Before any teammates crossed the finish line behind her, Forest Park senior All-Met Stefanie Slekis had time to catch her breath, slip into a jacket and start jogging back in the direction she had just traversed in the Cardinal District cross-country championships Thursday afternoon at Leesylvania State Park.
Slekis, who covered the 2.9-mile layout in 17 minutes 13.90 seconds to break her own championship meet record on the course by roughly 10 seconds, headed back up the final straightaway to urge teammates to finish strong.
"I'm very competitive, and I set high standards for all our girls," Slekis said after a few more Bruins had trickled across the finish line. "I wanted to see where they were, but as soon as I knew [teammate] Erin [Caskey] wasn't in second, I kind of was upset and starting to scream and really get into it.
"I really wanted us to win the title by a lot. We want to come in and control the race. . . . At districts, we don't want to win by just a little bit."
In leading her team to its fourth straight Cardinal title, Slekis followed that plan, finishing about 1:14 ahead of runner-up Michelle Britto of Woodbridge (18:27.30), whose team placed second, 38 points behind Forest Park.
All seven Bruin girls finished in the top 16, including Caskey (fourth), Kristen Story (seventh), Sarah Owermohle (eighth) and Emily Burris (11th). But Coach John Rock expected better.
"We had two to three returners that ran 20 to 30 seconds slower than they did last year at this same time," Rock said. "To be completely honest, it serves as a great wakeup call. On any given day, you can go and get outraced and outworked. That happened today for us."
Forest Park also successfully defended its district boys' title, claiming seven of the top 11 spots. Junior Ryan Shea, who could not run for about three weeks in the late summer while he allowed his broken left wrist to heal, finished in 15:33.50, about 13 seconds faster than Daniel McCaslin, whose Woodbridge team placed second.
"[The injury] threw my training off a little . . . but I feel like I'm in pretty good shape now," said Shea, who took third in the district meet last year at Leesylvania. Former teammate Bryce Iverson, now running at Clemson University, had won the previous three Cardinal boys' titles.
Forest Park's Peter Brandt (third), Zack Williams (fourth), Erich Fritz (sixth), Daniel Crosson (eighth), Joe Blizard (ninth) and Matt Negard (11th) all finished within 42 seconds of each other to best the other 26 runners in the race.
The Northwestern Region championship meet is Thursday in Charlottesville, with the girls' race at 1:45 p.m. and the boys' race at 2:30. The state meet is Nov. 12 at Great Meadow in The Plains.
At each, Slekis will encounter Rachel Rose of Albemarle, one of her chief competitors this championship season. Hampered by a strained hip muscle, Slekis finished seventh in the state last year.
"If [Slekis] can stay healthy, and she can stay patient in the race, there's nobody in the state that can run with her if she gets out there and sticks to her game plan," Rock said. "You have to be in control of the race, but you also have to let that race unfold a little bit."
at Leesylvania State Park
1, Forest Park, 22; 2, Woodbridge, 56; 3, Potomac, 81; 4, Gar-Field, 101; 5, Hylton, 122.
1, Ryan Shea, Forest Park, 15:33.5; 2, Daniel McCaslin, Woodbridge, 15:46.7; 3, Peter Brandt, Forest Park, 15:52.3; 4, Zack Williams, Forest Park, 15:58.5; 5, Drew Magalski, Woodbridge, 16:03.3; 6, Erich Fritz, Forest Park, 16:08.1; 7, Eric Lieser, Potomac, 16:08.9; 8, Daniel Crosson, Forest Park, 16:14.4; 9, Joe Blizard, Forest Park, 16:17.3; 10, Stephen Lord, Gar-Field, 16:27.5; 11, Matt Negard, Forest Park, 16:34.1; 12, Ryan Changes, Potomac, 16:41.1; 13, Risti Hagos, Hylton, 16:41.7; 14, Sean Kerr, Woodbridge, 16:45.1; 15, Jeff Poindexter, Potomac, 16:47.3.
1, Forest Park, 31; 2, Woodbridge, 69; 3, Gar-Field, 76; 4, Hylton, 77; 5, Potomac, 97.
1, Stefanie Slekis, Forest Park, 17:13.9; 2, Michelle Britto, Woodbridge, 18:27.3; 3, Stephanie Argodale, Hylton, 18:47.6; 4, Erin Caskey, Forest Park, 18:57.0; 5, Allison Hess, Potomac, 19:39.2; 6, Genova Washington, Gar-Field, 19:42.5; 7, Kristen Story, Forest Park, 19:49.3; 8, Sarah Owermohle, Forest Park, 19:54.4; 9, Aubree Washington, Gar-Field, 19:59.3; 10, Alethea Bryant, Hylton, 20:43.2; 11, Emily Burris, Forest Park, 20:46.4; 12, Lauren Schlater, Gar-Field, 20:46.6; 13, Jennifer Bartelmes, Woodbridge, 20:48.3; 14, Nicole Meyer, Forest Park, 20:56.0; 15, Caitlin Fornasar, Woodbridge, 21:11.5.