THE PLAINS – The words did not come easily Saturday for Gary Kessler.
However, the one word he uttered after watching his Wilson Memorial girls team’s performance in the Group 2A race summed things up quite succinctly.
That’s all there really was to say about the Green Hornets’ second-place finish, which highlighted a fine day for City/County cross country teams at Great Meadow Race Course.
— Wilson’s girls had a pair of runners finish in the top 15 to earn all-state status — senior Natalie Prye and sophomore Spencer Tuttle, who finished 11th and 12th, respectively.
— Robert E. Lee’s boys team finished third in Group 2A, led by all-state performances by sophomore Oliver Wilson-Cook and senior Jacob Warner. Wilson-Cook put a cap on his stellar season with a third-place finish, while Warner closed out his high school cross country career by placing fifth.
— Wilson’s boys team placed fourth and was led by Vincent Leo’s sixth-place finish, which earned him all-state recognition.
— In 1A girls, Riverheads junior Veronica Ferguson cruised to a 12th-place finish to earn all-state honors.
The genesis of the Wilson girls’ effort in their eighth straight state-meet appearance, was in last week’s heat-related issues at the Region 2A East meet at Panorama Farms. The Hornets had two runners — Erica Sanders and Olivia Farley — collapse in the final 100 yards of the race, and Only a fine effort by the team’s sixth and seventh runners — Chloe Surratt and Paige Miller — kept the team’s state-qualifying streak alive.
So, the talk this week was all about hydration and chocolate — hydration to keep the body cool and dark chocolate for iron. The changes helped the Hornets finish with 86 points behind Maggie Walker, and eight ahead of George Mason, which beat out Wilson for second at regions.
Coming in behind Prye and Tuttle were Ashtyn Davis, who was 24th, Sanders, who placed 30th, and Farley in 33rd.
“We felt a lot more relaxed today,” said Prye, who improved from her 21st place finish last year. “We just knew we had to run fast and run hard.”
“After our teammates fell [at regions], we knew we had to pick it up for them,” said Tuttle. “Our goal was to get on the stage [the awards platform at Great Meadow] and we were able to do it.”
The key for the Leemen in their race was not only the efforts of their top two, but their mid-pack runners’ showing as well, said coach David Marino.
“Our mid-pack guys all had good races on the same day,” Marino said. “We were healthy, the weather was good, everybody was ready. It was a perfect mix.”
Rounding out the scoring for Lee were Cooper Yurish (45th), Calvin Siemers (58th) and Alex Lightner (63rd).
Wilson-Cook battled with the lead runners for most of the race and was able to stay in range.
“There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of passing,” he said. “I came in wanting to place first or second, but I knew that was going to be tough, so I’m pretty happy with third.
Warner, who placed third last year, actually beat his time from last year of 16:45 by five seconds, despite finishing fifth.
“There was a lot of symbolism for me,” said Warner, who turns 18 on Saturday. “With my last race, I felt like I was crossing into adulthood when I crossed the finish line. I’m really happy with the way I ran and I’m really proud of the way Oliver finished. He really wanted that.”
For the Hornets’ Leo, making it to the stage realized a goal he set for himself last year.
“I really wanted to do it last year, but it was a tough race,” the sophomore said, “but I knew I could do it this year if I did the work.”
Ferguson, who started out as a track athlete, has only been running cross country since the eighth grade, so she’s had to learn how to go that extra distance in cross country. Saturday’s 12th-place finish in 21:18 is a pretty good indication that she learned her lessons well.
“I wanted to do well today because my dad thought I could do well,” the junior said. “It was just a mind-set of wanting to place.”
Lee’s girls were seventh in the 2A race, led by Sophie Kozlowski’s 23rd-place finish. The windy conditions on the course and overcoming the effects of last week’s region race took a toll on the Lee Ladies, said coach Nate Lawrence.
“It was windier than we’re used to and I know a couple of our runners haven’t completed bounced back from regions,” he said. “But we had seven runners toe the line and that’s what we wanted, and we’re young,so I think we’ll be back.”
Waynesboro’s boys team turned in a good performance in the always-strong 3A boys race. The Little Giants, who placed 10th last year in their first trip to Great Meadow, improved on that with a seventh-place finish.
“The boys have worked so hard and they all ran really great,” Waynesboro coach Julie Stevens said. “It’s a great way to cap an amazing season.”
Leading the Little Giants was senior Chandler Showalter, who placed 38th in 17:15, a time that would have put him in the top 20 in 2A, while freshman Sam Sikora was 43rd.
Waynesboro freshman Addison Stevens did well in her first trip to states. She placed 35th in 3A girls with a time of 20:39.
Riverheads senior Ethan Ernst closed out his cross country career by placing 45th in the 1A boys race, a three-place improvement on last year’s appearance.