The Potomac Falls cross-country team had no standout individual performances on a miserable day at last week's AA Region II championships. But out of the mud and rain at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington was a strong team performance that spurred the Panthers to fourth place.
Pack running is one of the main elements of team cross-country, and on a day when Brentsville dominated to win the region title, Potomac Falls's pack mustered enough to qualify for the state championship meet Saturday afternoon at Great Meadow in The Plains.
The Panthers had no one finish in the top 15, but their lead pack of five runners finished within 23 seconds and 19 places of one another to garner 131 points.
"Our fifth runner finished before Spotswood's fifth and Fort Defiance's fifth. That's a good sign," Panthers Coach Brian Blubaugh said. "If we can just get our top three to where we think they should be, we can have a good day at states."
The top 15 runners and top four teams from each region qualified for the AA state meet. The girls' race is at 1 p.m. on Great Meadow's challenging five-kilometer course, followed by the boys' meet at 1:45.
Along with Potomac Falls's seven runners, Stone Bridge senior Kyle Kinnally and Heritage senior Sean Bernett -- the Dulles District champ -- also qualified for the boys' meet. Broad Run junior Stephanie Garcia, who was third in the region and first in the district, will be joined by Loudoun Valley junior Diana VanVleet and Stone Bridge freshman Kelly Dunn at the state meet. No girls' teams qualified.
All season, the Panthers have been led by their top three, junior Max Werner and seniors Sean Wilson and Tory Patrick. But in miserable conditions, with all of the runners struggling through a hilly, unfamiliar course at the Virginia Horse Center, the Panthers' top three finished 19th, 22nd and 24th, respectively. The fourth and fifth runners, junior Andrew Johnson and sophomore Brian Holton, came through by finishing 31st and 38th, keying Potomac Falls's finish.
"I think our top three guys were maybe six to eight spots behind where we thought they would be," Blubaugh said. "But I think it helped our four and five guys a lot. They could see the other guys [on the team] during the entire race, and I think that gave them a lot of confidence that they were so close."
Merely by qualifying, the Panthers are confident of their chances at the state meet, considering the conditions and the competition they faced. Region II includes Brentsville, Fort Defiance, Handley, James Wood, Spotswood and Western Albemarle, all of which have come in first or second in the state at least once since 1993.
Last year, the region's four teams finished first, second, fourth and fifth in the state.
"You've got to have two strong weeks in a row just to make states. It's a real battle," Blubaugh said. "Handley was fifth in the [regional] boys' race, and Stone Bridge was fifth in the girls'. Both those teams are probably in the top five in the state, and neither made it out of the region."