The first time Forest Park junior Stefanie Slekis trudged up the most challenging hill yesterday morning at the Great Meadows Invitational, she lost some ground against her top challenger, Brentsville sophomore Becky Stewart. The second time she reached the hill, in the final 500 meters of the five-kilometer race, Slekis battled up the hill to make the final surge that clinched her individual victory at the meet in The Plains.
"You really have to keep pumping all the way up the hill," Slekis said. "It was a little later than my coach and I had planned on making my move, but I was able to hold [Stewart] off."
Slekis, who was second-team All-Met as a sophomore, won the race in 19 minutes 16 seconds, two seconds better than Stewart. Douglas Freeman won the girls' team competition with 70 points, beating Colonial Forge, which had 82 points behind a fourth-place finish by freshman Kaylan Comer and a seventh-place finish by sophomore Molly Hawkins. Forest Park sophomore Erin Caskey was fifth, and Osbourn Park senior Emily Arena was sixth.
In the boys' race, J.R. Tucker's Michael Chapa blazed past Forest Park senior Bryce Iverson to win in 15:43, more than 20 seconds ahead of Iverson, a second-team All-Met who clocked 16:05. James Monroe's Will Jacobs captured sixth, Brentsville's Nick Gehlsen was eighth and Stone Bridge's Kyle Kinally ninth.
The race was run on a modified version of the course that is annually used for the Virginia state championships; all three Virginia classifications will have their championships on Nov. 13 at Great Meadows.
Iverson has spent the summer increasing his training to more than 65 miles per week, and he entered yesterday's race with high goals he couldn't quite achieve -- to run under 16 minutes and to give Chapa a big challenge. Iverson stayed with Chapa for the first two kilometers of the race, including a speedy opening mile of 4:40.
Still, the strong opening was encouraging for Iverson, who has his sights set on contending for the state championship.
"I backed off him after two miles. I don't really know what I was doing," Iverson said. "I need to learn how to hurt the entire time. When I figure that out, there's no stopping me."
Forest Park Coach John Rock said: "I think Bryce always feels like he has work to do, he always wants to get better. . . . Each and every day, he tries to outdo himself from the prior day, the prior race."
Slekis displayed poise as she held off the challenge from Stewart in a race that was tight from the starting gun until the final meters, when Slekis made her final move. She said she was encouraged by her performance against many of the runners who will be challenging her at the Northwest Region and Group AAA races in November.
"I'm really glad I kept in front of the AAA girls," Slekis said. "I'm trying to be in the front pack."