Teams Race For Regional Cross Country Berths

Posted: October 24, 2012
By ROBERT STOCKS

WINCHESTER — When the Northwestern District boys’ cross country teams step to the starting line at today’s district championship meet, only Handley can take a deep breath and relax.

That’s because the Judges already own one of district’s two regional berths after locking up the regular-season title last Wednesday with a 27-30 win over James Wood.

Handley finished 7-1 in the district duals, dealing the Colonels their only two district losses along the way.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Handley boys’ cross country coach Mark Stickley. “It was nice to jump out early this season and fend them off. I think we’re running well, but Sherando, Millbrook and James Wood are running well too.”

Today’s Northwestern District boys’ championship race at Kernstown Battlefield (which starts following the girls’ race at 3 p.m.) likely won’t feature much drama for the individual crown with defending Group AA state champion and Skyline senior Thomas Madden beginning his state title defense, but it’s definitely going to be a race in the team competition.

Sherando, James Wood, and Handley could contend for the overall team title, and a young and improving Millbrook team could also be in the hunt for the other regional berth.
“You’re talking about four very good teams on the boys’ side right now,” Stickley said. “It’s a shame because two good teams will get left home. It’s frustrating to see good kids and good teams that aren’t going to go to regionals — and it’s a shame.”

Cross country differs from track in that there’s no regional or state qualifying times. Runners at the Northwestern District championship advance to regionals by either earning one of the district’s two regional team berths or by placing in top 15 individually.

Handley won the regular season title last year, but Skyline won the district meet, preventing district meet runner-up James Wood from qualifying for regionals.

Although the Colonels were edged out for the regular-season district title this year, James Wood coach Mike Onda said it’s going to be a competitive race between the local teams for that other regional berth.

“It’s going to be real tight,” Onda said. “Handley is looking real good, but Sherando is looking really good, too. We’ve got to go second [if Handley wins] or win the district championship. Coach Stickley and coach Ritter have done excellent jobs with their teams and it’s going to be tough.”

Sherando can’t be counted out after a solid runner-up performance (finishing ahead of Handley, James Wood and Millbrook) at the Third Battle Invitational on Oct. 15.

The Warriors placed all five runners in the top 40 at Third Battle, and another effort like that could be enough to punch the team’s ticket to regionals.

“We kind of dug a hole earlier in the year, but we knew we had good depth — probably as good of depth as anybody in the area,” Ritter said. “We just need to get our pack moving up a little farther and be more consistent.”

In the girls’ race, Handley and Millbrook finished tied for first during the regular season so both the regular season and district meet titles will be on the line.

According to the Northwestern District handbook, “should a tie occur in the regular-season standings between two or more schools, the tie will be broken using the results of the District Championship meet.”

Pioneers coach Kevin Shirk said he expects today’s district girls’ race to play out almost like a dual meet between Millbrook and Handley.

“We know that we stack up very well with them runner for runner,” Shirk said. “So it will just come down to who has the best day, and where a couple of runners from other teams might fall into the results near both teams’ fourth and fifth runners.”

Handley’s girls did not compete against the Pioneers at the Third Battle Invitational. Millbrook finished second on its home course at Third Battle, but the Judges get the luxury of racing on their home course today.

“The Northwestern district race has historically been a pretty close meet, and I expect this year to be no different,” Handley girls’ coach Emily Budnyk-Putt said. “My team is excited to race at home, and we are looking forward to a great race from all the area teams.”

James Wood senior Amber Hawkins, who went unbeaten in district races and won the Third Battle Invitational, looks to be the overwhelming favorite for the individual girls’ title.

While Madden appears to be a heavy favorite on the boys’ side, James Wood senior Danny Aldstadt and Handley senior Jim Thomson should contend for the top three spots.

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