The only time Howard cross country coach Zachary Dickerson got mad at Amanda Eliker all fall was after the Howard County championships.
Despite setting Centennial’s course record and leading the Lions to a dominant county team championship, Dickerson had a small gripe with Eliker after the race. Her shoe came untied a mile into the meet, and she had to finish the final two miles with a loosened shoe.
She still won the race by 40 seconds.
“I yelled at her for not double-knotting her shoes,” said Dickerson, laughing. “That’s the only thing I can even yell at her for.”
Eliker’s senior cross country season, which was filled with monumental individual and team accomplishments, has ended with her being named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier girls cross country Runner of the Year for the second year in a row.
“To win this a second time really shows all the work I’ve put into each practice has paid off,” Eliker said. “And, of course, I’m not just winning it for myself; I’m also winning it for the team. Each girl on the team matters, and every point matters. I just wanted to put my best out there so we could win."
Dickerson said Eliker is much of the same runner as she was last season in terms of her competitiveness. If Eliker is running, she wants to win the race and top her personal record. What has changed, Dickerson said, are “the little things.”
“I think the little things have helped a lot,” he said. “We stress the little things a lot as a team — things like getting the right diet, having a good sleep schedule and a good ‘prehab’ to prevent injuries. She’s also developed the mental side of running and has improved her mental toughness with things like goal setting and visualizing the race beforehand.”
Due to Eliker’s speed, Dickerson sometimes had to employ a tactic some coaches use for extraordinary female runners: run them with the boys.
While Howard’s team is very talented, if the Lions were running longer distances, Dickerson would sometimes put Eliker in his boys “B” group so they could push her to run a faster time.
“Most workouts I can feel or hear Nimrit (Ahuja) or Sara (Kindbom) behind me, and that would push me," Eliker said, “But when Dickerson would put me with the boys, I’d be at the back of the pack there and that would push me to run faster in practice."
Eliker believes her biggest improvement from last season to this year is as a leader. Instead of just focusing on how she can help her team on the course, she tried to find ways to help her teammates specifically. With a younger team, Eliker was one of a few seniors with mostly underclassmen.
“I’m focusing much more on the team aspect than just myself,” she said. “I’m pushing the other girls and making sure everyone has a positive mindset. I want to focus on all of my girls so we can be as good as we can be.”
After a solid sophomore season, Eliker broke onto the scene last year as one of the top runners in the state. She amassed several individual accomplishments throughout the season, but the Lions ended up finishing behind Severna Park in the 4A state meet.
Heading into this season, Eliker and the rest of the Lions hoped the program would take the next step and win a state title. The team started the season by winning the Seahawk Invitational at South River High School. Eliker finished third in the race to help the team defeat the same Severna Park program that finished ahead of Howard in the 4A state meet a season prior.
“She ran it must faster than last year, so she was pumped to have that individual accomplishment," Dickerson said. "As a team, we beat Severna Park so we knew we had the talent to make a run at the state title. That meet set the tone for the rest of the season.”
The postseason began as well as imaginable for Howard and Eliker. The senior harrier won the Howard County girls cross country championship at Centennial and set the course record (18:36) as the Lions posted a record-low 17 points — only two points more than the minimum.
“Blowing the field out was amazing,” Eliker said. “Last year, our goal was just to win counties. To win counties this year by as much as we did was just amazing. I know we were all ecstatic to see that score.”
Joining Eliker at the state meet were Nimrit Ahuja, Sara Kindbom, Jasmine Wilson, Ella Werdell, Madison Radford and Emily Gorny — all of whom made the 2019 All-County team.
“When Dickerson told us we had won, we all had smiles on our faces,” Eliker said. “We were proud of our second place last year, but it made us want to work that much harder to win it this year.”
While Eliker deserves her fair share of the credit for the state title, Dickerson said her role as a leader was a key component to the team’s success.
“I saw a quote before the season that was something like, ‘A championship team is a team with no drama,’” Dickerson said. “This team had no drama. They all got along so well. There was no resentment about a No. 8 runner not being able to be varsity or things like that. She, as a captain, was a primary reason for that.”
Eliker still has both the indoor track and outdoor track seasons to finish before she takes her talents to College Park to run both cross country and track at the University of Maryland.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I love the coach, and last year they took in a lot of Maryland runners, so I know most of the girls. I’m excited to be their teammate. I love the environment there and the team dynamic. It’s a great school and program that I’m excited to be a part of.”
Also named to the first team:
Nimrit Ahuja, Howard, sophomore.
Ahuja is one of seven Howard runners to make the All-County team. As the second fastest runner on the Lions, Ahuja helped lead Howard’s historic county championship performance with a second-place finish (19:16). She followed that meet up with a fourth-place finish at the 4A East region meet (19:19) and then placed eighth at states (19:35).
Emily Gorny, Howard, senior.
Gorny ends her cross country career having been part of a county-, region- and state-champion teams. She finished seventh at counties (19:40) and then, after not running at the region meet, was 48th at states (20:42). Gorny was a first-team All-County selection last season as a junior.
Aanchal Kasargod, Atholton, junior.
As the top runner in the county not from Howard High School, Kasargod had a breakout junior season for Atholton. After she started her postseason with a fifth-place finish at counties (19:22), Kasargod finished second at the 3A East region meet (19:58) to lead the Raiders to a bronze medal. At states, she finished 13th and crossed the finish line in 20:08.
Sara Kindbom, Howard, junior.
Kindbom, who ran alongside Ahuja for most of Howard’s meets, is a first-team All-County selection for the second straight season. She finished third at counties (19:17), seventh at regionals (19:35) and 10th at states (19:38).
Chloe McGeehan, River Hill, sophomore.
McGeehan and second-team All-County pick Katherine Kitzinger helped lead the Hawks to a third-place finish at counties and a fourth-place finish at regionals. Individually, McGeehan placed sixth at counties (19:27), sixth at regionals (20:43) and 15th at states (20:11).
Madison Radford, Howard, senior.
Radford is a first-team All-County selection after being a second-team pick last season. The senior started her postseason with an eighth-place finish at counties (19:44). After finishing 15th at regionals (20:01), Radford finished 42nd at states (20:42).
Jasmine Wilson, Howard, sophomore.
As one of Howard’s top runners, Wilson had solid times in all three of the Lions’ championship meets at counties, regionals and states. The sophomore finished fourth at the county meet, crossing the finish line in 19:22. After placing 13th at the 4A East region meet (19:50), Wilson placed 27th at states in 20:06.
Second Team All-County
Ella Harris, Oakland Mills, junior
Jasmine Ives, Mt. Hebron, sophomore
Sara Jurkovic, Centennial, sophomore
Katherine Kitzinger, River Hill, senior
Caroline Rosenberry, Reservoir, sophomore
Michelle Weaver, Centennial, junior
Ella Werdell, Howard, freshman
IAAM B Conference All-Star
Erin Jacobs, Glenelg Country School, junior