Two years ago, Brentsville's storied cross-country program faced a major test: The school was being reclassified to Virginia AA, where state titles, it seemed, wouldn't come as easily for the single-A powerhouse.
At Saturday's state championship meet at Great Meadow in The Plains, the Tigers showed that they have risen to the challenge. The boys' team completed a dominant season with its third state title, and the girls -- winners of seven straight Virginia A championships from 1995 to 2001 -- finished second for the second straight year.
"We really stepped it up as a program," senior Nick Gehlsen said after finishing fourth in the boys' race. "We knew our competition would be better, and it is, so we wanted to be ready. We trained harder, we ran longer."
Senior Pat Eggleston won the boys' race in 17 minutes 2 seconds, becoming the first Brentsville boy to win a state title since David Aleman in 1998. The Tigers had four all-state runners -- Eggleston, Gehlsen, senior Jacob Watts (ninth) and sophomore Henry Melius (11th) -- and they finished with 33 points, the best score by a boys' AA champion since Handley totaled 30 points in 1978. Fort Defiance, the state champion last year and the Region II runner-up this year, was second with 73.
Eggleston was the leader of a coolly and perfectly executed race plan. The Tigers did not hurry to move to the front of the pack early in the race, instead letting their opponents get off to a fast start on the five-kilometer course that was quite sloppy by the start of the race -- the sixth, and last, of the day. But, by the end, each of the Tigers' top five runners found himself in the top 20.
Eggleston was in fourth place after one mile, but in the next mile, covering the hilly back end of the Great Meadow course, Eggleston grabbed the lead and held onto it for the final mile.
"I think he knows that he's busted his tail to get to this point," Coach Rob Dulin said. "He just kind of took it all back, went out there and laid it out on the line."
Brentsville's boys' victory was the best performance among local teams at the state meet, held on a cold, blustery day. The Tigers' girls turned in the second-best, as sophomores Becky Stewart (fifth) and Julia Mitchell (11th) earned all-state honors as Brentsville scored 70 points, second only to Western Albemarle's 40.
In the AAA races, the Forest Park boys' team finished eighth overall, and the girls finished 12th.
Three Forest Park runners, senior Bryce Iverson, junior Stefanie Slekis and sophomore Erin Caskey, earned all-state honors. Iverson, whose season was hampered by a knee injury, was near the front of the race the whole time and finished 10th in the boys' race.
Slekis, the Northwestern Region champ, finished seventh in the girls' race, more than a minute and a half behind winner Melissa Dewey of Hayfield. Caskey came in 13th.