Rosso leads Colonels girls to second place at ABI track meet

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The James Wood girls’ track and field team won back-to-back conference championships in 2015 and 2016, and were only denied a third straight title in 2017 because of a superlative individual performance from Sherando’s Davina Lane.

After losing a quality senior class and its head coach, the Colonels were going to have to make some adjustments to stay on top in 2018. So far, James Wood is showing that while the faces have changed, the level of success hasn’t.

Since taking fourth and finishing 34 points behind third-place Handley at the Handley Invitational on April 14, the Colonels have placed higher than any of the four Winchester-Frederick County schools at their ensuing four meets.

On Saturday, James Wood took second at its own H. Brian Landes Apple Blossom Invitational with 79 points to finish only behind Loudoun County (102) at the 50th annual event. The Colonels have not finished lower than third in any of their past four meets.

“I thought we wouldn’t be placing [in the top three] at all anymore because so many people graduated,” said James Wood senior Rene Rosso, an all-state performer each of her first three years who is heading to NCAA Division I Mount St. Mary’s next year. “I’ve been surprised. It’s nice.”

Rosso led the way for the Colonels on Saturday, winning the 100-meter hurdles by three-quarters of a second in 15.35 seconds and taking the 300 hurdles by 0.25 with a 47.59. Rosso also placed second in the high jump (5 feet, 2 inches) and third in the triple jump (34-7.5).

Led by seniors Casey Nelson (first in the shot put and discus, Kristin Blake (first in the 800) and junior Taylor Beard, Handley was fourth with 61 points.

Beard took second to Rosso in both hurdles events (16.10 in the 100 hurdles, 47.84) in the 300 hurdles, and those were her only two events on Saturday. Handley coach Mike McKiernan elected to have her focus on track work after the All-American high jumper tied for eighth in that event at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Sherando — led by its victorious 4x100-meter relay team — tied for sixth with Clarke County with 35 points. Millbrook was 10th with 30 points.

In naming Mike Onda — a James Wood assistant coach since 2000 and head cross country coach since 2004 — as the successor to 12-year head coach Matt Stegmaier last fall, the Colonels went with someone who knew James Wood’s program quite well.

He said the Colonels have been helped greatly by returning athletes who have improved, as well as a talented freshman class.

“That’s really helping fill in the gaps of what we lost from last year,” Onda said.

Among the freshman class, Brooke Sandy had a particularly strong day Saturday. She placed fourth in the high jump (5 feet) and eighth in the 100 hurdles (18.22). Freshman Riley Rose joined senior Kiara Gilkerson, junior Rhiannon Bradford and sophomore Mia Johnson on the 4x400 team that placed third in 4:24.99.

The Colonels were also led on Saturday by their 4x100 team of sophomore Jenny Kerns, Bradford, junior Lauren Taylor and senior Eliana Creech (second in 52.87). Kerns also placed second in the long jump (15-11) and sophomore Kenzie Konyar placed third in the 1,600 (5:30.96).

If the Colonels can continue to perform like they have been recently, they’ll once again be one of the top contenders in the postseason, this time in the Class 4 Northwestern District.

“Coach Stegmaier did an outstanding job,” Onda said. “We just want to continue that tradition of them performing really well, and the results will speak for themselves.”

Rosso said she was hoping for better performances in each of her events on Saturday, but she won both her hurdle events comfortably. In the 300 hurdles, she passed the people on the outside of her on the staggered start with 125 meters to go.

Rosso said it’s been an adjustment for her with the Colonels making multiple changes to their coaching staff this year, but the important thing is peaking for the postseason.

“I wish I was doing a little better than I am right now, but I’ll get there,” said Rosso, who was all-state in all three jumping events and the two hurdles events last year. “I want to try and place in all the stuff I always do at states, plus the 200.”

Another future NCAA Division I local athlete in Nelson also won two events on Saturday. Nelson gave a verbal commitment to George Mason University on Thursday to accept a 50 percent scholarship, and McKiernan said there will be a signing ceremony for Nelson in the future.

On Saturday, Nelson won the discus with a mark of 125 feet to win by 11 feet, 2 inches, and the shot put with a mark of 39-2.25 to win by almost four feet. Neither mark was a PR, but Saturday was the latest entry in a season of stellar performances for Nelson.

“I’m just working with consistency at this point in the season,” Nelson said. “It would be nice to PR every meet, but unfortunately it’s not always going to be that way. So I’m satisfied with my performance.”

McKiernan said Blake went out a little too fast in the 800 — she covered the first 200 meters in 31 seconds — but she opened up a huge lead on the rest of the field on the second lap and won with a time of 2:24.59 to win by almost five seconds over Clarke County junior Madison Webster (2:29.20).

McKiernan said Saturday was only Blake’s second meet of the season because of a stress reaction, which required her to wear a boot on her foot for two weeks.

“I thought she did a great job,” McKiernan said.

Handley freshman Sofia Posades also had a top-three finish, placing third in the 100 in 13.59.

The Judges were unable to field full a lineup on Saturday. Some athletes left early because of Handley’s prom on Saturday, and freshman Mary McKay — the area leader in the 100 meters this year — was at the Cassel’s XBC Track Experience in Chantilly so she could compete in the pole vault, an event which is not offered at the ABI. (McKay took first with a mark of 11-0 in Chantilly.)

Given all that, Handley had a strong effort.

“I think we competed well,” McKiernan said.

Sherando was without its own freshman sprint star in Haley Mack (second in the area behind McKay in the 100) because of a quad injury suffered at the Handley Invitational. Despite her absence, Sherando was still able to win the 4x100, as senior Donzailya Berg, freshman Indhya Hayes, junior Kaitlyn Roberts and senior AnnMarie Kelly edged James Wood by 0.01 seconds to win in 52.86.

Berg also led Sherando individually, taking third in the 100 hurdles (16.70), fifth in the high jump (5-0) and sixth in the long jump (15-6.5).

In addition to taking second in the 800, Webster also took second in the 1,600 (5:25.05). Clarke County finished the day by taking fourth in the 4x400 in 4:27.66 (Elizabeth Wallace, Sara Wenzel, Heather See and Madison McLean).

“[Webster] has really worked hard and is doing a great job,” Clarke County coach Andre Kidrick said. “As a small school, I love coming to these meets and seeing our kids compete. If the team can finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, I’m excited because they competed against 3A, 4A, 5A schools, and they showed people what Clarke County does.”

Millbrook was led by its 4x800 team of Mellany Groll, Kaycee Cox-Philyaw, Maddie Lloyd and Emily Muldowney, which took third in 10:18.90. Also, sophomore Sarah Purdy was fourth in the high jump (5-0), 100 hurdles (17.62) and 300 hurdles (49.65).

Loudoun County’s Molly Chapman won the Jim Casey Most Outstanding Performer award. She won the high jump with a 5-2 based on having fewer misses than Rosso and Loudoun County’s Erin Messner, won the long jump with a 16-4 and won the triple jump with a 35-11.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1a

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