Talent alone won’t work.
Never does in cross country.
Talent helps, of course, but the truly devoted practitioners of this often-unforgiving sport requiring speed, stamina, endurance, and a strong constitution know that excellence results not just from native ability but from a one-step, one-rep-at-a-time, don’t-give-up, never-rest-on-your-laurels mindset.
Such was the understanding that propelled Collegiate’s girls team to League of Independent Schools and VISAA championships this fall and the boys squad to strong finishes in both the Prep League (second) and the state (third).
In the LIS meet November 4 on the lightning-fast 5K course at Pole Green Park, the Cougars dominated the competition with (low-score wins) 18 points, well ahead of runner-up St. Catherine’s (51) in the five-team field, thanks to inspired performances by Elon commit and senior co-captain MK Myers (1st in 18:34), Rosie Ferrell (2nd in 19:14), Sophie Sloan (4th in19:35), Virginia Harris (5th in 19:53), Giles Ferrell (6th in 19:58), and Nat Lurie (7th in 20:06).
Six days later at states on the rolling hills at Woodberry Forest’s 5K layout, the Cougars recorded 67 points (22 ahead of runner-up Norfolk Academy in the 17-team field) on the strength of similarly inspired performances by Myers (4th in 20:21), Harris (8th in 20:52), Rosie Ferrell (14th in 21:29), Giles Ferrell (16th in 21:33), Lurie (25th in 22:17), and Sloan (33rd in 22:31).
“This is the day we prepared for and trained for all season,” said Coach Matthew Richardson afterwards. “They’ve learned how to run a 5K. They did that really well. They’ve worked hard to become fit. Today, it was spending an afternoon together, going for a run, and having fun.”
Peaking two consecutive weeks, especially as the defending champ and on-paper favorite with high expectations, requires an ignore-the-distractions, control-what-you-can-control approach.
“You find a way,” Richardson said. “Pressure can get to you, but what you have to come back to is that it’s about each other. You take the pressure off the individual because you know your teammates have your back no matter what happens.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew there’d be other great teams out there. You have to push each other and run smart and finish strong and use your heart. I knew they were going to compete well. They did just that.”
Myers, who won the LIS title by 40 seconds, welcomed the tougher terrain and competition at Woodberry.
“It was a hard course, really hilly,” she said. “I knew there’d certainly be girls that pushed me. That’s a motivational thing. I enjoy running with people rather than running alone, but there were so many people running that I had no idea where my teammates were. I knew they were close because I could hear my coaches and [non-competing] teammates cheering for them. I trusted that they were there. I knew they’d be there.”
She dropped the hammer once she crossed the final paved road with 1,000 meters remaining.
“The last 1,000 meters is where you’re supposed to go your fastest,” she said. “Just having the motivation that it’s my last [high school] race pushed me to push my body to its limits. That’s also where the crowd is most excited. That energy feeds me and my teammates, so having that excitement around us makes us push even harder.”
Cross country is often characterized as an individual endeavor. It’s anything but.
“We went into it [championship week] with the mentality that we’re a family and whatever we did, we were doing it together,” said Giles Ferrell, a junior co-captain. “We knew that whatever challenges we faced, we’d face them together. We didn’t want the race to be about pressure or analyzing times. We wanted to enjoy this sport that we love. That’s the reason we ended up doing so well.”
Stan Craig won the Prep League at Pole Green in 15:46, edging Biruk Beardsley of St. Anne’s-Belfield by a step after running neck and neck for most of the race.
At Woodberry, Craig finished second in 15:56. Charlie Ortmans of Potomac led wire-to-wire and won in 15:43. Craig left Beardsley, who placed third, in his wake near the two-mile mark.
“My mindset was to let Ortmans run his race,” Craig said. “I knew coming in that Beardsley would be trying to get me. I really wanted to go out fast and see what I could do.”
“Go out fast” meant sailing through the first mile in a blistering 4:56, then hitting the second in 5:12.
While Craig is quietly proud of his tangible accomplishments, his senior experience has been more about leadership — he’s team captain — and shepherding a group of runners through the season following the graduation of a large and talented Class of 2022.
“I love these guys,” he said. “They’re such a great team. They’re what’s kept me in this sport for the longest time. I was really excited for this season with a bunch of unproven guys to see what we could do. We went out every day, worked our hardest, and had fun.”
St. Christopher’s won the Prep League with 34 points. The Cougars recorded 48 in the six-team field
At states, Potomac won with 72 points, the Saints were runner-up (89), and Collegiate third (103) among 18 entries.
“Our priority was to make sure that, while there was obviously going to be a hole left by the guys who graduated, the culture of sportsmanship and competitive spirit stayed,” said junior Liam Harbour. “We did a good job of keeping that spirit alive. We knew coming in that it wasn’t going to be easy. We embraced that we were going to do the best we could.”
At Pole Green, Craig, Liam Moore (6th in 17:07), Walker Angus (11th in 17:43), Ashwin Aggarwal (15th in 17:47), and Bolling Lewis (17th in 18:04) comprised the Cougars’ top five. At Woodberry, it was Craig, Moore (16th in 18:00), Angus (20th in 18:09), Harbour (23rd in 18:15), and Lewis (42nd in 18:57).
“Our guys did a great job of pushing one another and competing,” Richardson said. “That’s all we asked. They ran in a good pack. They’re always teasing each other about who’s going to finish first, but ultimately the goal is for everyone to finish stronger than they did the time before. They did a great job of setting a tone of excellence and showing that we have a lot of drive and heart and competitive spirit.
“These guys have been through workouts together. They’ve learned what it means to hurt and what it means to hurt with somebody who has your back. They do that very well, and they actually make it fun.”