As Broadneck's Matthew Centrowitz completed the first mile of the cross-country county championship last week, he charged down the straightaway and into the woods. His lead of about seven seconds on teammate Matt Llano widened over the next two-plus miles, as did the sizeable gap he had on the rest of the field.
In the end, Centrowitz won his second straight individual county title and helped Broadneck to its third consecutive county title. He crossed the line in 15 minutes 56 seconds, more than 40 seconds in front of Llano and more than a minute in front of third-place finisher Chris Moody from South River, who gutted out a close, sprinting finish with Severna Park's Bryan Cyr. Broadneck finished with 28 points, South River was second (83) and Severna Park placed third (90).
In the girls' individual race, the margin of victory was just as impressive, but the victor perhaps more so. Severna Park freshman Kelsey Hill won the county championship in 18:50 as the Falcons claimed their third title in a row and 20th overall.
Hill was running the fourth race of her cross-country career, which started midway through this season after she was able to work it around her club swimming practices. It also was her fourth win, as she finished more than 34 seconds ahead of Arundel's Marissa McPhail, who took second for the third consecutive year. Hill led the Falcons girls' team to a girls' county record 23 points. Broadneck was second (66) and Arundel was third (108).
"We ran great," said Falcons Coach Ed Purpura. "We're looking forward to the 3A East Region and taking on River Hill there."
Purpura said the highlight of his day was not the record, but the girls' B team race, in which Severna Park took each of the first 14 slots.
"Our B team is just amazing, and all that talent is what drives the varsity squad to be so good," said Purpura. "They know they can't afford to slow down because they know someone's going to catch them."
For Centrowitz, winning is becoming a bit routine, the Broadneck junior acknowledged. The 2004 county and state champion is looking to the region and state meets now, hoping to continue the success that he and his team are sharing at the moment. In doing so, he is taking time to review his races and what they mean for the future.
Last year at the county championship, Centrowitz finished in 16:23, almost 30 seconds slower than this year. His 2005 time was "a big confidence booster," he said. "I like to see the improvement from this year to last year, just knowing that I'm slowly progressing. The hills felt a lot better [this year and] I feel a lot stronger."
Centrowitz's domination is impressive, and he fully comprehends it. But Hill, still a rookie in the sport, seems to be unaware of what she might be able to achieve. McPhail commented after the race that Hill could be the next Lauren Centrowitz, the Broadneck runner (and Matthew's sister) who took three county championships in a row from 2001 to 2003, becoming only the second competitor, boy or girl, to do so. She now runs for Stanford. When asked what she thought of the compliment, Hill responded, "I don't know. . . . Who's Lauren Centrowitz?"
Purpura said Hill is the first girl to win the county title as a freshman, and cautioned "let's hold" on calling her the next Lauren Centrowitz. But he also said her early success "bodes well for the future."
McPhail's second-place finish wrapped up her cross-country career, and she was pleased at the race's end.
"I think I did awesome," McPhail said. "Even though it's not a win, I still accomplished my goal. I just wanted to get out there and run my race and run smart, and I think I did that, so I'm really happy and I'm really proud. It was my last [county] race, so I just wanted to give it all I got.
With her high school career over, "I'm kind of relieved," she said. "I'm so looking forward to running in college. I can't wait for that. I've been watching college races and it's gotten me even more psyched about it."
Father Elmer McPhail, a middle school gym teacher and assistant coach at Northeast who called Purpura and told him to look out for Hill when she got to Severna Park, was proud of his daughter's race and her career. Though Marissa said he's been hard on her at times, she's appreciated it.
"I thank him for that," she said, "because that's what got me to where I am today."