Just last spring, Katlyn Dillow decided to take up running on her family's Loveville farm as a hobby, and with that limited experience, she joined the Leonardtown cross-country team this fall.
The freshman was a quick learner. At the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference Championship meet Wednesday, Dillow set a fast pace early and kept it to the finish for a decisive win at Kings Landing Park in Huntingtown.
"I was just planning on doing something," Dillow said of choosing cross-country. "Because I just started before the season, I didn't have high expectations for this season."
Dillow won the SMAC meet in 19 minutes 1 second, a full 30 seconds faster than second-place Katie Ogden of Northern. Patuxent junior Alison Parris, who dueled with Dillow for the first two miles, was third in 19:41.
Dillow led a strong squad of Raiders to its first girls' team title since 1993, with 66 points. La Plata was second with 90 points, and Huntingtown had 96.
In a hotly contested boys' race, La Plata senior David Anderson pulled ahead late to win in 16 minutes 20 seconds, edging Northern senior Andrew Bauder (16:23). Leonardtown, led by a fourth-place finish from Danny Page, won the boys' team title with 47 points, well in front of Westlake's 61.
Dillow and Anderson established themselves as front-runners in the upcoming regional cross-country meets. They will compete, along with the SMAC's eight 3A schools, in the 3A South Region meet Thursday at Oak Ridge Park in Waldorf.
Thomas Stone, Patuxent and Great Mills will race in the 4A East Region meet Friday at North County High in Anne Arundel County. Calvert, the SMAC's only 2A school, runs at the 2A South Region meet at Patuxent Park in Upper Marlboro. The state championship is Nov. 13 at Hereford High in Parkton.
Dillow showed strength and grit in the girls' race, trading the lead with Parris several times during the first two miles.
But when Dillow took the lead and maintained a speedy pace into the last mile, Parris could not keep up.
Dillow ran by herself for the final mile and became the first Leonardtown girl to win a SMAC cross-country title. Matt Olsen won the school's only individual boys' title in 1990.
"I just wanted to get a lead and keep ahead of [Parris]," Dillow said. "I didn't think she was going to slow down."
Anderson won an emotional victory, dedicated to his grandfather, who died three weeks ago. For much of the race, Anderson lurked behind the leaders, including Bauder, Great Mills senior Josh Thomas (third-place 16:30) and Page (16:31).
Anderson made a late move against Bauder, who could not muster enough strength for a counterattack.
"This is my last SMAC meet, so I just decided there's no reason not to give everything I had," Anderson said. "I had wanted this victory [for his grandfather] last week [at a quad meet], but it didn't happen. I got it today."