As Stone Bridge adjusts to life in the AAA Northern Region, perhaps no team will have a bigger adjustment than cross-country.
The Bulldogs, last year's AA Dulles District girls' champions and boys' runner-up, are suddenly thrust into a Liberty District that features nationally ranked Jefferson and a region that annually churns out some of the best teams in the state.
"It's definitely a different world," Coach Jen Oblas said. "But we're looking at this as an exciting challenge. Obviously there's an intimidation factor, but our attitude is that this is the best region in the state, and we're going to train our runners to compete with the best."
Making that adjustment is a girls' team that's young and an inexperienced boys' team that will hope to emerge as the season progresses.
Junior Ephram Feyissa, who ran on the boys' track team last year but had not participated in cross-country, was the Bulldogs' top finisher at Saturday's James Wood Invitational. Feyissa finished ninth overall, second-best among area athletes.
Another newcomer, Corey Flores, a transfer from Pennsylvania, should compete with Feyissa for the top spot.
Sophomore Casey Henderson leads the girls' team, which is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. Henderson finished a strong sixth at the James Wood meet with a time of 21 minutes 12 seconds, second best among area runners.
"The girls' team is a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so we're excited about that," Oblas said. "They're going to be able to learn early what it takes to compete at this high level."
McLaughlin Makes Impression
Heritage newcomer Nick McLaughlin, a junior who transferred from Leesburg Christian before the season, was the top area boys' finisher at the James Wood Invitational.
McLaughlin finished the course in 17:42, taking fourth place. Winner Simon Biddle-Snead of Clarke County won in 17:15 to lead the Eagles to first place with 35 points.
A week earlier, in his debut for the Pride after two strong seasons at Leesburg Christian, McLaughlin won the varsity B race at the Great Meadows Invitational in 16:59. That allowed the Pride to win the team title easily, with 51 points.
On the girls' side, Broad Run senior Stephanie Garcia continued her strong start to the season, taking second overall. The Dulles District champ ran a time of 20:21, five seconds behind winner Jillian Pollack of Millbrook.
Important Race at Oatlands
Northern Virginia's top meet this weekend will be the Oatlands Invitational, which is co-hosted by Loudoun County and Heritage and features nearly all of the schools from the area. More than 40 teams are expected to attend the meet, a five-kilometer race held on the grounds of the Oatlands Plantation south of Leesburg.