Coming into the season, the Centennial boys cross country team had been flying under the radar.
But after picking up early victories this fall at the Barnhart, Doc Jones, and Howard County Invitational meets, the Eagles began to believe that the county championship was within their reach.
The key according to junior Alec Font, though, was maintaining a level head.
"Winning those races gave us confidence for sure," he said. "But at the same time, we didn't want to be too confident and think that we already had it in the bag.
"I think as a team we were a little bit scared coming into the meet because we knew it would be close. We knew it had been a long time since Centennial has won, so yesterday we decided it was time to end the drought."
The Eagles did just that, placing three runners in the top 10 to win the county championship on Oct. 23. It was the school's first county title since 1993.
Centennial (44 points) held off a strong effort from Reservoir (75) and defending champion River Hill (88).
The boys individual crown went to Howard junior Danny Rau (17:10.89), who edged out Wilde Lake's Tim Virostek by a six-second margin.
In the girls' race, Centennial sophomore Shreya Nalubola was the only runner under 20 minutes, claiming the individual title with a time of 19:46.44.
The victory wasn't enough to power her team to the overall title, however, as Reservoir (44) placed four runners in the top 10 to beat Centennial (66) and River Hill (85). It marked the Gators' first cross county championship in school history.
"Winning this for the first time is exciting," senior Cindy Alms said. "I'm really surprised at how well the team has done this year. We have a lot of fast girls and we're all running well at the end of the season. Our coach (Phil Rogers) told us before the race that we had a chance to win, and we were hopeful."
After just over a mile into the boys' race, Atholton's Gary Smolyak and Edwin Quinn ran out to an early lead with a steady pace. Smolyak, who won the county last season, was overtaken by Rau and Virostek around the second mile. The two battled along with Font and his Centennial teammate Adam Sachs for the last third of the race.
"Nobody really wanted to take the pace out, and I didn't want to do it," Virostek said. "It ended up being an alright pace. Around mile two, I started to push the pace. It's too bad (Danny) was there with me. He finished a lot stronger."
Rau's sprint over the final 400 meters allowed him to pull away from Virostek, who finished with a time of 17:16.99. Font (17:18.65) took third place.
"Tim has a great kick at the end, so I knew that I was going to have to make a move," Rau said. "I wanted to go through two miles with the pack, then I just started running as fast as I could. I've been thinking about this race all season. I'm really happy, but it hasn't hit me yet."
Sachs (17:40.04) and Hutson Baumann (17:55) accompanied Font in the top 10, making it hard to catch the Eagles.
"When we won the Invitational, we really didn't expect that," Centennial coach Al Dodds said. "Other teams didn't expect that either. We won a couple other races and we knew other teams would certainly be ready for us this time. The guys ran so well; they kept that pack together."
Second-place Reservoir saw Adam Gartrell, Owen Pochettino and Teddy LaFemina place fifth, eighth and ninth respectively.
In the girls race, Mount Hebron's Rachel Yep and River Hill's Allie Krein pushed the pace early, and were joined by Nalubola, teammate Ally Driscoll and Brit Lang of Oakland Mills at the mile mark.
After sticking with the pack for the first two miles, Nalubola distanced herself from the other leaders and cruised to a win over the final 400 meters.
"Winning really wasn't on my mind," Nalubola said. "I was really shooting on getting second or third. Halfway through the third mile, I was thinking maybe I should just go for it and see what happens."
In the Invitational meet, Nalubola was edged by three seconds to take second place. This time she would not let anyone stand in her way of a first place finish.
"Shreya's performance did not surprise me," Centennial's girls coach Kevin McCoy said. "Going into this one, we knew that she had a shot at it because she had been running great all year long."
Lang finished in second with a time of 20 minutes even, followed by Driscoll (20:07.94), Alms (20:08.97) and Krein (20:18).
"I knew that there was a pretty good group of us that could go for it today," Lang said. "I just expected to run my best."
The Gators' second (Karli Smiraglia, sixth), third (Amy Oliver, eighth) and fourth (Katie Wilson, ninth) runners crossed the line within 46 seconds of each other. Kelsey Ponton rounded out the scoring with a 17th place finish.
"I couldn't be happier for the girls walking away with the school's first cross country championship," Reservoir coach Phil Rogers said. "They all ran great races."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun