Girls' Cross Country Preview: Local teams loaded with veteran talent

By ROBERT STOCKS THE WINCHESTER STAR

WINCHESTER — The top seven runners from last year’s Conference 21 West championship return this season and each of the Frederick County/Winchester teams had at least one runner in that group.

Handley placed three runners — junior Kenzi Fergus (conference runner-up), senior Kristin Blake (third) and sophomore Kendall Felix (sixth) — among the top seven on its way to the conference championship.

James Wood sophomore Kenzie Konyar, the defending conference champion (19 minutes, 46 seconds), Millbrook senior Mellany Groll (fifth) and junior teammate Emily Muldowney (seventh) and Sherando junior Stella Williams (fourth) all return as well.

 

Add in Clarke junior Madison Webster, the Conference 35 championship and runner-up in both the 2A East Region and 2A state meet, and some of the area’s invitationals — like the Judges Classic on Sept. 2 and Millbrook’s Third Battle Invitational on Oct. 14 — could be more competitive than ever for local bragging rights.

Handley returns six of its top seven runners from last season, and Millbrook, which placed third in Conference 21 a season ago, returns its entire top seven.

Sherando has a solid core returning, but Warriors coach Jamie McCarty said his team doesn’t have the type of depth that Handley and Millbrook possess.

“Millbrook brings back a really good squad, and Handley was the conference champion, so just locally that’s some pretty good teams that you have to compete with to be successful,” McCarty said. “We have good bit of experience coming back, but our Achilles heel has just been staying healthy.”

All of the area teams will need to peak for a postseason that could be tougher than ever with the new Virginia High School League rules.

The VHSL is no longer using conferences so Class 4 schools Handley, Millbrook, Sherando and James Wood will now compete in the 13-team Northwestern District. For the postseason, the seven Class 4 schools (the four area schools already mentioned plus Fauquier, Kettle Run and Liberty) will compete in the Northwestern District at Brentsville on Oct. 25 (and the six Class 3 schools will also have a district meet there that day as well).

The top four teams in the district meet and any individual placing in the top 15 advance to the Region 4C meet that will be hosted by Handley at Kernstown Battlefield on Nov. 1. At the region meet, only the top three teams and the top five individuals outside of those three teams advance to the state meet.

Pioneers coach Kevin Shirk said he’s encouraged by what he’s seen from the team so far.

“Closeness [is a strength] both as a team and in terms of their training and racing,” Shirk said. “They will have a very tight pack through six or seven runners. They work well together and have shown a willingness to help each other improve.”

Handley hopes to peak in time for the postseason so it gets a chance to run for a state berth at regionals on its home course.

“Our goal is to run strong at [district] and hopefully qualify for regions,” said Judges girls’ coach Emily Budnyk-Putt. “If we are able to qualify for regions, we hope to have our best race of the season there.”

Konyar returns to lead a James Wood team that returns three of its top seven.

Colonels coach Mike Onda expects the postseason will be even more competitive.

“We have a lot of talent that’s going to be in our region and in our district with Handley, Millbrook and Sherando,” Onda said. “[If you make it out of the district] you have to go up against the teams in our region and there’s some tough ones out there. With three teams and five people [advancing], that’s just such a challenge with the depth in our region. We just have to step up and meet the challenge.”

“There’s still a lot of really good programs in Loudoun Valley and Fauquier,” added McCarty of the regional competition. “It will be hard-fought with just three teams advancing to state. Some really good teams will be sitting at home come November.”

The only area team to reach the state meet at Great Meadow a season ago was Clarke.

The Eagles, coming off a runner-up performance in Conference 35, a fourth-place finish in 2A East Region and a sixth-place result at the 2A state meet, boast a lineup that includes the past two Conference 35 champions in Webster and junior Skylar Bragg, who took the title in 2015 when the Eagles went on to finish as the state runner-up.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what we had two years ago,” Clarke County coach Jeff Webster said. “Now I am. I’m familiar with what they’re capable of doing. Most of them are coming off successful track seasons and running strong. Four of the top five were on the school’s record-setting 4x800 team. It’s a good squad.”

Following is a glance at the area teams:

Millbrook

Coach: Kevin Shirk, eighth year

Last year: Third in Conference 21 West; 12th in 4A West Region.

Key losses: Sydney Sharp.

Top returnees: Mellany Groll Sr.; Kaycee Cox-Philyaw, Jr.; Maddie Lloyd Jr.; Sophie Edlich Jr.; Emily Muldowney, Jr.; Joanne Keenan, Jr., Katie Borland, Soph.

Top newcomer: Shannon Mulvaney, Soph.

Shirk’s outlook: “Our girls are aiming to qualify for the state championship. I view them as a group with no single top performer, but rather a strong pack who will beat people with their strong No. 3 through No. 7 runners.”

First meet: Saturday, Central Invitational in Woodstock, 9 a.m.

Sherando

Coach: Jamie McCarty, fifth year

Last year: Fifth in Conference 21 West.

Key losses: Hannah Lothrop; Katie Sommerfield.

Top returnees: Paige Conner, Sr.; Olivia Couillard, Jr.; Camryn Ubert, Jr.; Stella Williams, Jr.

Top newcomers: Molly Robinson, Fr.; Daisy Conde, Fr.

McCarty’s outlook: “Our first three is really solid with Olivia, Stella and Paige, but we can’t afford any injuries because we don’t have any depth.

“I feel like we have the ability. When we’ve been healthy we’ve had some success and ran some good times, but we’re probably only six deep right now. Our margin for error is pretty thin. If we can stay healthy, I think we can be competitive.”

First meet: Sept. 2, at Chancellor Invitational, 9 a.m.

Handley

Coach: Emily Budynk-Putt, 10th year

Last year: Conference 21 West champion; seventh in 4A West Region.

 

Key losses: Josie Sydnor; Nicole King; Alisa Dayo.

Top returnees: Kristin Blake, Sr.; Kenzi Fergus, Jr.; Kendall Felix, Soph.; Riley Fisher, Jr.; Melanie Morgan, Jr.; Allison Morgan, Jr.; Sydney Aschenbrenner, Sr.

Top newcomers: Emily Warhol, Jr.; Lily England, Fr.

Outlook: “We are excited to have depth again this year. We had a lot of girls that worked hard over the summer. Kristin Blake has had a great summer of training, as has Kenzi Fergus, Kendall Felix, Riley Fisher, Allison Morgan, and Melanie Morgan. Sydney Aschenbrenner is also training hard.”

First meet: Thursday, at PR Classic, Manassas, 4 p.m.

James Wood

Coach: Mike Onda, 12th year

Last year: Fourth in Conference 21 West

Key losses: Sophia Dorsey; Claire Bright; Jessie Clatterbuck; Maria Harter; Autumn Hottle; Lydia Sunderlin; Katie Sunderlin.

Top returnees: Kenzie Konyar, Soph. Haley Witt, Jr.; Abbey Esparza, Sr.; Hayley Schwasta, Jr. Kendall Pierce, Soph.; Cate Bright, Soph.

Top newcomers: Lauren Burrows, Soph.; Audrey Sandy, Fr.; Brooke Sandy, Fr.

Outlook: “We have three of our top seven back, but they’re one of our largest teams ever with 17 girls. Some of them we’ve had a good look at because they were out all summer. We see some potential, but some are unknown, so we’ll see how they develop over the course of the season.”

First meet: Saturday, at Central Invitational, 9 a.m.

Clarke County

Coach: Jeff Webster, third year

Last year: Runner-up in Conference 35; fourth in 2A East Region; sixth at 2A state meet.

Key losses: Sophia Snead; Catherine Trejo; Kendall Benoit.

Top returnees: Madison Webster, Jr.; Skylar Bragg, Jr.; Maeve Lyman, Jr.; Catherine Lewis, Sr.; Kamryn Anderson, Jr.; Aria Montgomery, Soph.; Charlotte Smith, Soph.

Top newcomers: Maria Housey, Fr.

Outlook: “I think they’re better than the team two years ago [that finished as the 2A state runner-up]. It’s mostly the same faces. They’ve gotten through their growing pains and they’re running really well and really well together. I’m really excited.”

First meet: Saturday, at Central Invitational, 9 a.m.

— Contact Robert Stocks at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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