The Harford Tech cross country team began celebrating on the bus ride back from the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference division meet a few weeks ago.
The Cobras sang, danced and hugged throughout their 45-minute ride from Fair Hill State Park in Elkton. A pizza party followed a few days later, and co-coaches Carol Brown and Henry Schwartzman bought the boys and girls congratulatory T-shirts.
"We had something that needed to be celebrated," Schwartzman said.
Despite having the bare minimum of five girls on the team, Harford Tech won the UCBAC Susquehanna Division team title Oct. 19. The boys completed the sweep that day despite having only 10 runners, delighting everyone from the program.
"It was really, really shocking," runner Lyndsay Ames said. "I thought we had a chance, but it is hard to believe."
With the minimum five girls required to join a team competition and 10 boys, Harford Tech has a total of 15 runners, fewer than schools with more established cross country programs. C. Milton Wright, for example, has 71 runners this fall.
The Mustangs won the Chesapeake Division title and the UCBAC championship.
Harford Tech's girls had four runners most of last season and were forced to take incomplete scores in team competition. The Cobras again had four at the start of this season, but junior Kelly Forad, who had no previous competitive running experience, joined the team after two weeks.
Forad made the Cobras eligible for team titles, and Harford Tech rolled to an 8-0 regular-season record.
The boys (6-2) also lacked depth. They had only the 10 runners and battled injuries during the regular season, but both groups were optimistic heading into the Susquehanna Division race.
Harford Tech's girls had three runners finish in the top 10 and ended with 38 points, edging out Rising Sun (41) and Elkton (45). The boys finished with 39 points, beating out Bohemia Manor (44) for the team title. It also avenged two losses to Bohemia Manor during the regular season.
Brown enjoyed watching how her team reacted when meet officials announced that Harford Tech had swept the titles.
"They were very shocked," Brown said. "They all just sat there and kind of looked at me. I knew they had won, and Henry knew they had won, but we didn't say anything in case I did make an adding mistake. We kind of had to coax them to go up there and get their awards."
Juniors Emily Tyler and Ames were the top two girls runners. Sophomore Alex Kirk, freshman Amber Springham and Forad made up the rest of the team. They avoided major injuries this season, although Kirk battled her way through ankle problems.
Senior Tyler Hora, junior Gabriel Lincoln-Decusatis, freshman J.B. Brandonisio, sophomore Daniel Blackburn and junior Eddie Soto were the top five boys. Hora, the lone senior, said the victory wasn't a fluke.
"I think all the hard work that we've all put out is really paying off," he said. "It's really nice to see the great results come out of that hard work."
The small number of runners led the Cobras to become a close-knit group, which played a part in their success, according to Brown, Schwartzman and Hora.
"They do a great job of pushing each other, and they really care about each other," Harford Tech athletic director Mike Woods said. "They're really a close-knit bunch of kids."
C. Milton Wright coach Donnie Mickey said the championships should help the Cobras field bigger teams in the coming seasons.
"It's a great steppingstone for them to build a program," Mickey said. "It's very unusual. You don't see it very much. You're banking on everyone finishing and banking on everyone having a good-to-decent day. No one can have a bad day."
The Cobras ran well again at the UCBAC championship nine days later, as both the boys and girls finished fourth overall, another mild surprise.
There were more surprises on Thursday, as the boys won the Class 1A East regional meet. The girls finished fourth.
With this season's success likely pushing Harford Tech up to the tougher Chesapeake Division next season, the Cobras will be competing against ranked teams such as C. Milton Wright and Bel Air.
But Harford Tech will always remember what happened in the Susquehanna Division race. In fact, Brown and Schwartzman ensured that the runners didn't forget it.
The coaches bought black and gold T-shirts (the school colors) that said "Harford Tech Cross Country" on the front and "Susquehanna Division Champs 2006" on the back and gave them to the runners a few days later.
The coaches had also persuaded the bus driver to stop for ice cream on the way back from the division meet, and they helped throw a pizza party when Harford Tech returned to practice a few days later.
"I just asked them if they would have ever believed on Aug. 15 that we would be where we're at right now," Schwartzman said. "[That's why] we celebrated for a few days."