James Wood girls victorious at district cross country meet

STEPHENS CITY — With no postseason implications on the line, the coaches at Wednesday’s Northwestern District cross country meet weren’t necessarily looking for their athletes to push their bodies to the absolute limit given that next week’s region meets will be significantly more important.

A lot of athletes who stepped to the starting line on Wednesday are used to success, however. Personal records might not have been in abundance, but particularly in the case of people like Sherando senior Dylan McGraw and everyone on the James Wood girls’ team, there was no shortage of competitive spirit in the 5,000-meter race.

“I figured with 800 [meters] left, I was just going to go and see what I had left in the tank,” said boys’ champion McGraw, who didn’t take the lead for good until the final 200 meters.

Led by individual champion Kate Konyar, the Colonels girls snatched up five of the top 10 spots to win by 41 points and had seven of their runners earn All-District honors by placing in the top 15. James Wood scored 26 points in the meet, which featured the five Class 4 schools and seven Class 3 schools competing in one race together. Runner-up Kettle Run scored 67 points. Sherando (third) had the best performance among local teams in the boys’ meet.

Konyar won by 31.3 seconds over junior teammate Ruby Ostrander with a time of 18 minutes, 59.3 seconds. Fauquier senior Cassidy Scott — one of just three girls to beat Konyar in last year’s Class 4 meet and the winner of the Third Battle Invitational on Oct. 14 — did not compete. Fauquier is in Class 3 this year.

Of the five returning Winchester Star First Team All-Area boys’ runners from last year, only two of them (McGraw and James Wood junior Eli Clark) completed Wednesday’s race. By design, James Wood senior Ethan Pratt-Perez set the pace for one of his teammates before dropping out of the race and doing a workout on his own. Handley senior Garrett Stickley is done for the season with an injury, and fellow Judges senior Will Pardue did not run Wednesday and is a question mark for next Wednesday’s Region 4D meet at Kernstown Battlefield because of an injury.

Stickley, Pardue, Clark (each All-State) and Pratt-Perez all competed at last year’s Class 4 meet, and McGraw wants to compete at Oatlands himself this year on Nov. 11. He continued to show he’s on the right track by doing something exceptional on a day he wasn’t planning to do anything out of the ordinary.

“I was mainly doing a workout,” McGraw said. “First mile at a [regular] race pace or a little faster than race pace, second mile easy, just kind of recovery, because I didn’t want to risk injury in those woods, and then third mile back to race pace.”

McGraw was well in front after two miles, but Kettle Run’s Owen Mullins passed McGraw during the third mile. But McGraw stayed close enough to Mullins to know that he could make his final home meet memorable.

“I was like, ‘I really could win a district title. That’d be really cool just to have that under my name,’” McGraw said.

McGraw made his run at the title and blew Mullins away in doing so, beating him by 7.3 seconds in a time of 16:02.9. Given that McGraw had never run faster than 16 minutes until he recorded a 15:43 at Third Battle, he was pretty encouraged.

“It makes me really confident for regionals,” McGraw said. “I’ve struggled to break 16:20 most of the season, and now I just ran [close to] 16 flat in a workout. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen next week.”

All 15 schools in the Region 4D will compete at Kernstown. The top three teams and top five individuals not on those teams at the Region 4D meet will advance to the Class 4 meet.

Sherando coach Megan Roberts said she was a bit surprised to see McGraw leading by as much as he did when he came out of the woods at around 1.7 miles, but she had no problems with his race.

“I was like, ‘He feels good today, he made a call to go for [the district title], that’s great,’” Roberts said. “It was a good way to end the regular season.”

The Warriors’ other scoring boys were senior Brock Smith (18th in 18:07.30), senior Adrian Banks (29th in 18:34.9), junior Sebastian Berrios (34th in 18:52) and freshman Ward Heffern (36th in 18:52.4).

“The rest of the boys were pretty much sticking to the plan of running more of a workout,” Roberts said. “But they still ran good times. I think they were surprised at how easy that pace felt, so I think they’re ready to go just a little bit harder at Kernstown and bring their ‘A’ game at the regional meet.”

Sherando (116 points) finished behind Kettle Run (41) and Meridian (72) in the boys’ meet. James Wood was fourth (131), Handley placed sixth (146) and Millbrook was last (329).

The Warriors were the only local girls’ team to have All-District runners besides James Wood. Senior Addy Wallin placed ninth in 21:06.1 and junior Gracie Defibaugh was 12th in 21:14.3. Sherando was fourth with 103 points, Handley placed sixth with 169 and Millbrook was 11th with 316.

Konyar and Ostrander (19:31.2) led a parade of James Wood girls’ All-District runners. They were followed by sophomore Katelyn Palmer (sixth in 20:31.2), sophomore Alina Kieffer (seventh in 20:31.4), senior Sarah Moss (10th in 21:13.3), junior Kaitlin Combs (11th in 21:13.8) and sophomore Lauren Thompson (14th in 21:18.7).

“We were just doing a team tempo,” Konyar said. “It wasn’t all-out, at all. We just wanted to feel good and roll through it.”

Konyar said the performance showed the Colonels are “very fit and ready” for regionals and states. James Wood coach Matthew Lofton certainly saw that on display.

“They probably impressed me a little bit more than I was expecting,” said Lofton with a laugh. “I just kind of gave the girls instructions to go out relatively fast but don’t go all-out, because we want to focus on the region and state meets, assuming we make it to the state meet. Even not running all-out, they ran well and performed well, and it gives me a lot of hope for the next couple of weeks.”

The James Wood boys also hope to be in the hunt for a state berth at Kernstown. With Pratt-Perez hanging back on Wednesday, Clark led James Wood with a time of 16:49 to place fourth.

Clark was disappointed with his performance at the Third Battle Invitational and the Judges Classic at Kernstown on Sept. 30, so he wanted to run hard and try to win the race on Wednesday.

Clark wanted to run faster than he did, but his time was still 30 seconds faster than it was at Third Battle. Cramping was an issue for Clark at Third Battle, and on Wednesday he didn’t feel his strongest over the last mile.

“I’ve just got to go back to my training and make sure my mindset is right,” Clark said. “I’m in a lot better [shape than] last year. I know I am because of the training. All it takes is for me to put that training in a race. The pressure’s on because I’ve got one more [race], and I’m ready to do that.”

The thing that stood out the most for Lofton on Wednesday was the performance of senior Tyler DeWarf. In finishing fourth on the team and 36th overall in 18:53.8, Lofton said DeWarf earned himself a spot in James Wood’s regional lineup. The Colonels always have seven competitors and three alternates at the region meet.

“He’s been an alternate for the last three years, and he outkicked [junior Owen Hahn] at the line to get that seventh spot today,” Lofton said. “He totally deserves it. Probably one of the hardest workers on the team for four years, and to see him so close before and to finally get it now, it just means a lot as a coach and as a friend. I saw it in him that he wanted that. He was 11 seconds behind [at one point].

“I feel bad for Owen, but he’ll still be our first alternate if heaven forbid, someone gets injured. But I couldn’t be more proud of Tyler. He’s a great kid.”

The Handley boys were not only without Pardue on Wednesday, but also without one of their other top runners in sophomore Will Thomas. Judges coach Mark Stickley held him out as a precaution but hopes that he’ll be ready to run at the regional meet.

A bright spot for the Judges is that Micah Combs — who was expected to be Handley’s No. 4 runner at the beginning of the season — made his season debut and placed sixth in the JV race in 19:18.3. Had he run in the varsity race, it would have been the Judges’ fourth-best time. The Judges were led by All-District performers Noah Meleason (a freshman who took 10th in 17:35.9) and sophomore Finn Slaughter (13th in 17:47.4).

Handley’s girls are still struggling with health and illness issues, though the Judges did get back freshman Seneca Welpott after a lengthy absence. She led the Judges by taking 25th in 22:27.2.

“The injuries and sickness just don’t stop [with both teams],” Stickley said. “It’s always something. I had six kids out on Monday with illness. We can’t seem to get a break. It’s been a very trying season. It was great to see Micah race today, and Finn and Noah did a fantastic job. Some of the kids who were out here today ran very well.”

Millbrook coach Jamie McCarty said he held out some of his girls because of injury issues, but he was impressed with what some of the boys’ JV runners did in taking advantage of a varsity opportunity on Wednesday. Sophomore Jackson Carr led the Pioneers by taking 62nd in 20:01 and freshman John Robbins was 63rd in 20:02.2.

“We’re going to graduate some guys, and I told them it was a good opportunity to see what varsity feels like, so they could go out there, mix it up and compete,” McCarty said. “I know [Carr and Robbins] went out there with season PRs on not one of the faster courses we’ve been on, so I think for them, this was good. We were able to give those JV kids one last meet for the year and end it on a positive [note].”

Other Sherando girls’ scorers: 18. Mia Adams 21:34.5; 28. Avery Ryan 22:41.9; 39. Olivia Lee 23:30.7.

Other Handley girls’ scorers: 33. Audrey Rinker 23:03.9; 34. Isabel Doran 23:07; 37. Bella Balio 23:14.8; 48. Zenaida Perez 24:12.

Millbrook girls’ scorers: 54. Allie Murphy 24:46.4; 68. Carrie Warner 26:38.2; 74. Sophia Smedley 32:17.9; 75. Kate Davidson 33:45.5; 76. Zainab Chebbi 33:56.1.

Other James Wood boys’ scorers: 24. Zachary Harrington 18:27.3; 31. Carrick Amerine 18:41.5; 38. Hahn 18:55.2.

Other Handley boys’ scorers: 27. Avery Miller 18:31.5; 53. Matthew Doran 19:26.9; 54. Sean Campbell 19:28.4.

Other Millbrook boys’ scorers: 75. Kingston Guerrero 21:01.9; 84. John Shields 22:48.9; 86. David Hyatt 23:22.8.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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