Woodbridge freshman Michelle Britto is no fan of the Panorama Farms cross-country course near Charlottesville, site of the Northwestern Region championship meet.
"I just hate it," she said. "I hate the hill. I just hate the whole entire course, basically."
She really must have a strong dislike for the 5,000-meter layout, because she said all this Thursday afternoon shortly after she finished a satisfying ninth in the region meet, in 19 minutes 36.49 seconds. In doing so, she earned a spot -- like the other top 15 finishers -- in the Virginia AAA state meet Saturday at Great Meadow in The Plains (a course that, for the record, is Britto's favorite).
Britto's performance was perhaps the most surprising turned in by Prince William County runners at the meet. Forest Park senior Stefanie Slekis, the defending region champion, placed third behind Albemarle junior Rachel Rose and Colonial Forge sophomore Kaylan Comer. Rose's time of 18:14.41 broke the course and meet record set by Hylton's Jemissa Hess in 2001 (18:16).
Forest Park junior Erin Caskey finished 18th in the 108-girl field to help the Bruins take fourth place and qualify for a state team berth along with champion Colonial Forge, Brooke Point and North Stafford.
The two girls' all-region runners marked Prince William's fewest in more than 15 years.
In the boys' race, Battlefield senior Jason Driscoll picked off two front-runners in the final 70 meters or so to finish third behind Culpeper senior Devin Cornwall and Mountain View freshman Thomas Porter.
Osbourn Park's John Draper, a junior, and Mitch Lopacki, a senior, finished 11th and 12th, respectively, to lead the Yellow Jackets to a third-place team finish. Woodbridge senior Dan McCaslin took 14th to also earn a spot in the state championship.
Britto was quite pleased with her placement. When a teammate informed her around the two-mile mark that she was in ninth or 10th place, that was a good eight notches or so higher than where she figured she was.
"I thought I was going to be at the borderline, really shaky," said Britto, who on Thursday ran the course almost a minute faster than she had at the soggy Albemarle Invitational on Oct. 11. "I was really, really happy. . . . The smile tells it all."
"I knew she was going to run well," Woodbridge Coach Karl Eberly said, basing that on Britto's distant second-place finish at the Cardinal District meet. "But I didn't expect nine. I was hoping top 20."
Slekis had two obstacles to overcome -- a cold, and Rose running on her home course -- neither of which she blamed for not defending her title. Despite not winning, she clocked in at 18:51.84, about 10 seconds faster than in 2004.
"I would have really loved to have won this race this year, but it's kind of cool to have a challenge," Slekis said of trying to make up ground in the state meet. "It always gives you something to prove yourself against."
Driscoll, 13th in the region last year, said he would have been content with a top-five finish this season, and five is where he was down the stretch, before he picked off two runners, one of them E.C. Glass senior Patterson Wilhelm, the defending region champion, who was ailing as he crossed the finish line.
"Third?" one of Driscoll's teammates was overheard exclaiming when she caught up to her teammate several minutes after the race. "Dang, you passed two people!"
With Draper, Lopacki and sophomore Tyler Simmons finishing within about eight seconds of each other, Osbourn Park nabbed three of the top 16 spots among the 112 runners in the boys' race, enabling the Cedar Run District champion Yellow Jackets to sustain their season. It provided a sense of relief.
"I've been really nervous the last week or so," Osbourn Park Coach Mike Schuster said. "I tried not to show it around the kids, but I know some of them have really been nervous. When you have a team that you have really high expectations [for], and you're not really flying under the radar any more," there is pressure to perform.
Brentsville swept the Region II meet at Great Meadow on Thursday, placing three boys in the top four and five girls in the top 16 to easily beat runner-up Western Albemarle in each race.
Senior Nick Gehlsen was the boys' champion with a time of 15:49.63. Junior teammates Adam Henken and Henry Melius were third and fourth, respectively, in the 118-runner field.
Junior Becky Stewart topped 120 competitors to win the girls' race in 18:25.75. She was followed by sophomore Amelia Emerson (fifth), freshman Lauren Bussian (seventh), junior Julia Mitchell (13th) and freshman Maggie Gentry (16th).
Brentsville's boys accumulated 54 points to Western Albemarle's 107 to win their second straight Region II title. The Tigers' girls, runners-up a year ago, had 38 points to Western Albemarle's 91.
at Panorama Farms, Charlottesville
1, North Stafford, 54; 2, Colonial Forge, 73; 3, Osbourn Park, 103; 4, Mountain View, 155.
All-region (top 15): 1, Devin Cornwall, Culpeper, 15:55.43; 3, Jason Driscoll, Battlefield, 16:14.60; 11, John Draper, Osbourn Park, 16:49.57; 12, Mitch Lopacki, Osbourn Park, 16:50.95; 14, Dan McCaslin, Woodbridge, 16:56.35.
Others: 16, Tyler Simmons, Osbourn Park, 16:57.83; 26, Erich Fritz, Forest Park, 17:23.82; 29, Ryan Shea, Forest Park, 17:26.30; 30, Peter Brandt, Forest Park, 17:26.62.
1, Colonial Forge, 81; 2, Brooke Point, 87; 3, North Stafford, 111; 4, Forest Park, 135.
All-region (top 15): 1, Rachel Rose, Albemarle, 18:14.41; 3, Stefanie Slekis, Forest Park, 18:51.84; 9, Michelle Britto, Woodbridge, 19:36.49.
Others: 18, Erin Caskey, Forest Park, 20:30.54; 23, Stephanie Argodale, Hylton, 20:46.00; 25, Cristin Gonzales, Osbourn Park, 20:58.04; 29, Kelly Gass, Battlefield, 21:26.36.
at Great Meadow, The Plains
Brentsville (top 5)
Boys: 1, Nick Gehlsen, 15:49.63; 3, Adam Henken, 15:58.33; 4, Henry Melius, 16:06.41; 17, Eric Ekholm, 16:33.88; 33, Eric Truschel, 16:51.68.
Girls: 1, Becky Stewart, 18:25.75; 5, Amelia Emerson , 19:02.15; 7, Lauren Bussian, 19:06.87; 13, Julia Mitchell, 19:37.27; 16, Maggie Gentry, 19:43.22.