As if regional cross-country competition wasn't difficult enough, the runners in Thursday's Virginia AA Region II championships had to contend with two major obstacles besides the field of participants.
The first was a steep, muscle-exhausting 600-meter hill halfway through the course at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington. The other was the hard rain in 40 degree temperatures that made life miserable for almost everyone in attendance.
Amidst the abysmal conditions and the difficult terrain, there were both triumphs and disappointments among the Loudoun area participants.
Broad Run junior Stephanie Garcia finished in third place with a time of 20 minutes 23.62 seconds. Garcia won the individual girls' Dulles District championship last month, and her placement in the top 15 Thursday qualified her for the state championship at Great Meadow on Saturday.
"I just tried my hardest to use the downhills to my advantage," Garcia said. "It was hard, but I had a good kick at the end."
While many runners who finished behind Garcia wobbled from exhaustion after the race, Garcia seemed to have most of her wind. Still, she acknowledged being one of many runners victimized by the big hill.
"My strategy was just to go out and stay at the front of the pack and try to work off the first couple people," Garcia said. "I was right up there with the first-place girl [Tasmin Fanning of Western Albemarle], but on that big hill I just lost it. I don't really do too much hill training, so it was kind of hard."
On the boys' side, Stone Bridge senior Kyle Kinnally placed eighth in 17:40.65. Kinnally finished two spots ahead of Dulles District champ Sean Bernett of Heritage, but he still was disappointed with his race.
Kinnally, the Dulles runner-up, said the other runners hampered him more than the hill or the weather.
"I started off way too slow," he said. "I got boxed in way back there. . . . The big hill was pretty tough. I kind of expected it to be. We did some good hill workouts this season, so I wasn't feeling too bad about it."
Bernett, who qualified for states along with Kinnally, said he forgot it was raining during the race. He couldn't avoid the hill, though.
"It ate you up," Bernett said. "Coming out of it, I just waited for the first downhill to try to get back in position."
Dulles boys' team champion Potomac Falls finished fourth to claim the final automatic berth for states. The Panthers did so without placing a runner in the top 15.
"You just have to get out of this region," Panthers Coach Brian Blubaugh said. "This region is absolutely ridiculous. There's teams going home today that finished fifth and sixth that would be fifth and sixth in the state. We're confident now."
Stone Bridge, the Dulles girls' champion, missed out on states by finishing fifth, 17 points behind Handley.
"Everybody was running the same thing," Stone Bridge Coach Jen Oblas said. "They obviously weren't ideal conditions for everything, but everybody was running it, so we can't use that as an excuse for our poor performance."