Loudoun County, Va., is known for turning out quality wine and Saturday in San Diego, two runners from the county turned in vintage performances at the Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals.
Drew Hunter, a senior from Loudoun Valley (Purcellville) and Weini Kelati, a junior from Heritage (Leesburg), two schools less than 11 miles apart, won the boys and girls titles by taking charge early.
Kelati, a 19-year-old native of Eritrea, ran her first mile in five minutes and 13 seconds and finished in 17 :09.7 to hold off runner-up Maryjeanne Gilbert of Notre Dame (Peoria, Ill.). Gilbert finished in 17:10.06.
“I wanted to go out fast and at first, the pace seemed too slow, Kelati said. “The hardest part for me was the downhills because my leg bothered me a little on the downhills, but not the uphills.”
Heritage coach Doug Gilbert said Kelati increased her mileage from 50 miles a week to 80 this season to give her the fitness to be a front-runner.
“That’s the plan every time that she runs,” Gilbert said. “She likes to go out hard. We just needed to make sure we had her fitness level to where she could do that. I was really proud of her. It was the first time this season she was really pushed and she responded.”
Hunter, an Oregon signee who finished fourth in the race last year, ran a 4:31 first mile and was never really threatened while finishing in 14:55.7. The runner-up was Phillip Rocha of Arcadia, Calif., in 15:09.9.
“I just wanted to make it a fast race,” Hunter said. “I knew that going out hard was what I wanted to do and I had that race plan before the race started. I wanted to make the first two miles pretty hard and if I had a big lead, I could relax a little bit and if not, I had another gear.”
After her race, Kelati had to be called back to the awards stand because she went out to cheer for Hunter, who like Kelati, also runs for the NOVA Athletic Club.
“When I was warming up, I saw Weini running and finishing,” Hunter said. “It was cool. I knew she won.”
Hunter said he couldn’t explain the recent ascendance of runners from his area.
“I don’t know why,” Hunter said. “I think a lot of people are hopping on the bandwagon and seeing other people succeed and want to be a part of it. They say, ‘Hey, I want to be the next Patrick Joseph. I want to be the next Tommy Curtin (both of whom now run at Virginia Tech)’. Everyone starts wanting to be a part of that.”