By Toni L. Sandys

The cheers echo through the hills and woods on the grueling, three-mile course at Hereford High.

The screams come in waves as runners in the Maryland cross-country championships pass by the fans lined up along the fences and ropes. “It definitely helps a lot when your teammates are there,” said Whitman junior and cross-country team member Michele Sandler, 16, second from left. “It gives you motivation to do that extra push.”

Having just finished her own race, Sandler joined teammate Helen Rosenthal, center, at the fence alongside the course. Their teammates running in the 4A boys’ race would run past them twice on the course, once near the start and then with less than a half-mile to go.

“Sometimes you can hear [the fans], sometimes you can’t, but in case they can,” said Rosenthal, who screamed every time a Whitman runner passed. “I know when I’m racing it’s nice to hearing somebody yelling when you’re suffering. You want to try to run faster for them even when you are dying inside.”

“I loved it when my teammates were cheering for me,” said Sandler, who had just competed in the girls’ 4A state championship. More than two miles into the race, the backside of the course is a long walk from the start-finish area. It requires walking up and down “the dip” — a steep ravine that runners pass through twice. Rather than making the trek, some fans grow hoarse screaming as loud as they can while the runners pass through the field in the distance.

“There’s a really long part when you don’t see many people and you’re in the cornfields,” Sandler said. “They call it the maze.”

For one mile, the runners follow a switchback trail that snakes through the woods and a former cornfield. By then, Sandler says, runners are focused on figuring out whom to pass.

“We had just come up the hardest part of the course,” Sandler said.

Up ahead, she saw her teammates holding signs and waiting for her to pass. “They had actually walked ‘the dip’ to get there and cheer for us. I was, like, ‘Wow. If they did that then I’ve got to work harder because my teammates believe in me.’

“You can always run a little bit faster.”

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