It took 19 minutes and 12 seconds for sophomore Julia Wood to run 3.1 miles and win the Region 1A East Cross-Country Championship in Williamsburg Nov. 2. And since her teammates weren’t far behind, the Lady Panthers also won the region. Wood and company are dialing it in for the state championship race this Saturday (Nov. 16) at Great Meadow, where the team has a real shot at winning it all.
The girls brought back plenty of hardware for the Rappahannock County High School trophy case: a first-place team trophy, Runner of the Year honors for Wood and Coach of the Year honors to James Sharpe.
Now all sights are set on Saturday, when both the girls and boys teams will race against the premier 1A runners in the state, at the state course at Great Meadow in The Plains.
“Today’s our last hard workout before states, because we’re tapering, so we’re going to do a little bit of track work,” Wood explained Tuesday, before heading out to the frigid track for practice. “We’ll do a two-mile tempo run, and then 1,000 [meters] at race pace — to get us all used to the pace that we’re going to be running on Saturday — and then four 200s, to get us ready for the kick that you’re supposed to have at the end of races. And then the last few days leading up to the race, we’ll just maintain. We’ll just do easy runs, probably.”
Wood — who is predicted, based on state rankings, to finish first on Saturday — said that this week is all about getting the whole team ready for the pressure that comes with running in the state meet, which she did last year as a freshman. She finished third.
In a cross-country race, the top five runners from each seven-person team make up a team score, when all five finishes are added up. The lowest score wins (so having five runners on your team finish first through fifth would be ideal).
“For the girls, this is the first time we’ve ever sent a team to states,” Wood said, noting that the Panthers are currently ranked third in 1A, though the top four teams are rated very closely. Radford is the team to beat this year. “So no one really knows what to expect. The biggest thing right now is to help everybody else get ready for it. We have to have everyone perform, because the top five score, and then six and seven are pushers.”
Coach Sharpe has no doubt that the girls will perform well at states.
“We’ve got a few really talented kids who have helped to bring up the drive, the ambition, sets the bar a little higher,” Sharpe said, mentioning Wood and freshman Gavin Jenkins, who finished fourth in the boys’ race. “Being surrounded by good competition makes you want to be a better competitor too.”
Senior Rita Cliffton, who’s run cross country at Rappahannock since eighth grade, said that the close-knit team benefits from internal competition between the runners.
“I also think Julia’s enthusiasm kind of gets everyone pumped to run, when it could be less fun to do it,” Cliffton said. “She really has helped Emily [Allen] improve. And that has helped us out, scoring-wise, because Emily’s time has gone down a lot.”
Assistant coach Mark Ramey — now in his fifth year team-coaching Junior Panther and varsity boys and girls cross country with Sharpe — said that the success both teams are experiencing as of late may be partly attributed to the establishment of a successful feeder program in the middle school.
“We’ve pretty much got a program now, as opposed to just having a team,” Ramey said, adding that every spring, he and Sharpe bring trophies down to the elementary school and ask kids at lunch if they want to run. And it’s working.
“Right now, we’ve got pretty much an elite group, in the state anyway. They’re very, very competitive,” Ramey said. “That’s one of the things that characterizes this group of ladies, in particular, is that individually they are very competitive. On this girls team, those last few spots — we can only take seven — they were pretty much beating each other up over them.”
Wood said that the Great Meadow course is fast and mainly flat, especially in the beginning, so the most important thing is to maintain momentum in the second half of the race.
When asked how it feels to be the one to beat in every race she runs, Wood replied:
“I guess there’s always that little bit more pressure, maybe you have a little bit more that you want to shoot for when you know that everybody’s watching you.
“But I guess the biggest thing in running is that you have to learn when to push yourself; you have to learn to set your own goals that you want to reach. So it does help when people are there behind you to push you along, but it’s such an individual sport that you really have to focus on doing that yourself.”
Girls: Julia Wood, 1st (19:12); Emily Allen, 4th (20:49); Kayla McGhee, 16th (22:59); Emma Endre, 19th (23:14); Lily Endre, 20th (23:28); Kathryn Fisher, 28th (24:18); Lily Elsner, 30th (24:25).
Boys: Gavin Jenkins, 4th (17:17); Amrit Tamang, 16th (18:10); Evan Hitt, 20th (18:40); Shane L’Amoreaux, 44th (19:55); Justin Ramey, 47th (20:07); Jake Demory, 55th (20:24); Dylan Hitt, 74th (21:54).