Handley’s cross country teams advance to state

Posted: November 2, 2012

LEESBURG — Handley High School’s boys’ and girls’ cross country teams accomplished something no Winchester or Frederick County teams had done at the Region II cross country meet since 2008.

The Judges survived — and advanced — by finishing among the top four teams on a windy and cold day at Thursday’s regional championship at Tuscarora High School.

Handley’s boys’ team, led by senior Jim Thomson’s sixth-place overall performance, finished as the runner-up with 86 points to finish 10 behind Region II-champ Brentsville.

Handley’s girls’ team took third, finishing just five points behind runner-up Western Albemarle for second.

After only having a total of nine area runners qualify (four in 2010, five last year), the Judges send both teams to next Saturday’s Group AA state championship at Great Meadow in The Plains.

Both Handley teams ended long state-qualifying droughts, and both teams did it with depth.

Judges boys’ coach Mark Stickley thought his team had a chance to crack the top four heading into the race, but his team’s performance exceeded his expectations.

“I’m surprised we were second — and a pretty convincing second,” Stickley said. “It was 2000 — Bobby Lockhart’s junior year was the last time they went so it was nice. All these kids were what — four? They don’t know what it’s been like and we’ve been so close for so many years in my years of coaching and this is the first time I’ve made it. They stepped up big time.”

Thomson, who came in sixth with a time of 16 minutes, 21 seconds, led four Handley runners in the top 25. Aaron Arslan (19th, 16:53), Cole Talton (23rd, 16:58) and Henry Griffin (25th, 16:59) followed Thomson in a pack, finishing just six seconds apart. Noah Vogler came in 35th (17:28) to complete the Judges’ scoring five.

“It’s the first time all year I’ve had my whole seven together running and they did great,” Stickley said. “One through four especially ran outstanding and Noah came through big time as my fifth man. He keeps me nervous because he likes to start slow and move up, and we needed all the help we could get there at the end.”

While Brentsville and Handley took the top two state-qualifying berths, Potomac Falls (102) and Western Ablemarle (103) followed in third and fourth, respectively.

Thomson said the team’s goal was to just try to make it to state so taking a team trophy home as the regional runner-up was more than the Judges hoped for.

“We were expecting to get fourth but we came out in second so that’s awesome,” Thomson said. “Noah Vogler stepped it up and got it in for us. Our whole top seven really had great races. I think it’s the first time in 12 years that we’ve gone [to states].”

Handley’s girls’ team earned its first trip to Great Meadow since 2006, putting five runners in the Top 40.

Junior Ashden Personius paced the Judges, taking 15th (19:51) and Handley’s next four runners finished just 12 seconds apart. Abby Swartz (30th, 20:20), Megan Gaynor (32nd, 20:22), Anna Claire Wilkerson (36th, 20:27) and Ellie Selzer (39th, 20:32) completed the Judges’ scoring.

After coming in last place at regionals a season ago, Personius, who dealt with a calf injury throughout much of the season, said improving on last year’s regional performance was one of the team’s goals this year.

“It’s amazing and we really worked hard all season,” Personius said. “We just all came together, and we all had great races. It just worked out perfectly.

“It means a lot to me. I’ve been working really hard to get in shape [after dealing with chronic calf pain] and do well for this team because we all wanted to go to states as a team. It just happened to work out.”

Handley’s girls team, much like the boys’ team, has enough depth that any of the team’s seven varsity runners can factor in the scoring from one meet to the next.

Budnyk-Putt said the consistent contribution from all seven runners gives them great depth.

“Ashden led the way today,” Budnyk-Putt said. “The four behind her were within 12 seconds of each other. They just race so well as a group. Everyone PR-d [set a personal record] and that’s more than I could ask for.

“We don’t really have someone that’s going to go out and get in the top five. Our strength is our [No.’s] two through five and that showed today.”

Host Tuscarora won the girls’ regional title with 87 points. Western Albemarle (100) came in second followed by Handley (105) and Fluvanna County (116).

Millbrook’s girls, led by freshman Nadia Dahimene in 12th (19:50), and the Pioneer boys, paced by freshman Tyler Cox-Philyaw (31st, 17:07), both came in ninth out of 10 teams.

— Contact Robert Stocks at rstocks@winchesterstar.com

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