Qualifying for the Class 4A Maryland state cross country championship meet was the hard part for the Catonsville girls squad.
Running in the race, held at Hereford High on Nov. 12, was icing on the cake.
Only the top six out of 12 teams in the Class 4A North Region race, qualify for states and the Comets placed sixth.
At the state meet, Catonsville finished 19th, but coach Sandra Gallagher-Mohler was more focused on getting her squad, that included three freshmen and three sophomores among its top seven, experience on the hilly course in Parkton.
"We went in with realistic expectations," Gallagher-Mohler said. "We were not looking for personal bests because that rarely happens on that course, nor were we looking to place, because we knew that is not we were, but, the opportunity to be there and the honor to be there, to represent your region and county is big."
The coach expects her team to be there every year.
"The expectation now is that advancing is not a problem and we now need to keep moving up and be more competitive," Gallagher-Mohler said.
The top two Catonsville runners at the state meet were both overcoming injuries.
Sophomore Eva White finished 97th in 22:39.32 in the race won by Annapolis senior Maria Coffin in 17:39.48.
"She has been dealing with foot tendinitis," Gallagher-Mohler said. "She had an ankle sprain five weeks ago right before county championships and the ankle sprain turned into foot tendinitis. "She has been running maybe twice a week since counties, so the fact she was still able to perform and place in the top 100 was good, but it's certainly not what her potential is."
Sophomore Sharon Kolb (113th, 23:02.22) was the second Comet finisher.
"She has been dealing with a back injury for at least the last six weeks, so the fact she was able to still come through on a really hilly course and run really hard was impressive," said Gallagher-Mohler, who named her the team's Unsung Hero. "She will never complain and she will always work hard. You just know everything she puts out there, you know is 100 percent her best."
Following the top two were freshman Ellie Queeney (115th, 23:03.61), senior Anna Piermattei (124th, 23:24.02), sophomore Ashleigh Jankowski (132nd, 24:11.85) and freshmen Emma Angel (139th, 24:36.38) and Lin-Ley Herpin (140th, 24:40.02).
Strzelecki runs alone
Unlike the Catonsville girls, the Comet boys didn't qualify for the state meet as a team because they finished eighth in the regional meet and needed to place in the top six.
"They gave us the best they had, but they came together more in counties than regions which is a shame, but we were definitely not ready for their season to be over," Gallagher-Mohler said.
The season ended at regionals for juniors Timothy Huynh and Drew Nicolaus, senior Garrett Lang, juniors Joe Hill and Sam Noble and senior Sam Bower.
Senior Graham Strzelecki, who was seventh at the regionals, was the only Comet who ran at the state championship meet and he didn't disappoint his coach.
Strzelecki placed 38th in a time of 17:16.95 after placing 67th in 17:54 in 2015 at the state meet.
"I've had a lot of really great coaching experiences, but watching Graham's race was definitely one of the top three of my coaching career," Gallagher-Mohler said. "He ran so hard, not just pushing himself, he kept the gas pedal on from the gun to the finish line. He ran completely fearlessly and that is not something you can coach. He finished about 15 to 20 seconds faster than predicted."
Although Strzelecki's prep cross-country career came to a close, his distance running will continue.
Catonsville senior Graham Strzelecki looks forward to Baltimore County cross country championships. (Craig Clary / BSMG)
"He's going to run indoor [track] and outdoor this year which is new for him. He has not run indoor before," said Gallagher-Mohler, who also sees him running beyond high school. "He will definitely be running in college. Right now, his top choice is St. Joseph's."
She expects him to get even stronger in college.
"He hasn't even touched what his potential actually is, despite all the progress we've been able to get, and success that he has been able to obtain, there is still a lot in the tank," Gallagher-Mohler said.
The Western Tech girls cross country team competed in the Class 2A race and state championships and junior Tobiloba Owojuyigbe (75th, 23:51.05) and freshman Krys Johnson (95th, 26:52.62) both placed in the top 100.
Seniors Kiara Jones and Kalynn Cheatham, freshman Yoomi Oh and sophomore Joy Kigura also ran for the Wolverines.
The Western Tech boys placed sophomore Vanison Showell (76th, 18:54.12) in the top 100 in the Class 2A race.
Junior Jalen Perry, freshman John Sheets, sophomore Xavier Fair, senior Matthew Lewis, sophomore Trent Williams and junior Kian McGloin also ran for the Wolverines.
Lansdowne boys run in 3A states
The Lansdowne boys finished 23rd as a team in the Class 3A state cross country meet.
Juniors Jose Martinez (83rd, 18:21.73) and Deontray Bates (94th, 18:29.63) both were in the top 100 individual finishers.
Juniors Sebastian Delariva (19:11.53) and Harry Trinh (19:30.99) broke the 20-minute barrier.