River Hill hosted Hammond and Mt. Hebron in a tri-meet Wednesday in the Hawks last home meet of the season.
It was only fitting that it was River Hill senior Owen Dannelly that crossed first in the girls varsity race, even surprising coach Paul Hugus with the result.
"No. Did not expect that at all and I am so happy for her," Hugus said. "As a senior, it's an amazing feeling and to have it be on your senior day when you put it all out there on the line. It's a celebration of four years. It's a great feeling and I'm really glad she got to experience that today. One of her best times and the best effort I've seen from her ever as well. It was really, really nice."
Dannelly and teammate Jasmine Tiamfook led the pack off the opening gun, followed closely behind by the Vikings Emily Beyer and Alexandra Banham. Dannelly started inching her way past Tiamfook about midway through and ended strong the rest of the way, crossing in 19 minutes, 55 seconds – the only sub-20 finish in the race.
"I was just trying to hang on to [Tiamfook] as long as I could and I felt strong, so I just went with it," Dannelly said. "It was really important to run a good race. I think it will set the pace for how we will do as a team and individually at states, counties and regions."
Beyer edged Tiamfook in the final stretch and followed Dannelly by five seconds to earn second place.
"It was very hard staying strong the whole time, but I was very pleased with my place," Beyer said. "I actually try really hard in these, because how else am I going to get better? I have to have someone push me even if I am number one or even if I'm last."
Tiamfook, who had been in the lead for much of the race, ended in third with a time of 20:31.
"I haven't talked to her yet. It is a little unusual to be a little bit back there like that, so I don't know. I will have to talk to her and see what's up," Hugus said. "It's homecoming week. The kids are amped up about that. We have a nice scheduled rest that we've done in the past couple years and it's worked really well. We don't race again until the 15th, so we have a couple days to rest and get some good training in and also rest up a little bit and get everybody where they need to be."
Banham finished behind Tiamfook for fourth place, while the Hawks Raaya Khleif, Alexa Matthews, Jennifer Horner, Camille Burns, Colleen Krein and the Golden Bears Emma Denlinger rounded out the top-10.
"It went really well," said Hammond coach Kim Williams. "Our number one runner I think she came in 10th. This is a really tough field for us because we are such a small team compared to River Hill and Hebron. So we look at it, we're just going to come out and do our best and have fun and I know that's exactly what the girls did."
It is the first year in Williams' four-year tenure with the Golden Bears where she had enough athletes to field a girl's team. She and co-coach Elizabeth Stocklin were both pleased on how their runners raced Wednesday, especially competing with such prominent programs like River Hill and Mt. Hebron.
"Both these teams are state champions and we're not on that level. We're at a building point with our team, so I think they did really well – both of us, coach Stocklin and I are really proud of how they preformed today," Williams said. "They've developed into complete athletes. Again, we have a very young team. We have a lot of freshman who have come into this that they are now at the place where these are the first meets where they have done very well. We're actually able to stay together as a pack and move through it together. Going forward we have three girls that are our lead runners and each meet they've dropped significant amount of time – you know, 30 or 40 seconds. So each time we are improving which is great, we are really looking forward to counties."
It wasn't much of a race on the boy's side, as the Vikings used the day as a work out for their guys, as they've had a rigorous schedule leading up to the meet.
"Since we came off of several weeks of racing and we have another race on Saturday, we just decided today... we used this as a work out day," said Mt. Hebron coach Todd DeCrispino. "We did this as a fast tempo, so we had our goals on our mile time and two-mile time. We were trying to stay within those goals."
Rahul Reddy won the race and finished with the only sub-17 time, crossing in 16 minutes, 39 seconds. Jacob Parker (17:09), Anish Nanjappa (17:23), Jake Downing (17:34) and Kevin Reynolds (17:41) rounded out the top-five.
"The Hebron boys ended up doing a tempo so we didn't really get to race another team and our boys did a nice job without that additional stimulus of not having another team, so I'm pretty happy with how that worked out," Hugus said. "Rahul went out and won, which is good for him as a senior and our boys did a nice job of challenging – especially I think in the last mile. They did a nice job of that."
For Hugus, he said the most important thing he wants to see in these tri-meets is effort. No matter the time or placing, he was pleased with the way his team finished strong.
"I tell the kids all the time, cross country is a weird sport because it's all about place and spread," he said. "I wish I could throw the watch away. I don't have any need for a time. It's all about who beat who and by how much and how you felt doing it. So you talk to the kids about that and you get them to understand the effort, the effort, the effort. And once we have a nice week and a half break to really work on that and focus them in on that I think we're going to be ready for the postseason."
With playoffs looming, DeCrispino said he is confident in his boys, as they are peaking at the right time. Luckily, the Vikings have kept their guys healthy and are ready to compete with some of the top teams in the county like Howard, Atholton and the Hawks.
"Making it through a season and peak at the right time and avoid injuries – that's key," DeCrispino added. "That's the way you want your program to go. No one has been sick. No one has been injured. We continue to improve each week. Our runners are doing better and our gap from number one to number seven is getting closer. And every week that is our goal.
"Having seen what we're doing I'm confident. I know there are a lot of tough teams out there. Howard is very, very solid… River Hill always has a solid squad, Atholton always performs well, so there's a lot of teams who are going to strive for the county championship."
Reservoir hosts Centennial and Glenelg in a tri-meet.
In another in-county tri-meet on Wednesday, the Gladiators Cara Nardone and the Eagles Kai Archuleta crossed first in the girls and boys varsity races, respectively.
Nardone went up against Centennial and Reservoir's best runners and crossed about 13 seconds ahead of pack with a time of 20 minutes, 11.2 seconds.
The Eagles Alison Betler (20:24.51), Kara Taylor (20:56.13) and Cora Blount (21:20.43) followed two-through-four, while the Gators Heather Ailinger rounded out the top-five with a time of 21 minutes, 57.3 seconds, leading her team on the day.
Reservoir and Glenelg, like Mt. Hebron, used the day as a workout for most of its top guys – with Centennial crossing 1-through-13. Kai Archuleta (19:27.43), Erik Kelemen (19:58.23), Andy Tseng (20:01.81), Charlie Hockersmith (20:08.59) and Ben Jackson (20:21.50) rounded out the top-five. Jacob Tebben was the top finisher for the Gators (14th place, 21:22.85), while Mitchell Feaga (29th, 22:20.52) crossed first for the Gladiators.