In their biggest test of the year so far, Brentsville junior Becky Stewart and the Tigers' girls' cross-country team passed with flying colors. At the Great American Cross-Country Festival in Cary, N.C., on Sept. 24, Stewart finished 11th overall in the Race of Champions with a time of 18 minutes 37 seconds, and the Tigers finished fifth.

As a result, Brentsville is now ranked second in the Southeast by the Nike Team Nationals, a national championship race in December in Eugene, Ore. The top two teams in each of eight U.S. regions, as of mid-November, will earn automatic berths to the 20-team invitational.

"Our girls are thrilled" with the fifth-place finish, Brentsville Coach Rob Dulin said.

Stewart, a second-team All-Met last fall, struggled during the outdoor track season because of an iron deficiency, Dulin said. She has rebounded with some strong performances this year, including running the meet's fastest split in her team's win at the Brentsville Relays on Sept. 17. But this past Saturday's showing was perhaps her best so far.

"She stayed with it," Dulin said. "She kept working hard. Now she's really seeing the rewards of all that hard work."

The Tigers have another big test coming up when they join an elite field at the Manhattan Invitational on Saturday. A good performance there and a strong showing at the Virginia AA state meet would help the team's chances of making the national meet in December.

-- SEAN P. FLYNN