James Wood, Handley girls qualify for cross country state meet

WINCHESTER — The James Wood girls’ cross country team once again showed why it has one of the finest teams in the state, and sophomore star Kate Konyar demonstrated again why she’s one of the fastest individual runners in Virginia at Wednesday’s Region 4D championship meet at Kernstown Battlefield.

The Colonels just happened to run into the best of the best.

Defending Class 4 champion Blacksburg captured seven of the top 13 spots (only five count for scoring) to beat the runner-up Colonels by five points (38-43) for the team title. Handley placed third with 111 points to qualify for the state meet for the first time since 2012.

Defending individual state champion Zoie Lamanna of Jefferson Forest — a senior heading to the University of Tennessee — won Wednesday’s race in a 3.1-mile time of 18 minutes and 13 seconds. She beat runner-up sophomore Elaina Pierce of Charlottesville by 28.5 seconds. Konyar — who placed fourth in Class 4 as a freshman — has been feeling ill for about a week and placed third in 19:29.8.

“I thought we had a chance [against Blacksburg], and five points away is pretty close,” said James Wood coach Matthew Lofton, whose team earned its second straight state berth. “They put seven in front of our fifth runner, so they sealed the deal with that. But, the girls ran great. It was really good competition with Blacksburg.”

The top three teams and the top five individuals not on those teams will compete at Oatlands in Leesburg at the Class 4 meet on Nov. 11. Sherando senior Addy Wallin (16th in 21:25) is the only other local runner heading to the state meet. She helped the Warriors place fifth with 138 points. Millbrook was eighth with 217.

In addition to Konyar, James Wood had three other girls earn All-Region honors for placing in the Top 15. Junior Ruby Ostrander (fifth in 20:06.6), sophomore Alina Kieffer (sixth in 20:21.2) and sophomore Katelyn Palmer (11th in 20:38.5) also received medals, and senior Sarah Moss also had a strong performance by taking 18th in 21:39.3, beating out one of the individual state qualifiers.

“Alina’s last race or two weren’t her best, so she looked really good today, back where we thought she should be,” Lofton said. “And, everybody else just ran really well.”

The race was a lot more taxing than Konyar would have liked. She flopped onto her back not long after gutting her way through a windy race with temperature in the low 40s. Konyar said the conditions didn’t bother her too much, but an illness that developed shortly after last week’s Northwestern District meet took its toll. Konyar said she has an ear infection, so her facial area felt clogged up.

“It was pretty bad,” said Konyar in describing how her illness affected her running. “My throat was burning. My strategy was to try and tuck in [behind someone else] to not get the wind to affect me, but the leaders were off [quickly]. I just tried to hold my place. For how I felt out there, I was pretty proud of myself.”

Lofton said Konyar made it clear to him how she was feeling during the race.

“The second time up the hill she looked at me and tapped her chest, and said, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Lofton said. “I was nervous for a second, but she’s a fighter and so competitive. I realized, ‘That’s Kate, and she’s going to push through it and not lose her spot.’”

A year ago, Konyar was the only James Wood runner to finish in the Top 20 at the Region 4C meet, so for the Colonels to put seven people in the Top 23 on Wednesday is another example of their growth as a team.

“We weren’t really looking for time today,” Ostrander said. “We were just looking for placing, and I think we were all really happy with where we were.”

The Judges were ecstatic after a difficult regular season in which they almost never had everyone healthy at once due to injuries and illness. Even on Wednesday, Handley didn’t have its No. 1 runner from the 2022 season in Stephanie Truban, who may be able to run at the state meet.

But Wednesday couldn’t have gone much better. Handley finished five points ahead of Jefferson Forest, which finished sixth in Class 4 last year, for the final state spot.

Scoring runners for Handley were freshman EJ Mullins (14th in 20:56.8), sophomore Ella Warren (15th in 21:18.2), freshman Seneca Welpott (25th in 22:39.3), freshman Audrey Rinker (28th in 23:11.6) and junior Isabel Doran (29th in 23:12.2).

Handley coach Mark Stickley felt his team could qualify for the state meet, but there were still some question marks on the Judges going into Wednesday.

“We had to figure out who was going to run today,” said Warren, who missed last week’s Northwestern District meet with an illness. “It was hard to know who was healthy, who was at their best, who was a little bit behind where they were supposed to be. It just took all of us knowing that we had a chance to make it to states to be able to make us motivated enough to run super well today.”

Stickley said he laid out the possibilities of where certain runners needed to finish to qualify for states, and the girls delivered.

“They ran their race of the year,” Stickley said. “They all ran outstanding races and ran pretty much exactly what the plan was. It was awesome. Ella was coming off being sick, EJ had been dinged up a little bit. Ellie [Bessette] was our No. 7 today but is normally our No. 4. She had been sick, but she ran so tough.”

Warren was proud of what the Judges accomplished.

“I just think we’ve worked really hard all year, and we deserve this,” she said. “We’re excited. Even if we don’t do really well at states, that’s OK. At least we made it there.”

Other Sherando scorers: 24. Mia Adams 22:21.0; 27. Avery Ryan 23:09.2; 30. Gracie Defibaugh 23:20.1; 41. Olivia Lee 24:10.5.

Millbrook scorers: 26. Caroline McCurry 22:48.2; 31. Addison Stover 23:24.3; 38. Emma Gressley 24:00.5; 51. Allie Murphy 24:50.0; 71. Carrie Warner 27:13.2

For more coverage of Wednesday’s meet, see Friday’s edition of The Winchester Star.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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