Step one this summer for Forest Park senior Stefanie Slekis was to take a break from training -- nearly five weeks away from running to rest an injured hip that slowed her down for nearly all of the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
"The most important thing we wanted was for her to be healthy instead of in top shape," Bruins Coach John Rock said. "She could build herself into shape as the year went on, but she needed her health first."
After restarting her training in early July, Slekis returned to racing in fine fashion last weekend at the Great Meadow Invitational in The Plains. The All-Met won the season's first major meet in a time of 18 minutes 38 seconds, 34 seconds ahead of second-place Kayley Byrne, an Oakton senior All-Met who clocked a 19:12.
Slekis won six races last year and earned All-Met honors, but she finished seventh overall at the AAA state meet after straining her hip muscle. Her track season had flashes of success, but the hip injury plagued her throughout and slowed her at the outdoor track state meet.
Her finish Saturday was 38 seconds faster than her winning time at the same meet a year ago. The course is different than the one that will be used for the state championship meet in November
"She got out there and ran smart," Rock said. "It's still early in the season, but she looked very good."
The other runner establishing himself as a clear area favorite early this season was Battlefield senior Jason Driscoll, who followed up his second-place finish at the Chancellor Invitational with a third-place finish at Great Meadow, best among Prince William athletes.
Driscoll finished in 16:14, behind Oakton senior James Phillips, who won in 15:54, and Hermitage's Alex Bowman, who clocked a 15:59.
Driscoll was the Cedar Run District runner-up last year and Battlefield's first qualifier for the state meet, at which he finished a respectable 24th overall. With most of the county's AAA standouts having graduated, Driscoll could be the runner to beat in the county, although new district rival Devin Cornwall of Culpeper, who won at Chancellor, will be the district front-runner.
In the team competition, Brentsville's nationally ranked boys' and girls' teams fell victim to two of the state's toughest AAA squads, Oakton and Midlothian.
In the girls' meet, Midlothian won with 83 points, ahead of Brentsville's 89 and Oakton's 93. Oakton is ranked third in the Southeast Region by the Nike Team Nationals, an end-of-season team competition in Oregon, and Brentsville is seventh. Midlothian is not ranked. Junior Becky Stewart was the Tigers' top finisher, taking fifth in 19:39.
The Tigers' boys, who are ranked third in the Southeast Region by NTN and 23rd in the country overall by Harrier magazine, took second to Oakton. Senior Nick Gehlsen was Brentsville's top finisher (fourth-place time of 16:21), and Adam Henken was seventh (16:26). But the Cougars, starting with the first-place Phillips, had four finishers in the top 20 and scored 70 points to Brentsville's 82.
Among the area's AAA teams, Forest Park's girls and boys were the top teams. The Bruins' girls took 10th overall with 262 points, ahead of 11th-place Osbourn Park. The Forest Park boys finished eighth with 225 points. Osbourn Park was ninth and Woodbridge was 10th.