For senior cross-country runners, the past four years have been more memorable for the races that were canceled -- after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the sniper attacks in 2002 and Hurricane Isabel in 2003 -- than the ones that were held.
So as a reward to its seniors, Lake Braddock took its squad to Oahu, Hawaii, last weekend, to run in the elite Iolani Invitational.
"This was definitely a privilege these kids earned," Bruins Coach Mike Mangan said. "After all that has gone on the four years for the seniors, we thought this was a great opportunity for their senior year to make it a super ending."
On a scenic, challenging, wind-driven, five-kilometer course at Kualoa Ranch, with mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, the Bruins got a taste of paradise while holding their own against some of the nation's top teams.
The girls, led by senior Kelsey Snowden's sixth-place finish, took second in the team competition with 52 points, just four points behind champion Snohomish (Wash.), which is ranked 17th in the country. Junior Erin Klein was ninth, while senior Kelly Sherrard took 13th.
"The trip was a nice little gift for the seniors, but the ultimate gift would be to win states on November 13th," Snowden said. "We would have liked to win in Hawaii, but we had a great race. I'd take states over Hawaii any day. That's our goal."
Senior Brad Clark, one of Virginia's top returning male runners, captured third individually in the boys' competition. The team was third, behind Snohomish and Auburn Riverside (Wash.).
"It was probably the most difficult course I've ever run on," Clark said. "There was all this wind and all these hills. It was very challenging."
The Bruins held several fund-raisers to fund the trip, and many of the athletes worked over the summer to pay for some of the costs. The reward was a week of team bonding and relaxation in perfect weather, as well as trips around the islands, including one to the U.S.S. Arizona historical site in Pearl Harbor.
"It was an amazing trip," Clark said. "Tuesday through Friday [before Saturday's meet], we were just amazed. We were having fun and relaxing and not believing we were there instead of school. It was a trip that I won't forget for a long time."
If a victory at the Monroe Parker Invitational two weeks ago put Chantilly junior Brad Siragusa on the radar in the Northern Region, his victory in poor conditions last weekend at Lake Fairfax made him a legitimate front-runner in the Northern Region.
On a 5,200-meter course modified from its normal route by the bad weather but still featuring puddles, mud and 30-mile-per-hour winds, Siragusa cruised to the boys' championship in 17 minutes 24 seconds -- more than 20 seconds better than anyone else.
"I'll tell you this much, Brad can do well on almost any course," Chantilly Coach Matt Gilchrist said. "He loves that stuff -- if it's nasty out and wet and muddy or whatever, to him, that's just fun, that's pure cross-country."
Meanwhile, Hayfield senior Melissa Dewey, a two-time All-Met, won in 19:14, a remarkable two minutes better than any other female runner. Dewey was also the champ at Monroe Parker.
Oakton, led by Kayley Byrne's second-place finish, won with 38 points, as its first five runners were among the top 15 finishers. Herndon's boys had a third-place finish by Ermin Mujezinovic and finished in first place with 109 points.
Siragusa was one of the area's better milers last spring but remained in the shadow of now-graduated standouts such as David Groff of Westfield and Christo Landry of Jefferson.
"He lost whatever anonymity he had after Monroe Parker," Gilchrist said. "He understands that and accepts that. He has some lofty goals for himself."