Emma Kartalia hardly could contain her excitement.
The Winters Mill senior took first place at the Carroll County cross country championship meet at McDaniel on Thursday, finishing in 20 minutes, 3 seconds, and carried the Falcons to their first county title in program history.
"It's really fantastic," Kartalia said. "When I got on this team, we were not very good. We were a very happy team, a very loving team, but not very talented, and to work this hard and to be leading this team in my senior year that's winning and doing really well is a fantastic feeling. I love it."
Century's Natalie Poulton finished second (20:19), and South Carroll's Jamie Anderson (21:04) and Sydney Ruckel (21:09) took third and fourth. Winters Mill's Delaney Georgiana and Casey Jillson tied for fifth in 21:14.
Westminster's Jillian Wagner (21:28) and Erin McGrath (21:34) were seventh and eighth, and Century's Avery Arena (21:37) was ninth. Caroline Wilcox was the last of the Falcons' top-10 finishers.
"I think you realize, and something for me that I learned, is that with cross country, every person matters," Wilcox said.
Century had 54 points to Winters Mill's 39. South Carroll, led by Anderson and Ruckel, placed third with 64 points.
This is coach Ben Brown's first title since he took over the Falcons program in 2012. Kartalia's victory was her first in a county meet in her career.
"Our biggest thing is trying to keep that pack of one to five as close as possible," Brown said. "We've worked on keeping those times in every single meet and shrinking them just a little big to try and close it up. We have a lot of new runners that are learning how to run, so we were working to peak right at this time heading into regions, and states as well."
Wilcox never considered running cross country until this summer. She normally played field hockey in the fall, and is committed to play lacrosse at Jacksonville. Wilcox said she always enjoyed running for fun, and her decision to run indoor track added to her love for distance runs.
Kartalia and Wilcox soon became close friends. The two trained together during the summer months, even if it meant waking up at 7 a.m. to get the extra mileage in.
"It's the best decision I made, and I've had a blast," Wilcox said. "I enjoy running, and it's something that makes me so happy, and I'm glad I did it."
"Having a training partner with you in every workout every step of every mile is so inspiring," said Kartalia, embracing Wilcox. "I don't even know how to describe it. It's such a good feeling, and I haven't had that every year here, so it's really special."
In the boys race, Nick Tilson anticipated the hills on McDaniel's golf course. He saved his energy for when it mattered most.
The Liberty senior crossed the finish line first in 16:35, leading the Lions to their third county title in four years.
"The Century kids went out pretty quick, and that was their game plan," Tilson said. "The first mile isn't fast, but it's not slow; it's probably the easiest mile on this course. I personally wanted to go out a little slower to make sure I had enough at the end for the hilly part."
Three other Liberty runners finished in the top 10: Daniel Saxon (second), John Lemaster (third), and Andrew Miner (seventh). Century had three runners in the top 10 and finished second with 54 points, behind Liberty's 27. Westminster, the 2015 county champion, finished third with 75.
Manchester Valley was disqualified from individual and team scoring for racing an extra runner.
Despite an overcast, rainy afternoon, the weather didn't factor into the Lions' performance. Tilson and his teammates were prepared for this meet, the first of the championship season, and were anxious to see their hard work pay off.
"We have me, Dan Saxon and Andrew Miner, who were all on the varsity team last year, and that experience helps a lot just brining the younger guys in and emphasizing that this is where it really matters at the end of the year," Tilson said. "The training runs at practice and including all the guys with us really helps our team chemistry."
Latest Carroll County High School Sports
Girls Team Scores
1. Winters Mill 39, 2. Century 54, 3. South Carroll 64, 4. Westminster 80, 5. Liberty 99, 6. Francis Scott Key 182, 7. Manchester Valley 208.
Top 10 Individuals
1. Emma Kartalia (WM) 20:03, 2. Natalie Poulton (C) 20:19, 3. Jamie Anderson (SC) 21:04, 4. Sydney Ruckel (SC) 21:09, 5. Delaney Georgiana (WM) 21:14, 6. Casey Jillson (WM) 21:14, 7. Jillian Wagner (W) 21:28, 8. Erin McGrath (W) 21:34, 9. Avery Arena (C) 21:37, 10. Caroline Wilcox (WM) 21:38.
Boys Team Scores
1. Liberty 27, 2. Century 54, 3. Westminster 75, 4. Winters Mill 85, 5. South Carroll 106, 6. Francis Scott Key 182.
Top 10 Individuals
1. Nick Tilson (L) 16:35, 2. Daniel Saxon (L) 16:58, 3. John Lemaster (L) 17:03, 3. Devon Caples (WM) 17:03, 5. Matt Huber (C) 17:10, 6. Jacob Spera (C) 17:14, 7. Andrew Miner (L) 17:18, 8. Zachary Fenton (C) 17:25, 9. Sean Gore (WM) 17:26, 10. Noah Griffin (W) 17:28.