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Manchester Valley’s Aiden Neal makes history, Liberty sweeps Carroll County cross country meet team titles

Aiden Neal figured he ran a little more than most of his competitors during Wednesday’s Carroll County Athletic League cross country championship meet.

The Manchester Valley junior said he knew something didn’t feel right moments after the starting gun went off. Neal said he came to Carroll Community College last weekend to walk the course and familiarize himself with some new terrain. Neal made the trip again Tuesday for one final pre-race stroll and noticed the 3.1-mile course was still being lined.

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By the time he and the rest of the varsity boys pack was off and running, Neal felt somewhat unsure of where to go as he sprinted out in front to set his pace.

“The beginning was the only part that I felt [really] confident in, and they changed it from yesterday,” said Neal, who didn’t realize he was veering off course until he heard people yelling his name.

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The brief detours didn’t deter the Mavs runner ― Neal won in 17 minutes, 38.25 seconds and became Man Valley’s first boys county champion.

“The thing that I’m happy about is … I didn’t skip any part of the race,” he said. “If anything, I ran more.”

Liberty put together impressive performances in capturing the boys and girls team titles once more. The Lions won their sixth boys county crown in seven years and fifth in a row, while the girls held off South Carroll and repeated as champs.

Man Valley had both individual winners in Neal and Rubie Goffena, who won her second county title in three seasons. Goffena said she outkicked Winters Mill senior Kathryn Hopkins over the final 800 meters to win in 20:56.7.

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Manchester Valley's Rubie Goffena, left, and Winters Mill's Kathryn Hopkins lead the Carroll County Cross Country Championships at Carroll Community College in Westminster Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Goffena won the girls race with a time of 20:56.70 and Hopkins finished 2nd with a time of 21:13.13.
Manchester Valley's Rubie Goffena, left, and Winters Mill's Kathryn Hopkins lead the Carroll County Cross Country Championships at Carroll Community College in Westminster Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Goffena won the girls race with a time of 20:56.70 and Hopkins finished 2nd with a time of 21:13.13. (Dylan Slagle)

“I got here and I was pretty confident, but then I saw that guys’ race and I was a little less confident,” Goffena said. “But thanks to my coach and other coaches, they helped me figure it out and I think I went the right way. Who knows.”

Goffena said battling Hopkins took a lot of out her, and the county rivals were close to each other throughout most of the race.

“She really pushed me, she’s just a good competitor,” Goffena said of Hopkins, who took second in 21:13.13. “It feels really fulfilling, just to know that the hard work that I’ve been putting in, and strength training … it’s really a good feeling to finally see that pay off.”

Liberty's Sierra Baker approaches the finish line of the Carroll County Cross Country Championships at Carroll Community College in Westminster Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
Liberty's Sierra Baker approaches the finish line of the Carroll County Cross Country Championships at Carroll Community College in Westminster Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

Liberty had three girls runners in the top eight, and five in the top 17, to finish with 52 points. Izzy Lucas, Sierra Baker, and Julia Lucas went 6-7-8 for the Lions, Class 2A state champions in 2019, who clipped South Carroll (53 points) for the victory.

Kaye Yokay finished fourth to pace the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, WM senior Makenzie Hopkins finished third and Westminster’s Hannah Toth was fifth.

Liberty co-coach Dan Jones said he was most proud of his teams motivating each other to add more victories to their growing resumes.

“Expectations are kind of out the window, because it’s a shorter season and it’s a weirder season,” Jones said. “They have been able to just do it when they need to do it.”

On the boys side, Trent Taylor led a Liberty bunch that placed five runners in the top 10 and dominated the meet with 26 points. Teammate Davis Trump was third, Jake Lucas finished fifth, Seth Lassiter came in sixth, and Luke Petenbrink was 10th.

Carter Knox ran fourth to help Manchester Valley place second, the highest a Mavs boys team has ever finished at the county meet according to MV coach Jim MacDonald. SC’s Alex Magee took seventh and Wyatt Vanlandingham ran eighth for third-place Westminster.

The Lions were jubilant following their performance, and Taylor celebrated with some teammates just away from the finish area before watching the girls race get started.

Manchester Valley's Carter Knox, left, Liberty's Trent Taylor, Century's Aiden Michael and Liberty's Davis Trump run in the field at the beginning of the Carroll County Cross Country Championships at Carroll Community College in Westminster Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
Manchester Valley's Carter Knox, left, Liberty's Trent Taylor, Century's Aiden Michael and Liberty's Davis Trump run in the field at the beginning of the Carroll County Cross Country Championships at Carroll Community College in Westminster Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

“We were just trying to emulate what we’ve been doing for the past few years,” Taylor said. “Since we didn’t have a [state meet] this year, this was like the biggest meet. I don’t think I would be as good on any other team, because the atmosphere is just so amazing on this team.”

BOYS TEAM SCORES

1. Liberty 26, Man Valley 70, 3. Westminster 84, 4. Century 86, 5. Winters Mill 138, 6. South Carroll 143

BOYS TOP 10

1. Aiden Neal (MV) 17:38.25, 2. Trent Taylor (L) 17:56.47, 3. Davis Trump (L) 18:12.75, 4. Carter Knox (MV) 18:13.59, 5. Jake Lucas (L) 18:43.17, 6. Seth Lassiter (L) 18:48.96, 7. Alex Magee (SC) 18:50.06, 8. Wyatt Vanlandingham (W) 18:50.73, 9. Aiden Michael (C) 19:06.86, 10. Luke Petenbrink (L) 19:12.06

GIRLS TEAM SCORES

1. Liberty 52, South Carroll 52, Westminster 75, Century 96, Winters Mill 103, Man Valley 146

GIRLS TOP 10

1. Rubie Goffena (MV) 20:56.7, 2. Kathryn Hopkins (WM) 21:13.13, 3. Makenzie Hopkins (WM) 22:03.16, 4. Kate Yokay (SC) 22:12.09, 5. Hannah Toth (W) 22:19.84, 6. Izzy Lucas (L) 22:26.32, 7. Sierra Baker (L) 22:45.71, 8. Julia Lucas (L) 22:49.63, 9. Hope Callaway (C) 22:53.57, 10. Danielle Spencer (SC) 23:02.89

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