In his 14th season as coach, Dave Tenney, knew early in the season his team had a chance to do what no other Pallotti girls cross country team had ever done — win a championship.
“I kind of realized maybe after the first week of the season, when we started seeing the times from around the conference, that we had a shot at it,” Tenney said. “I told the girls this has to be our goal.”
The Panthers achieved that goal when they won the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference championship on Oct. 29 at McDaniel College.
Pallotti finished with 55 points and won the meet by 10 points over Catholic.
Park (97). Mercy (106) and Key (133) rounded out the top five.
All three conferences ran together in the race and there were 11 teams representing the C Conference.
Key’s Storrie Kulynch-Irvin (18:17.4) finished first out of all the runners and her teammate Zoe Benitez was second (21:49) in the C Conference race.
Tenney’s daughter, freshman Isabel Tenney, was third in the conference race and her time of 21:49.35 was the second best time of all the freshmen running in the race.
Senior Rylee Roberts was seventh (23:57,12) and freshman Ava Tillman was eighth (24:28.17) for the Panthers.
By finishing in the top seven, Tenney and Roberts were named conference all stars.
Tenney did it despite having nagging injuries.
“Isabel had a really good season, she was sort of battling injuries for a lot of the season, but we have a really good athletic trainer at Pallotti and we were able to keep her taped up and give her easy days when she needed easy days and she was able to progress and keep putting down faster times,” Tenney said.
Isabel wasn’t concerned about individual accomplishments after the race.
“I love that team, so I told myself I was going to give everything to give an opportunity for Pallotti because we had worked really hard all season,” she said. “Our coaches had been telling us all season long, ‘You got this, like we really think you have a shot at this, so we are going to help you work hard to be the best that you can be,’ and at that race we knew that we were prepared so we just went out there and we did our best.”
Roberts is four-year runner and leader.
“She is my captain and I knew she was going to come back and be really solid, so she had a great season,” Tenney said. “She set her personal best freshman year and she hasn’t matched it sophomore or junior year. This year, she really started putting down some fast times, so that was great having Isabel there to push her.”
Also scoring in the top five were sophomore Gabby Frederick (19th, 26:09.86) and freshman Ailee Morrison (20th, 26:22.78).
Junior June Dodson (41st, 28:51.99) and sophomore Annika Kumwembe (62nd, 31:43.25) also ran for the Panthers.
The rest of the squad included: Gabrielle Hendricks, Ini Gbolagun, Yeoryia Swanson and Jahbria Smith-Whitehead.
Frederick’s effort was one of the most courageous as she had suffered a hip flexor injury and her practice time leading up to the race was limited.
“She had really been taking it easy,” coach Tenney said. “She really went out there and ran it all out there on championship day which was huge for us.”
Tillmann’s time was a personal record that was 30 seconds faster then her previous low time.
Morrison broke her PR by nearly a minute.
Tenney knew his squad, that was 9-1 during the regular season, had a chance to compete for a title after they lost a close meet to Park, 30-28, early in the season and defeated Catholic, 32-29.
Kenney noted the win over Catholic came when the Cubs top runner didn’t finish the race.
“I knew that just running our best wasn’t going to be good enough, we were going to have to improve on our best and all five girls in our top five had really solid races,” Tenney said. “We just kept saying going in we know this is going to be razor thin.”
Tenney has been coaching since 2006 with Tom Owens, and when they started together Tenney was limited at practice because his second child was due during the season.
“He didn’t know how the first thing about coaching cross country, but he knew how to coach kids and motivate kids,” said Tenney, who had coached wrestling with Owens, who is Pallotti’s wrestling coach.
Tenney gave Owens the workouts that first season and he implemented them.
“Ever since then, I’ve been there every day and we kind of split coaching duties,” Tenney said. “Sometimes I try to make it too serious and he knows when to lighten it up. He and I work very well together.”
That work finally paid off this season and Tenney’s daughter couldn’t have been happier when the results were announced.
“We were very nervous at first and then we were so excited, like we couldn’t even stay sitting down,” said Isabel, one of three runners in the top five, along with Roberts and Tillman, who swim during the winter. “I was mostly proud of our team and I think we we’re all proud of our team.”