PORTLAND, Ore. — Marc and Joan Hunter never thought they would be high school coaches. They never thought they would take a team, which at the time felt more like a social club, into a statewide spotlight. And they surely didn’t think that team would ever compete and win on a national stage.
But heading into this weekend Loudoun Valley cross-country had accomplished all of that, and at Saturday’s Nike Cross National Championships, the Purcellville school did it again — this time even faster.
The Loudoun Valley boys earned their second consecutive national championship, breaking the meet record, which they set last year, with a team score of 77.
“It doesn’t even seem real, frankly,” Joan Hunter said. “On paper, everybody was a better team this year, of the top teams. So to run a lower score kind of seems crazier.”
Going into the winners’ ceremony, the Vikings were unsure they had won. There had been confusion with the timing, and the team’s top runner, Sam Affolder, who entered the meet with the nation’s fastest high school 5K time, didn’t have a good day, falling back with less than a mile left.
Fewer than 300 meters to the finish, Affolder was passed by his teammate, junior Carlos Shultz, who turned around and encouraged Affolder to push through and run with him.
Affolder caught up within the final 100 meters. The two finished within 1.2 seconds of each other, in 30th and 31st place out of 203 finishers, with Shultz ahead of Affolder in a time of 15:32.0.
“I was just thinking that I wanted him with me; I didn’t want to leave him behind,” Shultz said. “We’re teammates, and it’s a team race.”
Staying grouped closely is key in cross-country. But although the Vikings had stayed within the top two scoring teams during the first two splits of the race, they appeared to drop to third on the final one. That turned out to merely be a chip-reading error.
By the time the team was on the finishers’ podium, nobody knew the results. When Temecula (Calif.) was called for second place, the Vikings screamed in joy.
“I heard anything from we were up by 30 points to we needed five points,” said senior Connor Wells, who finished 63rd in 15:51.9. “So I was expecting to hear Purcellville for second. And when I heard Temecula, I just went nuts.”
In his last meet with his parents coaching him, senior Jacob Hunter placed 39th in 15:38.9. Loudoun Valley’s fourth runner, Kellen Hasle, placed 52nd in 15:46.1.
“I feel like most people wouldn’t like having their parents as coaches, but I definitely do,” Hunter said. “It’s been great. . . . I couldn’t have asked for better coaches.”
Also representing the region as individuals were Eldad Mulugeta and Obsaa Feda of Northwood, who finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in last week’s southeast regionals. On Saturday, Mulugeta finished in 38th place with a season-best time of 15:38.7. Feda ran 16:19.5 for 112th place.