FISHERSVILLE — It was as if someone had flicked a switch.
After suffering through weeks of oppressively hot weather, the runners competing at Saturday’s Augusta County Cross Country Invitational were treated to overcast skies and temperatures in the 70s.
The result: faster times, tight races and impressive team efforts as Waynesboro’s boys and Wilson’s girls captured their respective team titles at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.
“Today’s the first day I actually gave them goals for the race,” said Waynesboro coach Julie Stevens, whose team put its five scoring runners in the top 20 for a total of 58 points. “With the weather being so nice, I wanted to have them shoot for those goals and see how much our times could drop, and they did a really good job.”
The Little Giants’ runners averaged 17:43 over the 5,000-meter course, and the top five finished within 50 seconds of each other. Stuart Vailes, Sam Sikora and Chandler Showalter placed eighth, ninth and 10th respectively, with Kevin Hicks 17th and Justice Allen 18th to top Wilson Memorial’s score of 65.
Robert E. Lee, which received a one-two finish overall from Oliver Wilson-Cook and Jacob Warner, was third with 81, with Fort Defiance (107), led by Fisher Wheeler’s third-place finish, taking fourth.
Natalie Prye’s first-place finish in the girls race set the pace for the Green Hornets, who had all five of their scorers in the top 15 for 40 points. Collegiate School of Richmond was second with 65, Robert E. Lee had 97, with Waynesboro (151) and Stonewall Jackson (158) finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
“I’m really pleased with what they did,” said Wilson coach Gary Kessler, who touted freshman Ashtyn Davis’ ninth-place finish and senior Lauren Clayton’s 13th-place effort as keys to the Hornets win. “I’m usually nervous before a race, but this team gives me confidence. They were strong.”
Completing Wilson’s top five were Spencer Tuttle in seventh and Olivia Farley in 15th.
Prye, who took the lead from the start and held it the entire way, got tough challenges from Lee’s Sophie Kozlowski, Collegiate’s Maddy Watkins and Waynesboro’s Addison Stevens. Things got tight down the homestretch, but Prye was able to to win in 20:38, five seconds ahead of Kozlowski and Watkins, and 13 ahead of Stevens.
“I was surprised that it was so tight,” Prye said. “When we were going through the pond, I could hear their feet hit the rocks, so I knew I had to speed up. And [Kessler] was there near the end to let me know there they were.”
For her part, Kozlowski liked the way her race went, especially since she’s so comfortable on the WWRC course, which also is the site for the Conference 36 meet Oct. 26.
“I know the course really well,” the junior said, “I was looking it as a way to prepare for conferences. I know where my weak points are on the course, so I made sure to push myself hard when I reached them.”
The boys race was both close and fast, with the top four runners finishing under 17 minutes and within 15 seconds of each other. Wilson-Cook and Warner led the way with respective times of 16:44 and 16:46, Wheeler was six seconds behind Cook at 16:50, and Wilson’s Vincent Leo, who set a torrid pace early in the race, was fourth in 16:59.
“I knew from the [3,200-meter run] at states that he likes to go out fast, but didn’t expect him to go out as fast as he did here,” said Wilson-Cook, a sophomore, who made his move to the front in the last half of the race. “We’ve been doing tempo runs in practice, so I knew what I had to do and I was comfortable.”
That word described the day for Warner, who finished third at the Group 2A meet last year.
“Oliver and I just wanted to go out and finish 1-2,” the senior said. “We weren’t trying to beat each other. We just wanted to win as a team.”