Liberty High’s cross country team donned yellow shirts with blue block lettering that read “Make them earn it” across the back.
The Lions dominated the field at the Class 2A state meet at Hereford High on Saturday, capturing a third straight state championship, finishing with 68 points. Calvert placed second with 74, River Hill was third (166) and Century was fourth (168).
Lions’ junior Dan Saxon, Carroll County’s top finisher, placed fourth in 16:26.40.
Poolesville’s Ryan Lockett won the meet, followed by Calvert junior Justin Diehl and Jay Hall came in third for Westlake. Liberty placed four runners in the top 20 — Saxon, Woodrow Kashima, John Lemaster and Matt Leonhartt.
“We’ve got a lot of depth and we’re a strong team together,” Saxon said.
Carroll placed five runners in the top 10 alone — Century’s Zach Fenton was seventh, Kashima and Lemaster were eighth and ninth, and South Carroll’s Chris Scalzi was 10th with a personal-record time of 16:43.8.
Carroll runners offered numerous congratulations to their county counterparts with a hug or pat on the back as they crossed the finish line. There were smiles all around as well. Saxon ran in sixth place for most of the final 400, but surpassed River Hill’s Anish Nanjappa in the last stretch.
Saxon crossed the finish line first at the county meet a few weeks ago and he ran second at the 2A West meet. He’s only a junior, but he’s immersed in a program that continues to find success year after year.
Part of that success is accomplishing the feat of hill-running and the boys conquered Hereford’s infamous, grueling dip rather well, despite some burning in their legs.
“Definitely going up the dip a second time was the toughest, in my opinion,” Lemaster said. “It really tires out my legs and it’s hard to push forth after that.”
“You have to have good extension,” Saxon added. “Just keep going and know you’re about to finish.”
Westminster senior Noah Griffin finished ninth in the 3A state meet in 17:04.84 and teammate Charlie Ferguson came in 12th (17:09.07) — the Owls placed seventh as a team with 196 points. Andrew Jackson, Manchester Valley’s lone qualifier, placed 21st in 17:26.82.
This is the second straight year in which Liberty has won county, region, and state meets — the Lions were runners-up at states in 2014 after successfully capturing the county and region titles.
Lemaster said the boys are more of a family rather than just a team, and it’s contributed to their success over the years.
“We’ve taken some time to build this program that almost continues itself,” Lions co-coach Dan Jones said. “People know that you’re going to work, you’re going to have fun as well and when you get the right balance of those two things, this is the result. The kids do very very well and you get a lot out of them and they feel a sense of accomplishment and a lot of pride in what they do. We try to make that balance work for them and somehow that balance has been a good thing for us.”