Cross country runners from across the county lined up Saturday morning at Centennial High School, ready to kick off the season with the Howard County Invitational.
And, under sunny skies, it was the host Eagles that got things started on the right foot.
Things went particularly well for the Centennial girls, which took first place in the team standings, in addition to fielding the individual race-winner, Shreya Nalubola, with a time of 19:34.12.
All five scorers for the Lady Eagles finished in the top 15, as Nalubola, Ally Driscoll (4th), Devin McIntyre (5th), Kara Taylor (11th) and Anna Li (12th) were able to take the title with 33 points. River Hill (80) and Reservoir (119) rounded out the top three.
“It’s been a while since I ran on this course — like raced it — so it was really cool,” said Nalubola after the race. “I knew there was going to be a lot of really good runners out there, so I was just trying to stay with the pack for the most part of it, then go as hard as I can.”
The junior was able to avenge last year’s second-place finish at the event, and after winning the county title in 2012, Nalubola is primed for a big season.
“I don’t want to get too confident, so I’m just going to keep racing how I always do — just keep doing what I do best,” she said.
Kevin McCoy, Centennial’s girls coach, was impressed with the way his runners were able to work together, building off the previous season’s success.
“They ran great,” he said. “We wanted to come in and we wanted to improve on what we had done last fall.
“We came in, and they stuck to the plan, and it was great.”
For the boys, it was Mt. Hebron’s Ben Weinstein (16:59.26) who placed second, the first of the Howard County competitors to cross the finish line.
Loyola Blakefield’s Tyler Spear finished first (16:34.93). Paint Branch High School took home the team win for the boys with 85 points, edging Loyola Blakefield (92) and River Hill (107).
Weinstein said his goal heading into competition was to just keep pace with the county’s top runners.
“I knew I wanted to go out with Alec Font and Chris Heydrick,” he said. “Right from the gate out there, I was in perfect position, and I knew I was just going to stick with them until I knew I could kick, and until I was comfortable to pass them.”
River Hill’s Heydrick placed fifth (17.17.65) just ahead of Centennial’s Font, who finished sixth (17:18.64).
Weinstein said a clear mind was the key to his success.
“Best thing for me is to not think about it too much,” he said. “I knew where I wanted to be at the end of the first mile, and everything after that was just going to go with the flow.
“They didn’t pick it up at all, so I just stayed right with them and I felt really good going into the second-mile mark, so that’s when I made my move.”
One of the day’s major storylines was River Hill’s consistency.
“We came in looking to try to finish in the top three for the boys and the girls,” said longtime Hawks’ coach Earl Lauer.
“It’s a good way to open up, something close to home,” he said. “It gives us a good opportunity to take a look and see what we’ve got here on Centennial’s course where we are going to have the counties and regions as well.”
On the girls side, River Hill's Allison Krein — last year's winner — finished second. Elizabeth Oldhouser (14th), Becca Andersen (17th), Eileen Ying (22nd) and Stacy Young (25th) rounded out the Hawks’ scorers on the day.
After Heydrick, it was Terry Tossman (13th), Marshall Demaree (20th), Trent Rose (30th) and Mark Moody (39th) that scored for the River Hill boys.
Still, Lauer said the season is just beginning, and it will be nearly impossible to crown county champions just yet.
“We’ll see how the season progresses,” he said. “You can’t tell what’s going to happen. It’s a long way to November.”