Winning a state championship as a team takes the hard work and commitment of all seven runners in a race and that’s what makes the Hereford boys’ feat of three straight Class 3A state titles a phenomenal achievement.
Hereford captured the boys 3A race Saturday morning at Hereford High by putting two of its runners in the top five and three others in the top 20.
All seven champions were seniors and they finished with 52 points, well ahead of runner-up Thomas Johnson (115).
Jon Luckin (3rd, 16:22.9) was followed closely by Julian Rivera (4, 16:28.9).
Kevin Payne (15, 17:15.1), Kevin Collins (16, 17:15.4) and Gabe Rivera (19, 17:17.6) also placed in the top 20.
Aaron Leininger (85, 18:29.9) and Mike Witman (132, 19:15.6) rounded out the championship squad.
Luckin and Rivera both had individual goals of winning the race, but hit obstacles along the way and Annapolis senior Harry Bullen (16:19.5) and Howard senior Danny Rau (16:20.2) led the field.
“Jon was flagging coming out of the maze and I told him, ‘Jon, don’t give up on it because you have a great kick’ and he put himself right in there, Hereford coach Jason Bowman said.
“Julian ran a great race, a gutsy race,” Bowman said. “His move was just a little bit too soon.”
When Julian lost the lead in the maze, he knew he could rely on his team.
“I was in the lead coming up the dip and me and the dip don’t get along so well,” Rivera said. “I just wanted to go out and be in the race and I was there and I had a good shot, but it didn’t end the way I wanted, but we still got our championship.”
They got it because Payne, Collins and Gabe Rivera were consistent and near the front.
“That’s what makes our team,” Bowman said. “That’s what wins races, our three, four and five runners. They are so tough and have run so well all year.”
Luckin knew after he finished third and looked back and saw his teammates near the front the Bulls had done something historic.
“Our philosophy in team racing is we all go out and run the absolute best we can and the team results will come,” Luckin said.
For the third straight year they produced a state championship.
“These guys made the program, they turned the program around,” Bowman said. “That was a special group and they capitalized on it.”
The Hereford girls are a special group and, like the boys, have been for three years, winning back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011.
But they struggled through adversity this season, with the loss to injury of elite junior runner Sara Carter, after a serious SUV accident before the season, and nagging injuries to junior Erin Causey, winner of the 2010 individual state championship race.
Causey ran last year’s race with stomach pain and finished fifth — before she realized she was allergic to gluten.
That is now under control, but she also had issues with a hip flexor earlier this season.
She proved she is starting to round back into championship form by running a personal best time of 19:41.7 and taking fourth in the girls 3A race.
She trailed only Urbana’s Emily Mulhern (19:20.1), who won for the second straight year, River Hill’s Allison Klein (19:28.9) and Centennial’s Shreya Nalubola (19:37.6).
After the race, she was in no mood to celebrate her PR because teammate Meghan Anderson, who won the Class 3A North Region meet by two seconds over Causey, had dropped out of the race.
Anderson arrived at the trainer’s tent in an emergency vehicle and eventually responded favorably to treatment for her asthma condition, according to coach Bowman.
The girls were also trying to win its third straight state title, but they finished fifth, well behind front-running Reservoir (65).
“Everything has to go well to win a state title,” Bowman said. “The bottom line is you have to have your kids healthy on those days because there is no substitutions, no time outs and you have to have everything go your way. Today, things didn’t break that way for the girls.”
Bowman doubted his squad could have won the title, even if Anderson had finished top five, because Reservoir and Centennial (2nd, 73) had such strong runs.
Hereford did place one other runner in the top 20 — freshman Alicia Kozlowski placed 17th (20:30.8)
Two other Baltimore County runners in the girls Class 4A race finished in the top 10.
Dulaney sophomore Isabel Griffith finished fourth (19:41.4) for the Dulaney girls who placed seventh and Perry Hall’s Skylar Moore was eighth (20:04.1).
Catonsville’s girls were 14th overall, led by Tara Macdonald (15th, 20:18.1) and Hannah Llorin (16th, 20:23).
Perry Hall’s boys placed seventh in the 4A race and again were led by senior Vince Ciattei.
Ciattei, the Baltimore County and Class 4A North champion, took third in a time of 16:40.6.
The race was won by Clarksburg’s Will Bertrand, who clocked in at 16:02.7.
Catonsville’s boys placed 14th in the Class 4A race, led by senior Luke Chetelat (29th, 17:32).
Chetelat was in 70th place in the first 800 meters and climbed all the way to the finish.
“Being 70th in the first 800 meters would be scary to some runners who didn’t know what they were doing, but that was part of his plan, to go out conservative and work his way up, which is exactly what he did,” Catonsville coach Sandra Gallagher-Mohler said.