Cross country coaches often stress the importance of running as a pack. The Reservoir girls team has used that strategy successfully all fall, winning the county and regional titles, and now, the school's first ever 3A state championship Saturday at Hereford High.
"In years past I said lets have a strategy, but (today) I just said to the girls, 'We're just going to go relax, we're going to do what we've been doing: we've been focusing on our team the whole season.' And why do anything differently? It's been working," coach Phil Rogers said.
Senior Amy Oliver led the Gators pack by finishing eighth in 20:11.6, but Cindy Alms (10th, 20:21.2), Karli Smiraglia (15th, 20:28.9), Katie Wilson (18th, 20:30.9) and Heather Konstanzer (22nd, 20:39.3) were never too far behind.
"The pack is what did it for us. The girls ran as a team today and that's what won it for us," said Rogers, whose team held off Centennial by just eight points (65-73). "It actually came down to us and Centennial and I was really scared. Coach (Kevin) McCoy and I are very good friends and we both looked at each other like 'whatever happens happens'."
Oliver, who Rogers said is normally his No. 3 or 4 runner, set a new school record for Reservoir at the Hereford course.
"The one strength we knew we had was a pack and thats what we were trying to emphasize and really use to win," Oliver said. "I just tried to stick with our front-runners. We were trying to keep the pack really close. (Rogers) said we had to keep moving up so I just did what I thought we should do."
The 3A girls meet was a proud display for Howard County as a whole. River Hill sophomore Allison Krein finished second in 19:28.9, behind Urbana sophomore Emily Mulhern (19:20.1) and ahead of Centennial sophomore Shreya Nalubola (19:37.6).
Nalubola won the county meet three weeks ago by beating 2A state champion Britt Lang of Oakland Mills.
"I got sub-20 and thats really amazing because at Bull Run I wasn't this fast. I wasn't expecting it at all," Nalubola said. "I wanted to keep with the lead pack, I wanted to keep them at least in my sights. I wasn't looking to get in front or anything like that. I knew that Urbana was going to be great, I knew that Allison was going to do really well so I just wanted to see if I could stick with the leaders for as long as I could."
Krein — who placed fifth at countys but bounced back to win last week's regional meet — was also thrilled with her time on the pristine fall afternoon.
"I didn't expect to get second. This is my first season of cross country," Krein said. "(Nalubola) beat me at countys, so I know we're about equal. It was good to have someone to run with and I think we both ran really well today ... I was just hoping for under 21, I didn't even think I would run close to that."
Mt. Hebron senior Rachel Yep also finished in the top ten, placing sixth in 20:07.7, and a pair of Centennial freshmen — Devin McIntyre and Ally Driscoll — finished 11th and 12th.
"Ally and Devin both had really good races," Nalubola said. "Our team did so well today, I was really happy and I'm proud of everybody."
Howard County wasn't quite as prolific in the 3A boys race, but there was still plenty to be proud of, most notably Howard senior Danny Rau's second place finish.
Rau, the Howard County champion, found a final burst of energy to seperate from a pair of Hereford seniors — Jon Luckin and Julian Rivera — around the last turn, and then sprinted down the final straightaway, nearly catching Annapolis' Harry Bullen at the finish line. Bullen, who beat Rau by 12 seconds at the regional meet, finished first, in 16:19.5, with Rau less than a second behind (16:20.2).
"I was like 'Is he gonna come back?' and then I said 'I'll make him come back' and I tried to get it as close as I could. They always say ten more feet and I guess thats what I'm saying today," said Rau, beaming.
"Back in the fall I took a piece of paper and I wrote my to-do list and I hung it on the mirror. The first goal was to win a state championship. It was very lofty back in August, but I just worked every day and came as close as I could. I was hoping for top three today, and I got second and ran like 40 seconds faster than I did at Bull Run. Overall it was a great day, I'm going to remember this for a long time."
Rau said that when he found himself with the lead pack late in the race, he went through a make-or-break moment in his own mind.
"They were all good runners and I was like 'If I'm up here with them, why not close? Why would I just fall off?' So I just kept running hard and I ended up with second and surprised myself," he said. "I ran more miles than ever this summer, I ran more miles than ever in cross country, doing extra before and after practice, just staying hungry. I may be the best runner in the county or the best runner on my team, but I wasn't the best in the state so I had to keep working everyday to be the best. Just staying hungry."
Centennial junior Alec Font, who led the Eagles to the boys county title in late October, was the county's next best finisher, in eighth (16:36).