Laurel native and Mount de Sales Academy sophomore Juliette Whittaker capped a banner year of cross country running by finishing in top 10 in the Foot Locker Northeast Regional championships at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, NY, on Nov. 30.
Whittaker placed seventh in a field of 179 runners, posting a personal-record 5,000-meter time of 17:56.9.
Whittaker opened her cross country season by winning the 3-mile Seahawk Invitational on Sept. 7 in a time of 17:23.8 which was 47 seconds faster then runner-up Oakley Olsen, of Northern.
As a freshman in 2018, Whittaker, who lives in Russett, was fourth in the same race.
In a star-studded field of 365 runners the following week at the Oatlands Invitational, Whittaker ran 18:17.0 in the 5,000-meter race and was third.
The race winner there was Bethany Graham (17:57), of John Champs High, VA, who recently placed third in the Foot Locker South Region championship meet.
On Sept. 21, Whittaker won the prestigious Girls Elite race at the Bull Run Invitational at Hereford High. She posted a time of 18:35.5 and finished three places higher then she did at Bull Run in 2018.
“She did have some middle school running background,” Mount de Sales coach Steve Weber said during her freshman year. “Not so extensive, but some, so she did have a background. She quickly rose to the top of our team and then the top of the IAAM league. The strength was already there. She’s a pretty strong runner with a lot of speed, too. She’s just a great runner with a great endurance combination.”
In a 5,000-meter race on Oct. 5, the sophomore was second (17:16) at the 46th annual Paul Short Run. New York’s Karrie Baloga, of Cornwell Central High, won that race in 16:59.7. Baloga was third in the Foot Locker Northeast regionals.
At the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championship meet at McDaniel College, Whittaker won her second straight IAAM A Conference crown by running 19:08.08, but she didn’t win the overall race.
The race includes all runners from the A, B and C conferences and it was won by freshman Storrie Kulynch-Irvin (18:17.39), of the Key School in the C Conference.
For Key coach Brandon Demers, the first inclination that beating Whittaker was possible came at Hereford’s Bull Run Invitational.
“At Bull Run, it was the first time we got to see them stacked up against everyone,” Demers said. “Storrie ran a separate race, she ran in the small race and Juliette ran in the elite and she ran one second faster than Juliette and I thought, ‘whoa whoa whoa.” I didn’t see that coming. When we went into Bull Run, some other strong girls ran under 19:00. I thought under 19 minutes would be great, but they both ran under 18:30.”
Kulynych-Irvin ran 18:24.10 to win the small schools’ race at the Bull Run by nearly two minutes. Heading into the IAAM championship race on Oct. 29, Demers knew that for Kulynych-Irvin to have any chance she would have to separate early from Whittaker, who has one of the best, if not the best, finishing kicks in the state.
“It was no secret going in that the one way to win this race was to make a break by the 3- or 4-kilometer mark,” Demers said. “If those two are together in the last half mile, you are going to favor one of the premier half milers in the nation. Storrie’s job was to sit, do as little thinking as you can and go on the hill right before 4K.”
That’s exactly what Kulynych-Irvin did to secure her victory.
“I know I don’t have much of a kick and Juliette runs a really fast half-mile,” Kulynych-Irvin said. “The start was definitely fast, and it took me a while to work up to it, but I run best with even splits but probably that hill at the beginning and then the 4K mark, those were the big parts. I just tried to hold on after that.”
Whittaker is on the Sailors’ indoor track team this year after winning winning the 800-meter race at the IAAM championships.
During the spring, she won individual IAAM titles in the 800, setting a meet record (2:10.16), and she also won the 1,600, helping the Sailors claim the team crown.
Ryan Morse contributed to this story.