Rob Torres, the head coach at No. 5 John Carroll, told his girls cross country team this week that the 18th annual Knights Invitational at Baybrook Park would be its only opportunity to knock off top-ranked Severna Park.
His team responded yesterday by placing three runners in the top 10 for a first-place finish with 74 points, ahead of No. 4 River Hill (101) and Severna Park (103) in the 28-team meet hosted by North County.
John Carroll's Nicole Clarke, who finished second in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland meet last season, came in first with a time of 18 minutes, 29.1 seconds, just three-tenths of a second ahead of Liya Kasimova of Severna Park.
"I told my team that four of the top five teams in the Sun [poll] were here and that we were as good as any of them," said Torres, who was last season's Harford County Coach of the Year after capturing the IAAM title. "They practice hard and they get after it all of the time."
Erika Stasakova of John Carroll finished third with a time of 18:34.0, ahead of Elyse Borisko of Howard (18:42.4) and Severna Park's Hillary Lee (18:48.7).
There were no similar upsets on the boys side, as No. 5 River Hill, the highest-ranked boys team in the meet, ran away with first place with 47 points, well ahead of South River (110) and Leonardtown of St. Mary's County (114).
Hawks coach Earl Lauer said the meet gave his team the chance to show that it is one of the best in the state.
"We worked really hard in the summer," Lauer said. "I think we are as competitive as anybody. We'll run with anyone."
Joey Thompson of Howard, one of the top outdoor track athletes in the state the past two years, showed that he is just as effective in his first season of cross country. He took first place with a time of 15:56.7, just ahead of Craig Morgan of River Hill (15:58.6) and Zach Sullivan of Archbishop Spalding (16:06.2).
Thompson said the biggest adjustment for him from outdoor track to cross country has been dealing with the hills, but it's something he needs to get used to because he wants to run cross country and both indoor and outdoor track in college.
"The courses are not flat like [an outdoor] track, so you have to work harder," Thompson said. "You also definitely have to do more mileage during the week with cross country."