Wood girls XC takes third at Third Battle for best-ever finish

WINCHESTER — James Wood senior Kenzie Konyar has stated on multiple occasions that her individual performance is not her primary focus.

Anyone who saw the joy in her face and heard the excitement in her voice after Saturday's Third Battle Invitational could understand why.

The Colonels girls' cross country team placed third out of 34 scoring teams at the 10th annual meet held at the Third Battle of Winchester course. It is James Wood's highest finish ever at Third Battle.

"I'm thrilled," said Konyar after posing for multiple photos with her teammates while holding the team's third-place award. "I love my team. I think we all work hard every day and it's nice that everybody gets to see that [today]. I'm just really proud of everybody. This is Millbrook's home course, and we really wanted to beat Millbrook."

James Wood's 214 points trailed only Loudoun Valley (114) and Lake Braddock (129). The top three teams earned awards.

Led by top local finisher Madison Murphy (the freshman took fourth in 18:29.9), Millbrook placed sixth with 280 points. Sherando was eighth with 347 and Clarke County was 32nd with 864.

With two-time defending national champion Loudoun Valley sitting out its top runners, West Springfield won the boys' competition with 86 points and Calvert Hall College High School was second with 120. James Wood placed ninth (319 points), Millbrook was 12th (368), Sherando was 18th (455) and Clarke County finished last among the 39 scoring teams with 1,182 points. Warriors junior James Harris was the top local finisher, taking seventh in 15:57.3.

Saturday's performance was the latest impressive performance for a James Wood girls' team that has every reason to be confident going into the postseason that starts with the Class 4 Northwestern District meet on Oct. 29. James Wood beat the defending district champion Pioneers on their home course Saturday, and the Colonels won the city-county quad and the Buffalo Wild Wings Invitational in West Virginia's Hampshire County in its last two meets. In September the Colonels won the Hood Invitational in Maryland.

James Wood sophomore Lauren Beatty (seventh with a personal record of 18:45.1) and Konyar (12th in a season-best 18:50.5) each earned medals for placing in the top 20 of the race that featured 227 runners. Rounding out the Colonels' top five were Elena Farinholt (52nd in 20:00.8), Quetzali Angel-Perez (52nd in 20:01.1) and Audrey Sandy (96th in 20:39.2).

"I think a lot of people counted us out early in the season," said Konyar, whose team finished behind Millbrook in its first two meets. "We weren't looking our strongest and we weren't in shape. But now that we're putting in the work and reaching our peak, we're looking so strong. We're getting better each week, so I'm excited to see what we can do in the postseason."

Beatty's performance this year is a big reason why the Colonels have the potential to win a district championship and make noise throughout the postseason.

James Wood coach Mike Onda said Beatty struggled last year with a foot injury she dealt with for much of the season, which turned into a stress fracture at the region meet. With Beatty's foot issues apparently behind her, Onda said people are now seeing what she's capable of. Beatty's top time last year was a 20:32 at Third Battle.

"She's been running really consistent and getting faster every time she gets out there," Onda said. "Kenzie keeps moving up along with her, too. They're both pushing each other really hard every day at practice."

Beatty said she was excited about her performance, which was 13 seconds better than her previous best. In addition to having better health, Beatty said the work she put in prior to the season — which including participating in a cross country camp at Shepherd University — has helped her.

"Running with Kenzie, keeping up with her, and pushing hard on our distance and workouts really helped improve me," Beatty said.

"We push each other so hard in workouts, and I've never really had that [from a teammate] in all of high school," said Konyar, a three-time all-state performer. "It's a lot of fun."

John Champe senior Bethany Graham dominated Saturday's 3.1-mile race with a time of 17.12,6, the third-fastest time in meet history. Graham, who had the top time in Virginia (17:09) heading into Saturday won by 54 seconds.

Millbrook's Murphy stood out by recording the highest local finish of any area girls' runner since James Wood's Amber Hawkins won the 2012 race. Murphy's previous best this season was 18:42.

"I was definitely planning on a PR today," said Murphy, who charged hard down the final straightaway to edge Herndon's Gillian Bushée by eight-tenths of a second. "We run pretty much the entire course every day, so I had a feeling of where I was and what I needed to do. I was very happy with what I accomplished."

Millbrook coach Kevin Shirk said Murphy has been progressing nicely this season.

"She's been great from the get-go, but I don't think she knew that," Shirk said. "I think she's just gaining the confidence now to know where she belongs in races and to know that she can run with some of the top girls. I think her finish in different meets has gotten better and better and better as the season has gone.

"At Carlisle, which is a big meet, she finished 10th, and last week she was sixth at Albermarle, then fourth here. Those meets are fairly comparable levels of competition. To see her progressing and beating some people who beat her earlier in the season shows she's gaining confidence and she's racing a little more aggressively. I think she's just learning how good she can be."

Millbrook's girls were also led by Lina Guerrero (16th in 19:04.9) and Becca Edlich (34th in 19:38.6). Sherando's girls were led by Molly Robinson (43rd in 19:53.6) and Eva Winston (66th in 20:11.7). Clarke County's top runner was Kateri Thorne (133rd in 21:10).

Sherando's Harris improved on his performance from last year's Third Battle dramatically, improving his time by 30 seconds and his place by 29 spots. Harris set a PR, besting the time he ran on the Third Battle of Winchester course at the district meet last year by 19 seconds.

"After the first mile [the lead runners] opened the gap against me, so I just settled in," Harris said. "But coming out of the woods before the 2,500-meter mark, John Pullen from Millbrook who graduated last year said, 'Don't run alone, go push it with them,' so I went up there and closed the gap.

"To come out here and break 16 minutes for the first time ever feels amazing. Hopefully, I can do it at states. We have a new training plan, running more mileage, than less mileage, then getting back up to more mileage. I feel like that's helped me a lot. I'm running smarter and pacing really well."

Sherando coach Megan Roberts said Harris' times this year haven't necessarily showed his progress, but the flat Third Battle course allowed him to demonstrate it.

"He's going to be really strong at districts [in Woodstock]," she said.

James Wood's Nathaniel Woshner (25th in 16:27.7) and Liam McDonald (40th in 16:39.2) were the next two local finishers behind Harris. Other top local efforts came from Millbrook's Chace Crosen (50th in 16:49.7) and Carter Johnson (56th in 16:54.3) and Sherando's Jonathan Gates (53rd in 16:51.2). Clarke County's top runner was Ben Fulmer (180th in 18:02.8).

Calvert Hall's Owen Johnson, a Georgetown commit, won by eight seconds in 15:24.2.

For more meet coverage, see Tuesday's edition.

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

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