A familiar face emerged from a pack of five runners in an exciting girls' race at the Montgomery County cross-country championships yesterday. It was Blair junior Halsey Sinclair, who held off one of the stiffest fields she has faced in the county championships and won for the third consecutive year.

"I knew I would have to work for it a lot," Sinclair said. "I was trying to run my fastest at the end because I really wanted it."

On a cold, wet morning on the muddy five-kilometer course around Gaithersburg High, Sinclair crossed the finish line in 18 minutes 59 seconds, the first of five runners within 10 seconds of each other. Northwest sophomore Emma Eckerstrom was second and Wootton sophomore Veronica Salcido placed third, both in 19:02.

In the boys' race, Gaithersburg senior Ryan Janes held off Sherwood senior Chris Barnard in an exciting head-to-head battle, winning in 16:15, a second ahead of Barnard and nine ahead of third-place Chris Moen, a Walter Johnson sophomore.

"This is the race I've wanted all along," Janes said. "I was going to leave it all out there."

The two runners-up led their teams to decisive victories. Behind Barnard, Sherwood won the boys' title with 88 points. Whitman was second with 113.

Eckerstrom was the first of five Northwest runners to finish in the top 17, helping the Jaguars to 48 points and their third straight title. Quince Orchard, led by fifth-place Cara Harrison, was second with 100 points.

The Jaguars were runners-up to C.M. Wright in the Maryland 3A championships last year. Both schools were reclassified to 4A for this season, and they will go up against defending 4A champion and nationally ranked Eleanor Roosevelt in what should be a compelling showdown.

"I think the girls on the team, we all want [a state title] so bad," Eckerstrom said. "That's our goal."

Any of the top five finishers in the girls' race had a shot to win at the end of the race. But Sinclair, the defending 4A state champion, held off final pushes from Eckerstrom and Salcido, an All-Met during outdoor track last spring, to win and maintain her dominance of Montgomery County.

"I didn't know if I could do it this year," Sinclair said. "On the hill near the [finish line], that's when I felt like I would win."

Barnard fell just short against Janes, who won with a time that was 20 seconds slower than he ran a year earlier, when he finished third. On a relatively flat course that usually results in fast times, the pace was slow as runners battled slippery conditions.

With about a mile to go, the race came down to Barnard and Janes, the two swapping leads as they rounded the Gaithersburg baseball field and tennis courts. Janes entered into a sprint as he reached the finish line and was just quick enough to hold off Barnard.

"It just came down to the final kick, and he got me there," Barnard said.

Said Janes: "I just went all out, went as fast as I could and didn't look back. It's wet, I'm tired, but if it's going to come down to the last 50 yards, I'm going to give it all I have or else I'm going to regret it the rest of the year."

Gaithersburg's Ryan Janes (346) leads early and won late, outkicking Sherwood's Chris Barnard by one second. "This is the race I've wanted," Janes said.