After the opening meet of the season, the Seahawk Invitational in Edgewater, South River’s Sam Keeny knew that Anne Arundel County had some of the best runners in the state and that the competition would only prove helpful throughout the season.
Keeny’s thoughts turned prophetic as he won the 4A state championship in 15 minutes, 34.98 seconds on Saturday while Arundel’s Tanner Piotrowski finished second in 15:42.44, both better than the previous Hereford course record of 15:43, to lead a big day for Anne Arundel County at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state cross country championships.
“Some of the best cross country in the state right now is in Anne Arundel County,” South River coach Josh Carroll said. “We see each other at invites, at counties, at regions, and every single time we race against each other, we know we are racing against a potential state champion. Tanner has had an incredible year and they have gone back and forth — they did it all during track season — and I am sure there is a lot more coming between these two.”
At the bottom of the “Dip," Hereford’s infamous hill that must be traversed twice, Keeny, Piotrowski and Severna Park’s Jake Gelfand were the lead trio heading into the maze, often the make or break portion of the race.
“We know it’s a hard course,” Keeny said. “I wanted to take the first mile slow then go all out, not leave anything in the tank, push that back loop because that part is what really takes it out of you. That’s where I made a gap. It’s a tough course, if you are not ready for it, it will eat you alive.”
While Keeny and Piotrowski were the top two runners, Severna Park’s Gelfand and Carson Sloat finished third and fourth, respectively, to lead the Falcons to their third consecutive state title, a decisive 43-130 victory over Northwood that gives Severna Park six state titles in the last eight seasons. Nick Engleman finished seventh to help their cause as well.
“We were pretty well on our game today and they executed the race plan the way that we talked about,” Severna Park coach Josh Alcombright said. “The guys are just feeding off of each other, they are coming together and building a huge amount of momentum. The culture that we have, it was showing today. They do it for each other. They epitomize that, all these people that are here watching the meet, it shows the amazing support system that they have behind them.”
The Severna Park girls team had been pushing Howard all season but had been unable to usurp the Lions any of the six times it faced them, and Howard proved up to the challenge again, defeating the Falcons, 69-110, to win the school’s third state title and first since 2012, as well as their first in the 4A classification. Howard placed three runners in the top 10 in Amanda Eliker (fourth), Nimrit Ahuja (eighth) and Sara Kindbom (10th).
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Howard coach Zack Dickerson said. “Severna Park is an extremely talented team, they are extremely well coached and we knew that every time we toed the line with them this year, it was going to be a battle. The way our girls responded today was awesome. They were mentally focused and they were ready and while we were the favorites on paper, they didn’t go into the race like that. They went into the race with a game plan to run a smart race and they executed great today.”
Anne Arundel county represented well in the girls race also as Niya Torres of Arundel finished third, Alyssa Combs of Severna Park was fifth and Katie Ericson of Annapolis finished sixth.
River Hill’s Anish Nanjappa won the 2A state championship last season and was the heavy favorite to win again despite the Hawks moving back up to the 3A classification.
The move turned out to be beneficial to both Nanjappa and the Hawks as they won the state title over Centennial, their fourth straight straight state title in the 3A classification, while Nanjappa won the title in 15:45.64, 15 seconds ahead of Towson’s Peter Sorensen but 2 seconds behind the course record, something he was chasing furiously after finishing in a nearly identical time at the Bull Run invitational earlier.
“I didn’t make a move this race like I normally do because it wasn’t as much of a pack like it was at Seahawk Invitational,” Nanjappa said. “I really wanted that course record. The only goal I had besides to win was to get that course record but I fell short and it’s just disappointing.”
Despite not getting the record, Nanjappa finished his season undefeated in any races, a major accomplishment for someone who has had a target on his back since a strong performance freshman year.
“He’s a kid that ran 16:55 as a freshman here, and when you are that good from 9th grade on, it becomes really tough,” River Hill coach Paul Hugus said. “You have such a small margin for performance increases, so he pushed it the last two years really hard, and for him to win a state title as a junior last year is really awesome, and for him to be knocking on the door for a course record was great.”
The Hawks, who were pushed by Centennial at the regional meet, ended up putting a distance between themselves and the Eagles similar to the Howard County meet, winning the state title 70-103 thanks to not just Nanjappa but strong depth in the squad.
“We put five in the top 25 which is huge, that was one of the things that we talked about during our planning meeting a couple of days ago,” Hugus said. “I’d like to highlight Brad Hoffman. He’s a senior, our fourth guy today, snuck under 17 minutes and he’s a kid that I call a program runner. He’s been here for four years, he wasn’t super great as a freshman and he would tell you that too but by the time it’s senior season and he had an amazing performance. I’m really proud of him and the team. It’s a strong, strong county and it’s a tough last three weeks of the season, you go through the grinder.”
In the afternoon session, Liberty stood out, winning the 2A girls state title, their first girls state championship since 2014, with a 44-74 win over Middletown on the strength of top ten finishes by Izzy Lucas (fifth), Sammie Spargo (sixth) and Julia Lucas (ninth). South Carroll’s Grace Siehler finished third in that race.
Liberty’s boys finished second to Oakdale, 63-98, in the 2A race with Finn Walsh of Kent Island taking second, Kevin Baranoski of Harford Tech finishing third, and Baidy Ba of Oakland Mills taking fourth — all better than the previous 2A state meet record of 15:58.08.
Pikesville’s boys team finished third in the 1A grouping with 99 points while Emeralda Romero of the Academy of College and Career Exploration in Baltimore City finished third in the 1A girls race in a time of 20:47.41.
1, Keeny (SR), 15:34.98; 2, Piotrowski (AR), 15:42.44; 3, Gelfand (SP), 15:53.37; 4, Sloat (SP), 15:54.79; 5, Suhr (RM), 15:54.79.
Teams: 1, Severna Park, 43; 2, Northwood, 130; 3, Montgomery Blair, 155.
1, Goldberg (WJ), 17:50.47; 2, Turesson (RM), 18:23.55; 3, Torres (AR), 19:08.10; 4, Eliker (HO), 19:12.90; 5, Combs (SP), 19:16.62.
Teams: 1, Howard 69; 2, Severna Park, 110; 3, Walter Johnson, 112.
1, Nanjappa (RH), 15:45.64; 2, Sorensen (TO), 16:03.31; 3, Z. Wedding (CP), 16:08.54; 4, McGirr (HU), 16:13.44; 5, J. Wedding (CP), 16:14.06.
Teams: 1, River Hill, 70; 2, Centennial, 103; 3, Towson, 130.
1, Olson (NO), 18:49.23; 2, Brotherton (GM), 19:21.63; 3, Perry (CMW), 19:25.38; 4, Morrison (BA), 19:38.40; 5, Pickett (BA), 19:38.45.
Teams: 1, Northern-Calvert, 82; 2, Bel Air, 86; 3, Hereford, 115.
1, Lund (OA), 15:47.76; 2, Walsh (KI), 15:48.71; 3, Baranoski (HT), 15:52.59; 4, Ba (OM), 15:54.00; 5, Tikiob (NH), 16:15.95.
Teams: 1, Oakdale, 63; 2, Liberty, 98; 3, Century, 127.
1, McQuitty (MI), 19:06.75; 2, Hopkins (WM), 19:12.20; 3, Siehler (SC), 19:12.37; 4, Miller (CA), 19:37.48; 5, Lucas (LI), 20:04.24.
Teams: 1, Liberty, 44; 2, Middletown, 74; 3, South Carroll, 109.
1, Chalker (WM), 16:00.47; 2, Brawner (SM), 16:57.05; 3, Leone (BM), 16:58.91; 4, Barlow (NG), 17:08.26; 5, Contreras (CA), 17:10.30.
Teams: 1, Williamsport, 49; 2, Smithsburg, 97; 3, Pikesville, 99.
1, Younker (SM), 20:26.13; 2, Brown (NG), 20:44.93; 3, Romero (ACCE), 20:47.21; 4, Willman (BR), 20:55.59; 5, Rhodes (BR), 21:11.01.
Teams: 1, Northern Garrett, 40; 2, Brunswick, 45; 3, Smithsburg, 96.