Shenandoah Valley XC League Concludes

WINCHESTER — COVID-19 has closed down too many things to count in the sports world.

The inaugural Shenandoah Valley Cross Country League held at Kernstown Battlefield was one of the things that were created in response to it, though. And Shenandoah University's Emily Miller took full advantage of it this fall.

Miller finished second in the SVCCL's 5K championship race on Saturday, recording a time of 18 minutes and 34 seconds. Saturday's championship came after a four-race regular season that began on Sept. 25 and featured two 5K races (4,934 meters, specifically) to start, followed by a 3K race and a 6K race. Only people who competed in all four races were eligible for the championship race, and Miller finished things off by recording her best 5K time of the series.

The SVCCL is for people of all ages (Saturday's qualifiers ranged from 10 to 58), but SU cross country and track & field Andy Marrocco created the SVCCL mainly for scholastic runners who lost out on their fall cross county season because of COVID-19 cancellations.

However, Miller, an SU grad student, wasn't one of those people who lost her fall cross country season, as she exhausted her cross country eligibility last fall.

But because the 2020 outdoor track season was canceled by COVID-19, Miller was eligible for another season of outdoor track, an opportunity she's taking advantage of. And the SVCCL has given her a chance to keep sharp for when it comes.

"This keeps me racing and warmed up to go into track season," Miller said. "This has been a bonus, fun time for me."

"If we had a normal [cross country] season, she wouldn't have had this opportunity," Marrocco said. "... It's definitely awesome that Emily had that added filler to bridge that gap."

The only female Miller couldn't beat on Saturday was 15-year-old Gillian Bushee of Reston, who was seeded first based on cumulative times during the season (Miller was second). Bushee — who placed seventh at the Class 6 state meet last fall as a Herndon High School freshman — recorded a time of 18:04.6.

Miller said she and Bushee had each finished ahead of the other twice in the previous four races.

"She did really awesome," said Miller of Bushee.

The top 35 males and females, plus the next five in each age group based on collective season race time total, were eligible for Saturday's race. To comply with COVID guidelines, runners went out in waves of 25 or less every two minutes, and Miller and Bushee were each part of the third wave, which featured the best females. There were four total waves and 81 total runners (41 male) on Saturday.

None of the regular-season female meet champions competed on Saturday. Race 1 winner Kerri Toney, 25, of Richmond, and Race 4 winner Madison Murphy, a Millbrook sophomore, were not eligible. Race 2 and 3 winner Lauren Beatty of James Wood, a junior, missed the meet with an injury.

Beyond Miller and former SU runner Sarah Mann, 22 (fourth in 18:37.2), the next best local females were Sherando sophomore Emma Ahrens (eighth, 19:26.5) and Molly Robinson (10th, 19:28.1). Ahrens and Robinson each ran their best 5K times of the series.

"We've never been stronger," said Robinson of a Sherando team that had several girls qualify for Saturday's race and took second out of four teams at the Frederick County Parks & Recreation championship race in October, losing out on the title on a tiebreaker. "This is probably the strongest the team has been in a very long time. To see how much we've grown from last year is a huge accomplishment."

Robinson hopes Sherando can keep that momentum going with Virginia High School League indoor track, in which the first practice date is set for Dec. 14. Robinson and James Wood cross country coach Matt Lofton, who helped with Saturday's meet, each said a Frederick County track club through USA Track & Field might be a possibility if the indoor track season gets canceled because of COVID-19.

Also in Saturday's race, James Wood junior Isabella Newman placed 11th in 19:29.1, SU junior Erin Atkinson was 13th (20:11.5) and Sherando sophomore Eva Winston was 19th (21:00.8).

The only regular-season winner to compete on the men's side was Ashburn's George Alexander, a Class 5 state cross country qualifier as a junior for Stone Bridge last fall. Alexander — who won the 3K race — edged Noah Wollersheim, 19, of Front Royal, by just seven-tenths of a second (15:53.0 to 15:53.7). SU junior Jeremy Allinger placed third in 16:10.7.

James Wood junior Nathaniel Woshner came into the meet seeded second behind Alexander and finished fourth in 16:15.4. Woshner's goal was to stay with Alexander, but he lost steam on his second trip up the hill.

"First lap, great, second lap, not so great," said Woshner, who recorded times of 16:11.7 and 16:12.7 in his previous two 5Ks in the series. "This hill, the second time, it destroys your legs. Second hill, I just lost [Alexander], and I fell off. He ran a great race."

Other top local males were SU junior Tyler McCarthy (eighth, 16:31.5), James Wood senior Chris White (ninth, 16:41.9), former SU runner Matthew Horton, 24 (13th, 17:36.1), James Wood freshman Landon Burdock (15th, 17:46.2) and Colonel senior Jimmy Burdock (16th, 17:50).

There were some apprehensive moments with rising COVID-19 numbers in the state this fall, but overall, Marrocco couldn't have been happier with how the SVCCL season went.

"I was nervous in the beginning," Marrocco said. "You don't know what this was going to look like throughout the fall [with COVID-19].

"But the athletes have been incredible, the parents have been incredible, the Kernstown Battlefield Association has been in it 100 percent from the beginning to keep it safe and healthy. It's been a stress relief to know that Shenandoah's [fall] season got canceled, but I was able to still be a part of the running community, and Shenandoah athletes as well as the local high schools had that outlet in an appropriate, safe manner. It's just been awesome. The whole series has been great."

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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