A Montgomery County cross country team made a new state record and three county athletes finished their high school careers as state champions in the 5-kilometer run Saturday.
The Walter Johnson High School girls cross country team overcame the loss of two top runners (who were both injured before Saturday’s meet) to win their fifth consecutive state championship – a state record according to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
WJ head coach Tom Martin told the Sentinel that during a Friday night team meeting, he warned the healthy portion of his squad that they would have to run faster to win the race. But his team rose to the occasion, as the Lady Wildcats’ score of 83 points was sufficient to claim the state 4A crown.
Walter Johnson senior Janet Scott said she and her teammates each had to put in extra effort during their races to get the win.
“It’s been a lot of challenges, but it’s been a lot of us coming together and working really hard,” she said.
Martin said he was proud of his athletes for breaking the previous record with their fifth consecutive win, despite missing two of their better runners. A team missing its two top runners would not be expected to win, he added.
“I’m just proud of how they overcame a lot of adversity that other teams would not have been able to overcome, and it just showed the strength of these girls,” Martin said.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase senior Adam Nakasaka (15:51 minutes) and Walter Johnson senior Abbey Green (18:17), both 2016 4A state runners-up, won their respective races. Both had also won the 4A West regional qualifier at Watkins Mill High School a week ago.
Nakasaka said he was “excited and relieved” considering his first-place victory. He was excited to finish faster than he had planned.
While Nakasaka had qualified and competed in a several state championship events last year – both in cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track, he placed second more than once.
Nakasaka began competing in cross country his sophomore year, and became one of the top finishers in both cross country and track and field. He described taking second place as a “curse.”
“Last year I was kind of – in every state meet race that I ran… cross country, indoor, two-mile… I got second in pretty much all of it,” Nakasaka said. “So, obviously, pretty much today was a relief to have broken that curse and to finally gotten that first state title under my belt.”
Nakasaka said before the race he was confident his experience racing on the course had prepared him for the 5K Saturday.
“I knew especially after last year that I was probably the most experienced runner on the course, and that course with all the hills that it has benefits my racing style more,” he said.
Green said she was thrilled to win the state championship race.
“It definitely means a lot,” said Green. “It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s definitely something I’ve wanted to be able to check off my list before I graduated.”
State championship runners and coaches all know the course is quite hilly, which is more challenging than a flatter course.
Green entered the race intending to complete mile 1 in about the same pace as she did in 2016, which was about 5:45 minutes.
Unlike her 2015 and 2016 races, when she ran head-to-head with two-time state champion Maria Coffin of Annapolis Senior High School, on Saturday Green mostly ran alone.
“I just wanted to maintain my composure and go the pace I wanted to go. I didn’t want to go out too fast on the first mile,” said Green. “[It’s] not a course you can go out fast and finish well… I was happy that that ended up working out.”
Coffin’s sister Anna Coffin, an Annapolis junior, finished second (18:56 minutes).
For schools that competed as teams in the 4A boys race, Walt Whitman placed third overall with 160 points, and first in the county. Bethesda Chevy-Chase placed fourth with 163 points.
In the 4A girls race, Severna Park (second place, 98 points) beat the Thomas S. Wootton Lady Patriots, who placed third overall with 116 points after being runners-up to Walter Johnson in 2016.
Poolesville High School senior Ryan Lockett, 2016 3A state champion, became the 2017 2A state champion with a time of 16:13.07, making him one of few Montgomery County runners to earn two cross country state titles.
The Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association’s decision to move three county teams—Damascus, Poolesville and Seneca Valley—down to the 2A division due to drops in those schools’ enrollment didn’t prevent county athletes from cracking the top three.
“I got to race against completely different competition, so it was great to be able to do the same thing I did last year, in 2A,” said Lockett.
Calvert High School junior Justin Diehl finished approximately 3.5 seconds after Lockett in second, clocking a 16:16.55 time.
In the girls 2A race, Damascus High senior Heather Delaplaine finished in 19:42 for runner-up, just 1.35 seconds behind Hereford High School junior Emily Konkus, who won with a time of 19:40.44.
Lockett said his strategy on Saturday was similar to the one he used the year before. He said the key – last year and this year – was making sure he had enough energy to outrun his racing companion in time for the finish.
“The race went just as I planned, and Justin Diehl, who got second, he had a really strong race, but just when it came down to the last half-mile, I had a stronger half-mile.”
That’s not to say Lockett wasn’t hurting, however.
“The course is one of the hardest in the country, so, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re running, you’re going to be in pain going up those hills,” Lockett said. “So, yes, I was tired.”
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