A highly-anticipated matchup of the top two female cross country runners in the area evaporated before it even began.
Junior Tenke Zoltani of Dulaney rested her shin splints and sat out the Baltimore County Championships at Hereford High yesterday, paving the way for junior Cori Koch of Towson to claim the girls individual title over the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 29 seconds.
In the boys race, junior Ryan Cartwright of Eastern Tech surprised nearly everyone - including himself - by capturing the crown in 16:46.
But many eyes were on the girls race, which pitted Koch, a transfer from St. Paul's who had won four invitationals before yesterday, against Zoltani, the All-Metro Runner of the Year and reigning Class 4A state champ.
Instead, Zoltani didn't suit up, and Koch won by a comfortable 35-second margin over runner-up and junior teammate Anastasia Mukhina.
When asked if she had been looking forward to racing against Zoltani, Koch said: "I wanted to. I was real scared to, but I definitely wanted to try."
Dulaney coach Chad Boyle said it was his decision to bench Zoltani, who also missed last Saturday's Georgetown Prep Classic.
"She could've run today if push came to shove," Boyle said. "But with a runner like her and the goals that we have, I thought it was fair to give her a few more days of rest."
Zoltani's absence didn't prevent the third-ranked Lions from defeating No. 8 Towson, 45-67, for the team championship.
With junior Christine Myers running in Zoltani's spot and finishing third in 20:18, Dulaney placed its next four runners - freshman Christy Vincent (21:28), sophomore Christie Bennett (21:49), junior Dusty Aeiker (21:54) and sophomore Catherine Winders (21:59) - in the ninth through 12th spots, respectively.
"What I saw today was the result of a lot of hard work over the last six weeks," Boyle said. "This is a young team, but they grew up today. They ran like veterans."
The Lions made it a clean sweep in the team competition when the second-ranked boys squad edged No. 6 Towson, 55-56, for the team crown in that division.
Although Dulaney finished a collective 14 seconds slower than the Generals, top-20 finishes from junior Will Knox (2nd place, 16:54), junior Billy Duffy (6th, 17:23), senior Aaron Reuwer (11th, 17:54), sophomore Andy Carmer (17th, 18:27) and sophomore Emil Bojanov (19th, 18:36) powered the Lions to their first sweep in both the boys and girls team competitions for the second time in three seasons.
"Maybe it's karma," Boyle said, alluding to last year's one-point loss to then-county champ Perry Hall. "This is what we train our butts off for. They deserved it."
Perhaps the afternoon's biggest surprise was the performance by Cartwright, a 4.0 grade-point-average student who placed 13th last season after he sprained his ankle at the 2-mile marker.
Cartwright, who hadn't won a multi-team meet, said winning yesterday was beyond his expectations.
"I was hoping for top five because there are a lot of people who had faster times than me," he said. "I was just trying to stay with the Dulaney pack."
The only person who didn't express any shock was Cartwright's coach, Jim Wich, who said he had confidence in his runner after he recorded a 15:58 at the Harford Invitational three weeks ago.
"The last three weeks, we've been really pushing him," said Wich, who added that Cartwright was about 30 seconds behind some of the leading runners when the season began. "He's been coming along and he's running very smart."