Panther cross country off to a fast start

The Panthers prowled to their first coed varsity cross country competition last Wednesday (Aug. 15) at Eastern View High School in Culpeper. Though it was a preseason scrimmage, it presented Rappahannock with a solid challenge – racing against Eastern View and Liberty, two double-A schools. The Panthers took on their much larger opponents and walked away with accolades fit for a district finale.

“It was,” said coach James Sharpe, “the first ever meet for almost half the team. Plus, it was a hair-raising experience! There was an electrical storm, so we were trying to get through the meet as soon as possible. It was: warm up, straight to the starting line and racing through to finish before the lightning came.” Just as the lightning appeared, runners were coming across this finish line.

The shining stars of the unpredictable race were the varsity Lady Panthers. “The girls beat two double-A schools,” Sharpe said. One of those stars was freshman Julia Wood, who celebrated her stunning first-place finish for the women’s team.

Freshman and first-place finisher Julia Wood: “Everyone surprised themselves.” Photo by Melissa Delcour.
Freshman and first-place finisher Julia Wood: “Everyone surprised themselves.” Photo by Melissa Delcour.

“Everybody was really nervous because it was their first meet,” Wood said. “A lot of people had never ran in a meet before or ran that distance competitively, but everyone surprised themselves.”

Wood recalled that her coaches emphasized pacing in a race, and that training paid dividends. “The finish is always really exciting,” she said. “I try to give whatever I have left at the end. This time, I tried to pace myself so that I had some left. In the pack, I noticed some of the guys also had a bit of a sprint-off at the end.”

Several of Wood’s Lady Panther teammates posted top-10 finishes to bring the team a “wow factor” start to the season. “Our team has a lot of potential to go really far this year,” she said. “Everybody’s times were really surprising, and it’s so fantastic to win against two double-A schools. The girls put in so much time and are so determined to do well.”

“For the boys, it was the first meet for all of them except one,” Sharpe said. “Overall, it was an exciting race. Coach Ramey and I are very proud of everyone’s performance.”