Bobby Simmons and his Joppatowne teammates stole the spotlight from other Harford County runners yesterday in the state cross country championships in Westminster.
Simmons sprinted to victory in the final quarter-mile of the Class 1A race on a 3-mile course at Western Maryland College. His win propelled the Mariners to their second state title.
The long-striding junior dogged the heels of Milford Mill's Mike Mamo, the pre-race favorite, through most of the race.
"I just stayed behind him, and when he slowed down with a half mile to go, I knew I could beat him," said Simmons, who placed fifth last year when Mamo, the 1990 champ, finished second.
"I knew he had a shot at Mamo," said Joppatowne coach Greg Thompson. "In the past I've seen him go out too fast, but this
time I wasn't concerned about burning out. I told him just to stay with the leaders."
Simmons did just that, sprinting to a 16-second victory over Mamo in 16:29.
Teammate Todd Eckley showed similar patience and was a key to the team's victory. Eckley, who came into the meet nursing an Achilles' tendon injury, ran in 20th place through half the race then surged to finish seventh in 17:37.
Behind him, Keith Phillips (15th), Jay Lawhorne (16th), and Ben Czisny (29th) sealed the victory with a score of 58 points. Easton was a close second with 63, and Francis Scott Key third at 76.
In winning, Joppatowne became the first Harford County team to claim back-to-back state titles in cross country and the first to win both an individual and a team title in the same state meet since North Harford and Ed Snodgrass did it in 1969.
The day was supposed to belong to another Harford team, C. Milton Wright. But the course was not kind to the Mustangs. They finished second in the Class 3A race, and their leader Brian Harris faltered.
"He had the race won," said Wright coach Bob Johnson. "It looked like all he had to do was coast in."
Harris moved to the front near the half-mile post and built a 9-second lead in the second mile. But on a sharp ascent near the 2.5-mile mark, the pack closed to within 5 seconds.
Two-hundred yards later, Harris jogged to a halt and dropped to the ground. As runners streamed past, he slowly rose to his feet and resumed the race. He finished 25th in 17:19. "I just died on that hill," said Harris. "I felt very bad after the first mile."
The Mustangs still finished well. Steve Donahue placed fifth, Greg Stephen 12th, Chad Boyle 15th, and Kevin Koffenberger 23rd.
But the two-time defending champs couldn't overcome a strong Walt Whitman team. The Vikings from Montgomery County placed four runners in the top 10 to win easily, 37-79.
Lucy Howard turned in the top finish in the girls competition. The North Harford junior finished second in the 2A race in 20:06 behind Alicia Adams of Glenelg.
The C. Milton Wright girls took fifth in the 3A race. Stacy Servia was the top finisher at 14th in 20:19, two places ahead of Aberdeen's Christy Moon, 20:39.
In 1A girls, Monica Beall rebounded from an early season injury to lead Fallston to fifth place with a 13th-place finish in 21:31. Teammate Laurie Cicero was two places behind in 21:37. Erin Fitzgerald of Harford Tech was 20th.
Fallston was also fifth in boys 1A behind the ninth-place finish of Ben Hall in 17:53. Alan Hitchings of Havre de Grace crossed the line two places behind him in 18:05.
Competing in 3A, Bel Air finished 14th among 20 boys teams and 15th among 19 girls teams.