finish as both runners were timed in 16:27.

VA's Girls sought a repeat of 2007. Led by a group of intra-District rivals from VA's AAA Patriot District, the VA girls had prevailed in their first Potomac XC Cup win. Almost half the teams' scoring came from Patriot District All-Stars. Could the same formula work in 2008? MD's Honorary Coach Seann Pelkey (Quince Orchard High School) hoped that his MD State Meet Hereford-seasoned girl runners could hold off VA's girls on the second loop of Smokey Glen's 5K course, especially the final trip up the "hill". Kaitlyn Davis, Erica Howes and Paige Kvartunas had other plans. Their experience at the VA State Meet's course at Great Meadows seemed to energize them as this trio sandwiched MD's lone front runner in Maura Linde, the MD State 2A Champion. As this group entered the second loop, Davis and Howe pulled away and Kvartunas stayed close on Linde's heels. Davis pulled away to win in 19:49 and Howes followed in 19:57, as the lone runners to break 20 minutes on the tough 5K course. The other Patriot District rivals filled in behind Paige Kvartunas and helped TEAM VA's girls to another impressive win.

Other races held included two Middle School 2500m events and two OPEN 5K races. Victors in the middle school races were VA's Zach Campbell in an impressive 9:21 (6:01 pace) and WV's Amber Hawkins in 9:40, an equally impressive 6:14 pace. Amber was the national AAU age group XC champion last year. In the BOYS OPEN 5K, West Potomac's Khoki Bernier led 9 of the first 10 finishers from VA with an 18:07 clocking. The most impressive grit was shown by the entire OPEN GIRLS race field. As the girls got set on the starting line, 40-50 mph wind gusts and torrential rain hit Smokey Glen Farm. Not one girl left the line as spectators and other runners scattered for cover. Once the timing gear was set, the OPEN Girls race took off in the rain and West VA's Kaetlyn Whisler brought home the win in 21:16.

The 3rd running of the Battle of the Potomac was a day framed by classic cross country weather: wind, driving rain, chill in the air and mud flying everywhere. The host and producer, the American Running Association (ARA) is showcasing cross country as a shining example of a pure sport and form of activity that can help encourage more of America's youth to start running and get fit. If judged by the smiles and nods from the participating kids, then America can thank these young boys and girls.


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