The Jefferson boys' cross-country team found out holding the state championship trophy is a good way to forget about being wet and cold.
Favored all year to win the Virginia AAA meet, the Colonials slogged over a rain-soaked Great Meadow course yesterday to defeat Midlothian by eight points for their first state championship. Jefferson returned all but one runner from the team that finished a disappointing fifth last year and managed to live up to high expectations.
"I'm especially proud of the guys after wearing the weight of last year's disappointment," said Coach Matt Ryan, whose 1997 team finished third in similar conditions. "Being the favorite is generally not a good position to be in, and one thing they did well was dealing with that pressure."
Thomas Dale senior Alex Tatu covered the 5K course in 16 minutes 4 seconds, ahead of Green Run junior Steven Walters (16:09) and West Springfield senior Jeff Day (16:14). But the Colonials, led by junior Christo Landry's fourth-place finish, had five runners in the top 25 of the team scoring.
"I felt pretty strong, I thought I could catch [Day], but he seemed really strong," Landry said.
Jefferson's senior Keith Bechtol finished seventh among team runners, followed by junior Chris Mocko (16th), senior Tarik Jones (22nd) and senior Brian Hanak (23rd).
"Last year we were supposed to do better than fifth, so we came back with a lot more focus," said senior Bechtol, whose shivers were from both excitement and the damp, 50-degree weather. "It's real cross-country weather -- it makes you feel like you accomplished something."
The Colonials may have been the team to beat all year, but they had to overcome a season-ending leg injury to senior Joey Bylund, the team's highest finisher last year.
"It's sad for Joey, because it's his senior year and he's done all the work. That's why we take him up to the podium with us. He's a huge part of the team," Bechtol said. "We're lucky we're a deep team, because it takes an effort from everyone."
Meantime, Jefferson's girls placed second behind James River in a race that may have shown the lasting effects of the sniper attacks that interrupted many Northern Virginia schools' seasons. Hickory's Jennifer Boyd won in 18:54 over Hayfield junior Morgan Phelan (19:00) as five of the top six finishers were from the state's eastern and southern regions.
"At the two-mile mark, I decided to go with [Boyd], but I just didn't have a strong kick," said Phelan, who was second in the Northern Region. "I knew it was going to be slower than regionals, though, so I'm pretty excited with runner-up."
Fauquier's Bowman Cruises
Fauquier's Sarah Bowman had already beaten her closest competitors in the state at the Region II meet, so her 29-second victory in the Group AA race was merely an exclamation point.
The sophomore, who was third last year, staked herself to a significant lead and never looked back, winning in 18:48 over Warren County junior Emily Harrison -- whom she'd outrun by nearly a minute in the regional meet.
"There was a ton of pressure, because I knew I was cold and was running stiff," said Bowman, holding a pair of muddy socks that the school's principal had already claimed for the trophy case. "But I knew I could stretch it out."
Brentsville Boys Win
The Brentsville boys' team won the Group A championship by five points over Page County, a year after it lost by six to the same team.
The Tigers, who will move up to Group AA next year, placed five runners in the top 15 to win, 44-49.
"We train together, so we run together," said Ben Truschel, who finished sixth. "Adverse conditions weren't going to throw us off our game."
Brentsville's girls, who had won seven straight state titles, were third, behind Central Woodstock and Madison County.