Girls’ cross country preview: New landscape

Posted: August 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

Runners Abby Swartz (left), Sophia Lee (middle) and Nadia Dahimene are three of the 13 returning All-Northwestern District cross country runners from last year‘s top 15. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Senior Ashden Personius is part of a strong returning group for the Judges that won the Northwestern District Meet last season. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — With 10 runners returning from last year’s team that won the Northwestern District championship, Handley High School’s girls’ cross country team would be the odds on favorite to repeat.

But there’s not going to be a district meet this year, so the Judges are left knowing that they won perhaps the last ever district meet title and now they’re focused on the bigger 4A picture that includes 52 schools and 28 in the North Region (and 24 in the South Region).

And although the Judges return lots of depth and talent, Millbrook finished just four points behind Handley at the district meet a season ago and the Pioneers return nearly all of their top runnners.

Area bragging rights during the regular season might come down to who wins the Judges Classic on Sept. 14 because that’s the biggest local meet where the Pioneers and Judges will race head-to-head.

With the Virginia High School League’s new six-classification system, Handley and Millbrook are now in different conferences.

Millbrook, James Wood and Sherando will now compete in Conference 21 of the Group 4A North Region along with Heritage, Dominion, Loudoun County, Park View and Woodgrove. Handley will now compete in Conference 23 in the 4A North with Charlottesville, Louisa County, Amherst County, Fluvanna and Harrisonburg.

Clarke County, still a member of the Bull Run District, will now compete in Conference 35 of the Group 2A East Region with Strasburg, Stonewall Jackson, Luray, Page County, Madison County and George Mason.

The Bull Run will still have a district meet on Oct. 23 at Rappahannock, but the first postseason qualification races are now the conference meets for all teams. The top four teams and top 15 individual runners at the conference meet advance to regional meets.

“The classification change took us away from many of the Loudoun schools, but added other schools just as talented from other regions,” said Handley girls’ cross country coach Emily Budynk-Putt, who has 35 girls in the program. “Six teams [and the top 15 runners not on those six teams] make the state meet this year, so we hope to be right in the mix at the region meet.”

With both Handley and Millbrook returning veteran teams, all but two of last year’s top 15 runners (regional qualifiers) from the Northwestern District meet are back.

The Judges return six from last year’s top 15, including Northwestern runner-up and junior Abby Swartz (top seven all-district), sophomore Ruthie Rosenfeld (all-district), sophomore Anna Claire Wilkerson (all-district), senior Ashden Personius, junior Ellie Selzer and sophomore Megan Gaynor.

Millbrook returns six of its top seven runners, including Nadia Dahimene — who finished third (all-district) at last year’s Northwestern District meet — as well as sophomore Rylee Learn (fourth, all-district), senior Sophia Lee (fifth, all-district) and junior Maddie Treiber (14th).

“Nadia is coming off a great track season and should step in as a strong No. 1 for us,” said Millbrook coach Kevin Shirk. “Our main goal is to advance the team to the state championship [meet], but obviously we’ll have some challenges with a stronger conference compared to our old district.”

Sherando and Clarke County both have new head coaches this year. Jamie McCarty takes over for Tim Ritter, who coached at Sherando for 10 years, and Jamie Symons replaces Lorenzo Lara at Clarke.

With the new six classification system, the state meet will now be a two-day event at Great Meadow in The Plains on Nov. 15-16. The six classifications will be divided up with Group 4A-6A competing on Friday and Group 1A-3A competing on Saturday. The top 12 runners in each group earn all-state medals.

The following is a glance at all the area teams:

Handley

Coach: Emily Budnyk-Putt, 6th year

Last year: Northwestern District meet champions, third at Region II meet

Key losses: Hannah McKiernan

Top returnees: Abby Swartz, Jr.; Ashden Personius, Sr.; Candace Nelson, Sr.; Anna Claire Wilkerson, Soph.; Ellie Selzer, Jr.; Megan Gaynor, Soph.; Eileen Wilkerson, Sr.; Ruthie Rosenfeld, Soph., Kelly Boppe, Soph.

Key newcomers: Nicole King, Fr.; Alisa Dayo, Fr.

Budnyk-Putt’s outlook: “We have a tight front pack in Abby Swartz, Ashden Personius, Candace Nelson, Anna Claire Wilkerson and Ellie Selzer. There are also five to six other girls vying to join the top seven, including some talented freshmen. It’s a long season, so we are starting out steady and hoping to be our strongest that second week of November.”

First meet: Aug. 31, at Chancellor Invitational, 9 a.m.

James Wood

Coach: Mike Onda, 8th year

Last year: Third at Northwestern District meet

Key losses: Amber Hawkins, Madeline Long, Brooke Wiley

Top returnees: Brittany Arnold, Sr.; Mira Bagous, Soph.; Halle Esparza, Soph.; Molly Farinholt, Sr.; Ellen Legge, Jr.

Key newcomers: Claire Bright, Fr.; Jessie Clatterbuck, Fr.; Sophia Dorsey, Fr.; Maria Harter, Fr.; Autumn Hottle, Fr.; Zoe Schopick, Fr.

Onda’s outlook: “We’ve got some good returners and a lot of new folks. There’s a lot of potential here in practice and they’ll be competing for the top-seven spots. The goal is to always advance the team into the regional. I think we’ve got a good shot. We’ve got a lot of talent as long as we can keep them healthy. I think top four [in conference] is realistic.”

First meet: Aug. 31, at Chancellor Invitational, 9 a.m.

Millbrook

Coach: Kevin Shirk, 4th year

Last year: Northwestern District meet runner-up, ninth at Region II

Key losses: Katrin Schneider

Top returnees: Sophia Lee, Sr.; Maddie Treiber, Jr.; Nadia Dahimene, Soph.; Rylee Learn, Soph.; Hannah Croyle, Soph.; Ansleigh White, Soph.; Bethany Hagenbuch, Soph.

Key newcomers: Lily Treiber, Fr.; Corinne Nakagawa, Soph.

Shirk’s outlook: “We return six of our [top] seven from last year and most of our girls are coming into the season in better shape than past seasons. We’re focusing on building depth at the No. 4 through No. 6 spots to add to our front runners — Nadia, Rylee and Sophia.”

First meet: Aug. 31, at Chancellor Invitational, 9 a.m.

Sherando

Coach: Jamie McCarty, 1st year

Last year: Fourth place at Northwestern District meet

Key losses: Nisha Moore, Sidney Burleson, Caitlin Dolan, Candice Banks

Top returnees: Katie Rodgers, Jr.; Haley Powers, Jr.; Andi Crosby, Jr.; Sam Herrell, Sr.; Rosa Gibson, Sr.; Evelyn Gibson, Soph.; Sarah Brewer, Soph.; Emily Askew, Soph.; Abigale Lukens, Soph.

Key newcomers: Gillian Liedke, Fr.; Hannah Lothrop, Fr.

McCarty’s outlook: “Our turnout’s been really good [with 26 girls] and we’ve got a good mix. Probably 50 percent of the team is freshmen and sophomores. It looks like it’s going to be real promising. We’ll have some tough battles for [No.’s] four through 10 and it could be a different girl every week. We’re embracing that [depth] and the girls are too. It’s going to be competitive to grab a varsity spot [top seven].”

First meet: Aug. 31, at Chancellor Invitational, 9 a.m.

Clarke County

Coach: Jamie Symons, 1st year

Last year: Seventh at Bull Run District meet

Key losses: Allison Crandell, Anna Fellman.

Top returnees: Mackenzie Kibler, Jr.; Hayley Botts, Sr.; Rachel Dors, Sr.; Alex Harden, Sr.; Amy Legare, Sr.

Key newcomer: Sophia Biddle-Snead, Fr.

Symons’ outlook: “We’re trying to rebuild this girls’ program. Some of the top girls returning are seniors. We didn’t get out of the district [last year]. We’d like to get to regionals, and I think that would be a tremendous goal for our girls.”

First meet: Aug. 28, at Page County, 5 p.m.

— Contact Robert Stocks at rstocks@winchesterstar.com Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1