Broadneck senior Sophie Thibodeau is a fast, superstitious runner. The day of the county cross-country championship race, she got in her minivan, turned the key and heard the song "We are the Champions" on the radio.
That, she said, was when she knew it was the Bruins' day.
For the first time in more than two decades, Broadneck defeated Severna Park for the county title on Friday at Arundel. The Falcons had won 17 of the last 19 championships, including the last five.
"We've been waiting for so long," said Thibodeau, who finished fifth in 22 minutes 23 seconds. "I just feel like we should've won for three years in a row and we finally did."
Led by junior Lauren Centrowitz, the defending county champion, the Broadneck girls are expected to continue that momentum at today's 4A East Region meet, which begins with the boys' race at 2:45 p.m. at Baybrook Park. Thibodeau knows her team is favored to win, as they are the defending champions. It's the county race that always makes their stomachs flip-flop.
"If we can win counties and usually regions are easier for us, then hey, why not win regions?" she said. "We build up counties a lot more than we need to. We get over-excited and anxious and we let it get the best of us, but not this year."
Severna Park barely edged Broadneck to take the county boys' title, but the Falcons will have other teams to worry about at the 3A East Region meet at 2 p.m. today at Centennial.
Although Severna Park placed only one runner -- seventh-place finisher senior Chris Magette -- among the top seven, the Falcons' top five runners were less than a minute apart. The boys' strong pack running puts them among the region's top three teams along with River Hill and Mount Hebron.
The Severna Park boys and Broadneck girls have already proven they can beat the competition. Centrowitz won the Knight's Invite, leading the Bruins to a win over C. Milton Wright, their toughest opponent, earlier in the year at Baybrook Park. The Falcons defeated River Hill and Mount Hebron in mid-September at the Howard County Striders Invitational 5K at Centennial.
"The hay is in the barn," said Severna Park senior Zach Ludington, who collapsed at the finish line in eighth place. "That's from a Steve Prefontaine movie. The work is done, now we just need to stay tough in the races when it counts and we need to think about all the hard work we've done. Physically, we're where we need to be. We just need to stay focused."
Individually, the boys' 3A race will be tight. Annapolis sophomore Will Eden, who won the county championship in 17:58, will be chased by Mount Hebron senior Matt Sanders and Northeast senior Ryan Williams, who placed third in the county in 18:15. At the Howard County Invitational, Sanders placed first, about 30 seconds ahead of Williams.
The girls' race has one favorite. Centrowitz won the region meet last year in 19:01, helping the Bruins defeat C. Milton Wright by three points.
"The whole season is fun, but now is when it really matters," Centrowitz said. "You can win all the races before but if you don't win counties and regions, it doesn't mean anything."
The county championship meet was one of the first chances to see how the time off affected the runners, who missed about two weeks of practice because of the recent sniper shootings. Broadneck Coach Dana Dobbs and Severna Park Coach Ed Purpura agreed their teams were not in peak condition for the postseason.
"This [year] I feel like the season has been taken out of my hands as a coach because we haven't been able to run the kind of workouts I thought we needed and the workouts I wanted us to run," Purpura said. "The effects of the missed workouts, I really don't know what kind of shape we're in. I thought we would be more competitive [at the county championships] than we were. It's kind of a mystery to me. I'll probably know by the time states rolls around."
Although Dobbs said his girls aren't at race peak, the Bruins didn't let up during the hunt for the sniper. They would find Dobbs in the hallways and ask for workouts. The biggest surprise this season, though, has been sophomore Emily Nagle, who quit soccer to run cross-country for the first time. Nagle finished second behind Centrowitz, who won the 5.2-kilometer race in 21 minutes.
"The biggest surprise was when [Nagle] decided to come out," Dobbs said. "That's what made me happiest. Once she was here, I knew she had the ability to run. This being her first season in cross-country, she's really developed very well. She is a tiger. I think she loves nothing more than to push Lauren in practice, and that only makes her better."
The Broadneck boys have already given up on a first-place finish in the region, as they are expecting C. Milton Wright to win. Still, a second or third place is possible.
"We definitely will qualify for states as a team," said senior Justin Sibears, who placed 10th in the county in 19:03. "We can get second. I don't think any team has a chance of beating C. Milton Wright."