Wood's Pratt-Perez captures Region 4D boys' XC championship

WINCHESTER — After hunting down last year’s Class 4 runner-up in an incredible finish on Wednesday at Kernstown Battlefield, James Wood senior Ethan Pratt-Perez has only one thing on his mind for next week’s state meet at Oatlands in Leesburg.

Jefferson Forest senior Alex Jordan led by more than 20 meters with less than 300 meters left in Saturday’s Region 4D championship race, but Pratt-Perez blazed down the downhill stretch leading to the finish line and passed Jordan with about 20 meters to go to win the title with a 3.1-mile time of 15 minutes and 59.8 seconds, 1.9 seconds ahead of Jordan.

Thirty-two days prior at the Judges Classic, it was Pratt-Perez who took second by two seconds after Broad Run’s Tarek Benlamkaddem came from behind to beat him with about 50 meters left. But Pratt-Perez was not to be denied Wednesday.

The conditions were much worse than they were at the Judges Classic — it was windy in the low 40s — but Pratt-Perez said it was his mental strength as opposed to physical strength that carried him to his victory over Jordan.

“Going up those hills sometimes, it sucked,” said Pratt-Perez. “This course and the wind, absolute no-go. But today was totally mental, absolutely 100 percent.”

Jordan began pulling away from Pratt-Perez while running around the wooded area at the top of the hill in the final mile, and Pratt-Perez found himself with a sizeable deficit as he emerged into the downhill clearing with 400 meters to go. Handley coach Mark Stickley didn’t get a chance to see the finish because he was focusing on his own team, and he was one of several people who didn’t realize until well after the race that Pratt-Perez had won, such was his deficit.

“I didn’t feel good, but I was like, ‘Screw it. I can’t let myself take second place again,’” Pratt-Perez said. “I needed to win. I was too close to not try to win. It’s amazing to win this. It’s awesome.”

James Wood coach Matthew Lofton said he thought the race was Pratt-Perez’s for the taking coming into Wednesday, and he was actually surprised to see Jordan emerge out of the wooded area with such a big lead after they were so close going into it.

“Alex Jordan got injured early in the year and hadn’t been running as great, so we just weren’t sure what condition he would be in today,” Lofton said. “I saw Alex come out first [of the wooded area], and my first response was, ‘Oh man, this stinks.’ But we’ve been talking about finishing hard and how this is [Pratt-Perez’s] race, and that he’s not going to let anyone take it from him. I just see him give this kick and get next to Alex, and Alex couldn’t respond.”

Lofton wound up sprinting toward the finish line himself to meet up with Pratt-Perez.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Lofton said. “This is the happiest I’ve been for an individual after a race in a while. He’s a phenomenal kid. He deserves this. He works his butt off.”

The top three teams and top five individuals not on those teams at Wednesday’s 15-school meet qualified for the Class 4 meet at Oatlands on Nov. 11. The area high schools will not send any full teams to Oatlands, but Pratt-Perez will lead a group of four local individuals.

A year ago, Pratt-Perez placed 38th in Class 4 at Oatlands. This year, he’ll be looking for a state finish that’s a lot more representative of his talent in his fourth state cross country meet.

“I’m looking for another win,” Pratt-Perez said. “It’s going to be even tougher than this, but if I get myself mentally prepared, I think I can do it.”

Pratt-Perez led James Wood to fourth place with 131 points, trailing state qualifiers Charlottesville (52), Blacksburg (53) and Jefferson Forest (60). Sherando was fifth (142), Handley was sixth (171) and Millbrook was eighth (246).

Sherando senior Dylan McGraw (third in 16:07.8), James Wood junior Eli Clark (11th in 16:54.6) and Handley sophomore Will Thomas (17th in 17:20) each earned individual state spots. (The top 15 earned All-Region honors.) McGraw qualified for the first time, Clark will compete for the third time (second as an individual) and Thomas will compete for the second time (first as an individual).

The four Winchester-Frederick County schools competed in Region 4C last year, and last year’s Region 4C champion (Garrett Stickley) and runner-up (Will Pardue), both Handley seniors, each missed Wednesday’s meet due to injury.

Other scoring runners for James Wood were sophomore Thomas Newman (37th in 18:52.1), freshman Zachary Harrington (39th in 18:54.9) and sophomore Carrick Amerine (43rd in 19:12.1).

“My goal all season was that I wanted to be the top local team,” Lofton said.

Lofton was pleased to see Clark, an All-State runner last year, make it to the state meet again (see Friday’s edition of The Winchester Star for more information on Clark), and he gave a lot of credit to another Frederick County runner for his performance.

“Shout out to Dylan McGraw for having an awesome race,” Lofton said. “He’s just coming on at the perfect time. Great kid.”

McGraw might not have taken part in Wednesday’s thrilling finish, but his performance was notable in his own right. In recording a time of 16:07.8, he ran 44 seconds faster than he did at the Judges Classic when he was sick. He was just six seconds out of second and a whopping 22 seconds ahead of the fourth-place finisher, Henry Strahm of Blacksburg.

“Coming here, I knew it was going to be freezing cold, and I knew it was going to be tough,” McGraw said. “I just tried to layer up with some sleeves and gloves to try and stay warm. Once I started moving, I didn’t really notice [the cold and wind]. I knew everybody was dealing with the same thing, and if they could deal with it, I could deal with it. I pushed through and finished strong.

“I’m ready for states and excited to see what I can do there. I’m really happy to be going. I’ve just put in so much work and I’ve been waiting for it to pay off.”

Sherando assistant coach Becky McGraw, Dylan’s mother, couldn’t have asked for a better day from her son.

“I’m just very excited for him,” she said. “He’s had a tough season this year [with health issues]. I’m really excited for everything to come together when it really counted. I’m very proud as a coach and a mom.”

Other Sherando scorers: 25. Ryan Maki 17:54.9; 30. Brock Smith 18:17.0; 40. Jed Bell 18:57.4; 44. Ward Heffern 19:13.7.

Other Handley scorers: 33. Finn Slaughter 18:17.9; 38. Haltson Wright 18:58.7; 41. Avery Miller 19:02.6; 42. Noah Meleason 19:12.1.

Millbrook scorers: 35. Peter Warner 18:26.9; 46. Caden Treiber 19:15.8; 47. Elijah McGee 19:21.1; 52. Teague Mendez 19:31.4; 66. Bennett Wiess 20:10.5.

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

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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