Last Friday the Rappahannock varsity girls cross country team took the state stage, competing in the Virginia High School League Group 1A state championship race.
Looking to improve on last year’s second-place finish, the girls gave a Herculean effort to come within two points of Radford High School and brought home, for the second year in a row, the VHSL state runner-up trophy.
The team was led by anchor Julia Wood, a junior who earned her second cross-country state championship in a row, and who led the field by a wide margin from the first mile onward, finishing with a time of 18:58. (Including track and field, Wood has won five state championships since she started competing in the VHSL as a freshman).
The team finished with 55 points, just behind Radford’s 53 (low score wins in cross country). Emily Allen finished third, Emma Endre sixth and Kayla McGhee 14th, to earn all-state medals (top 15 finishers), along with Wood. Teammates Brooke Athelli (40th), Katelyn Fisher (47th) and Kathryn Fisher (55th) rounded out the scoring for Rapp.
Rapp’s second, third and fourth runners made significant improvements on their placing from last year, said coach James Sharpe, adding that he was unsure about how the fifth scorer would do. “That fifth scorer turned out to be Brooke Athelli, a freshman who stepped up huge for us this year, and was a lot of the reason why we were so close.”
Said Athelli: “I almost improved my time by 10 minutes, which was my goal. I couldn’t have reached my goal without my teammates. They were always there to encourage and push me. It was an awesome season.”
Rapp actually had a better average runner time than Radford (20:57 versus 21:20) and a better head-to-head performance. But the scoring was based on runners’ overall position in the race, and Radford proved to have just enough of an advantage to claim the state crown.
“Last year, we finished second, 54-91,” noted Sharpe, Rappahannock River Conference and Region 1A East Girls’ XC Coach of the Year. “Not only did we lose two starters, but the other team got back two previous starters from injury, and returned all their state-title starters. Despite that, this year we were out of first place by only two points, 53-55. The more I think about it, the past season and year’s worth of training these girls had was incredible, and I can’t help but be impressed.”
In other Rapp XC accomplishments, Rapp boys runner Gavin Jenkins, a sophomore, competed in the boys state championship race and come home with a sixth-place finish and an all-state medal. As Sharpe said: “I really like what Gavin was saying on the ride home, that he was the No. 1 sophomore this year. Next year, three of the runners who finished ahead of him will be gone. He just has to keep any others from catching up, and he’s right up there in contention for first in the coming years.”
Rapp’s XC all-staters and other Rapp fall athletes who earned postseason distinction will be recognized at the next school board meeting (Tuesday, Dec. 9). In the meantime, many of them of them will enjoy their just rewards for the weekend, but then come Monday will join their fellow student athletes on winter sports teams and begin practicing for their next season.