Nanjappa runs away with first place; Centennial boys break title drought at cross country state championships

A steep ravine known as “the dip” in the middle of Hereford’s race course is a staple of Maryland cross country. For the past three decades, the top runners around the state have gathered in Parkton in early November, hoping they can conquer the daunting peaks and valleys of what has become a three-mile struggle. Some runners hold back for fear of stumbling or falling, both of which could seriously hinder their state championship finish. Other runners expend too much energy and cannot recover for the race’s final stretch.

River Hill junior Anish Nanjappa is one of the few runners that doesn’t mind “the dip.” In fact, he kind of likes it.

“Honestly, for me, the dip isn’t that bad because I feel like it’s really like a mental block for people,” Nanjappa said. “So I try to get going on that dip and try and like, break some people.”

Nanjappa made “the dip” look like a cakewalk compared to his competition in Saturday’s 2A boys’ race. He separated himself from the pack during that portion of the race, and by the time he arrived at the top of the hill — about 500 meters from the finish — he was running all by himself. His eventual state-championship winning time of 15:58.08 bested the field by more than 10 seconds.

“You can have the team titles and you can have the team success, but for an individual to come away with one of the four boys’ titles that they were giving away today, and for him to have the third best time of the day, is huge,” River Hill coach Paul Hugus said of Nanjappa’s effort. “The kid has lost to four athletes all year. … He’s put together probably the best season — I’d have to go back and look historically — but probably the best season any River Hill athlete has put together since the school opened potentially. He’s had that type of season.”

With first-place finishes at counties, regions and now states, Nanjappa has set an example of commitment and excellence that his teammates cannot help but try and follow, Hugus said. In doing so, the Hawks have established a model of consistency this season that has proved immune to the competition level.

At counties, River Hill finished behind Howard. The Hawks then earned runner-up at the 2A South region meet. On Saturday, they exacted revenge on region champion Calvert en route to securing yet another top-two state finish. It’s their eighth since 2000, a stretch that includes five state championships.

The Hawks’ five scorers all finished in the top 38, with Nanjappa leading the pack and Ryan Rose (21st, 17:09.24), Joshua Galindo (26th, 17:17.87), Sean Krein (34th, 17:25.74) and Luke Meininger (38th, 17:35.16) following behind him. Their efforts added up to 117 points, not enough to edge state champion Liberty (110 points) but enough to bring home some more hardware.

Other notable individual results from around the county came from Glenelg senior Graham Dilworth (seventh, 16:37.35) and Oakland Mills senior Frederick Eiland II (11th, 16:49.39). The Scorpions finished 14th with 337 points, while Glenelg (386 points) and Marriotts Ridge (389) came in right behind them.

County team scores (2A boys):

2. River Hill, 117; 14. Oakland Mills, 337; 15. Glenelg, 386; 16. Marriotts Ridge, 389.

Top-25 county finishers (2A boys):

1. Anish Nanjappa, RH, 15:58.08; 7. Graham Dilworth, G, 16:37.35; 11. Frederick Eiland II, OM, 16:49.39; 21. Ryan Rose, RH, 17:09.24.

The River Hill girls’ team, meanwhile, finished in fifth place behind state champion Hereford (68 points), Oakdale, Poolesville and Middletown. The Hawks were the top county finisher with 158 points, followed by Glenelg (eighth, 212 points), Marriotts Ridge (14th, 368), Oakland Mills (16th, 411) and Hammond (19th, 475).

Hawks sophomore Faith Meininger, the reigning 2A South champion, came in 10th on Saturday with a time of 20:54.67. She’s the only county runner to place in the top 25.

County team scores (2A girls)

5. River Hill, 158; 8. Glenelg, 212; 14. Marriotts Ridge, 368; 16. Oakland Mills, 411; 19. Hammond, 475.

Top-25 county finishers (2A girls):

10. Faith Meininger, RH, 20:54.67.

Centennial boys send longtime coach out on top

Al Dodds has coached at Centennial since the school opened in 1977. He started as the track and field coach, then expanded his role to include cross country in 1989. He’s been teaching Eagles’ distance runners in and out of the classroom ever since.

Dodds retired from teaching after the 2013-14 school year and knew he was nearing the end of his coaching career, too. Yet in the fall of 2015, a trio of freshmen — Chris Bieberich, David Riina and Justin Ziegler — convinced Dodds to extend his tenure at least a little while longer.

“What a great group of guys,” Dodds thought to himself. “I think I’d like to see them through their senior years just to see what they can do because they had some potential.”

Zach Deming and Jason Kraisser joined the team as sophomores in 2016, further improving Centennial’s depth. And last season, with the addition of then-freshman Jacob Cole, the Eagles finished as the state-runner up for the first time since 2002. With nearly their entire lineup returning, Dodds understood that if his athletes stayed healthy, a long-awaited state title would be within reach.

Dodds’ four-year vision came to fruition during the cross country state championships Saturday at Hereford. With its top-five runners finishing between 12th and 25th, Centennial (87 points) ran away from second-place Linganore (126 points) and everyone else to win the 3A boys’ state title.

In his final season coaching, Dodds had led the Eagles to their first boys’ state championship since 1993.

“It’s an awesome feeling to have him be able to go out on top,” Riina said. “I know it’s been a long time since the team’s been able to win for him, so it was a really good feeling to know that he can leave knowing that he has the best team out there.”

Ziegler paced Centennial with a 12th-place finish in 17 minutes, 21.67 seconds, though his teammates were not far behind. Cole (17:24.15) crossed the finish line fewer than three seconds later to secure 14th, and following him were Bieberich (18th, 17:32.25), Riina (23rd, 17:38.26) and Kraisser (25th, 17:45.52). Combining these results gave the Eagles’ their fourth boys’ cross country state title in program history.

Atholton (171 points) came in fourth and was the county’s next-best finisher. Behind the Eagles and Raiders were Mt. Hebron (eighth, 217 points) and Reservoir (12th, 300).

“I’m just really happy for them for all the time and the miles that they’ve put in, and they really committed to each other this past summer and I think actually since last year,” Dodds said. “They made a commitment to each other and said, ‘let’s go for it.’”

Other top county finishers included Atholton senior Javon Daniel, who backed up his 3A East region championship with a seventh-place finish (17:05.24) on Saturday, and Reservoir senior Noah Kim, who snagged 10th in 17:16.05. Atholton senior Jake Perret (21st, 17:35.51) and Mt. Hebron sophomore William Jones (24th, 17:41.67) also finished in the top 25.

County team scores (3A boys):

1. Centennial, 87; 4. Atholton, 171; 8. Mt. Hebron, 217; 12. Reservoir, 300.

Top-25 county finishers (3A boys):

7. Javon Daniel, A, 17:05.24; 10. Noah Kim, Re, 17:16.05; 12. Justin Ziegler, C, 17:21.67; 14. Jacob Cole, C, 17:24.15; 18. Chris Bieberich, C, 17:32.25; 21. Jake Perret, A, 17:35.51; 23. David Riina, C, 17:38.26; 24. William Jones, MH, 17:41.67; 25. Jason Kraisser, 17:45.52.

In the 3A girls’ race, Reservoir senior and reigning 3A East champion Annabel Cortez (12th, 20:37.91) finished first among county runners. However, the depth of Centennial translated into a third-place finish in the team standings behind Northern-Calvert (56 points) and Bel Air (68 points). The Eagles, who totaled 144 points, were followed by county foes Atholton (sixth, 181 points), Reservoir (10th, 222) and Mt. Hebron (13th, 352).

“We had to stick with each other and we had to find each other when we were out there,” Centennial coach Kevin McCoy said. “You have so many teams that you’ve raced against, but at the same time, there’s so many teams that you’ve never seen before, so you can have people just get lost in the crowd. So, we just made sure that we found each other, we made it about us and working with one another so that we could accomplish something bigger than one person can do alone.”

As they’ve done all season, seniors Cora Blount (20:38.86) and Alison Betler (20:39.84) kept Centennial’s team score low by finishing 14th and 16th, respectively. Atholton senior Gabriella Degrezia (22nd, 21:06.80) was the only other county runner to finish in the top 25.

County team scores (3A girls):

3. Centennial, 144; 6. Atholton, 181; 10. Reservoir, 222; 13. Mt. Hebron, 352.

Top-25 county finishers (3A girls):

12. Annabel Cortez, Re, 20:37.91; 14. Cora Blount, C, 20:38.86; 16. Alison Betler, C, 20:39.84; 22. Gabriella Degrezia, A, 21:06.80.

Howard girls make statement by placing second

It’s been a special 2018 campaign for the Howard girls’ program, one that includes its first county and region championships since 2007 and it’s first-ever 4A North crown.

And now, the Lions can add a second-place state finish to what has been one of the best seasons in program history.

Individual county champion Amanda Eliker, as well as Sara Kindbom and Emily Gorny, all placed in the top 13 to help Howard score 125 points and defeat everyone aside from Severna Park (102 points).

“The progress from last year to this year has just been incredible,” said Eliker about the Lions’ state-meet jump from 14th to second. “[I’m] so proud of our girls that [we got] second place.”

Howard’s top three runners also made noticeable improvements from last year’s state meet. A year after taking 42nd, Eliker (19:33.93) crossed the finish line fifth on Saturday. Meanwhile, Kindbom (19:56.98) sprung from 59th to 10th and Gorny (20:08.66) leapfrogged from 55th to 13th. All three runners beat their premeet projections, too.

As a result, Howard returned to Ellicott City with its third-ever top-two state finish and its first since winning back-to-back state championships in 2006 and 2007.

“They put in the work all year; all through the summer and then all season,” coach Allison Follmer said. “We’ve never been somebody to worry about, and I think that was the biggest thing. Nobody was worried about us being someone that was going to come in and take it from them.”

“But they did it,” Follmer added. “They put in the work and they were able to be up there, packed together, and be up there with some of the faster runners.”

Top-25 county finishers (4A girls):

5, Amanda Eliker, Ho, 19:33.93. 10. Sara Kindbom, Ho, 19:56.98; 13. Emily Gorny, Ho, 20:08.66.

Top-25 county finishers (4A boys):

20. Alex Strawley, 16:47.05.

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