As the members of the Forest Park girls' 4x400 relay team huddled before the final event of Friday's AAA Northwestern Region outdoor track and field championship, the public address announcer made sure the hundreds of athletes, coaches and fans in attendance realized what was at stake.
The Bruins led second-place Potomac by just two points. The Panthers had one last chance -- if a somewhat slim chance, given their relative weakness in the middle distance events -- to close the gap. Keep an eye on the teams in Lanes 4 and 7, the announcer suggested.
Yet the race proved anticlimactic. Forest Park led after three laps before slipping to fourth place, but Potomac wound up in ninth. The Bruins survived with a 79-72 edge and soon were passing the championship trophy around and kissing it.
"We knew that if everyone ran their best, we had a shot" to win the title, said sophomore Stefanie Slekis, who won the 1,600-meter run and finished second in the 800.
Sophomore Monica Wright (400) and senior Beth Fahey (3,200) also won races for Forest Park, which used its strength in the distance events to charge back after junior Kharya Brown and the dominant Potomac sprinters took an early lead.
"The distance runners, they're kind of programmed to be more patient," Bruins Coach John Rock said. "They're a little bit more patient in their races, and I think that brings patience to the meet, where they realize, 'Keep running strong, keep running strong. We'll get there.' It really paid off today. We were able to stay focused."
Brown was the only athlete at the meet to win four events: the 100, 200 and long jump, and as part of Potomac's 4x100 relay. She swept her events after finishing second in the long jump as a freshman and second in the 100 last season.
"There's always been that pattern," she said. "So this year my goal was to win everything in districts, win everything in regionals, prepare for states, to be state champion. That's something I've been striving for."
Junior Letosia Rivers, the winner in the 300 hurdles, helped Woodbridge finish third with 67 points, making it a sweep of the top three for Prince William County schools.
On the boys' side, the top area school was fourth-place Forest Park (59.5 points), which finished 29.5 points behind champion E.C. Glass. Bruins junior Bryce Iverson set a meet record by winning the 3,200 in 9 minutes 17 seconds, 0.56 seconds ahead of Pat Wilhelm of E.C. Glass, who also beat the previous record of 9:25.94.
One luminary missing from the day's events was Osbourn Park sophomore Devin Thompson, who pulled a hamstring in the preliminaries of the 100-meter dash -- while winning the heat in 10.84 seconds -- and withdrew from the rest of his schedule.
"How bad it is, I don't know," Yellow Jackets Coach Mike Feldman said, indicating he wasn't sure whether Thompson will be healthy enough to run in next weekend's state meet, for which he had already qualified in the 100, 200 and high jump. "We're going to aggressively treat it. We'll see how resilient he is."
With Thompson out, the sprints became a contest between Hylton seniors Deon Butler and Tyjuann Carroll. Butler won the 100 in 10.87 seconds, three-hundredths of a second ahead of Carroll. The roles were flipped in the 200, with Carroll one-hundredth of a second ahead with a time of 22.05 seconds. The duo also ran the last two legs on Hylton's first-place 4x100 relay team.
Area athletes Devon Alston of Osbourn Park (100 hurdles), Kelly Morris of Stonewall Jackson (high jump) and Dustin Rhodes of Forest Park (800) also won individual titles.
Additional Northwestern Region results will run in Thursday's Extra.