Third Battle XC meet will feature 32-team field

Posted: October 19, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — When Millbrook cross country coach Kevin Shirk refers to today’s Third Battle Invitational as “our big one” — he’s definitely not exaggerating this year.

The fourth annual cross country race started with just nine teams in 2010 but it doubled in size last year and today’s event will be the biggest yet with 32 teams plus a few individual runners competing on the 5,000-meter course that’s located behind Millbrook High School on the site of the Third Battle of Winchester battlefield.

Millbrook cross country coach Kevin Shirk said there will be 1,343 runners competing in today’s event that starts with the girls’ race at 11:15 a.m. followed by the boys’ race at noon. (Junior varsity races start at 9 a.m. and there’s also a JV race for upperclassmen that follows at 12:30 p.m.).

“I’m excited about it because I think it’s probably one of the biggest sporting events in our area this year,” Shirk said. “No other sport can have that many athletes and have so many teams and so many people in one spot.”

Shirk said the majority of the 32 teams will be Virginia schools but there will also be a few West Virginia schools as well as a couple private schools from the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas.

The field includes Group 6A powers Osbourn Park and Battlefield as well as Georgetown Day School (Washington, D.C.) and Conference 21-rival Dominion. James Wood, Sherando, and Clarke County will compete in both girls’ and boys’ races, and Handley’s boys’ team will also race.

Shirk said after last week’s Glory Days Invitational was canceled after three days of heavy rain that a few more teams signed up so they could get one last big race in before the conference meets.

To accommodate a larger field, Shirk said the Millbrook Pioneer Athletic Association purchased a new timing system that’s similar to the chip timing used at the Bloomin’ Mile and Apple Blossom 10K races.

“We’re one of the few meets where we time it ourselves,” Shirk said. “[Runners] will be wearing bib numbers and we’ll have a video camera at the finish as backup. We’re going to see how the course handles this many kids because it’s not a really wide course [in some areas].”

While Shirk is interested to see how the course handles a larger field, he’s also interested in seeing how his teams handle what shapes up to be the most competitive field ever for the event.

Millbrook’s boys’ team, led by sophomore Tyler Cox-Philyaw, freshman Alec Schrank, seniors Nathan Burgreen, Israel Lockhart and Sean Franz and juniors Max Bader, Cal Lockley and Garrett Bloodworth, has placed in the top 10 at the 62-team Oatlands Invitational (eighth) on Sept. 21 and the 36-team Octoberfest Invitational (eighth even without Cox-Philyaw, who pulled out because of tightness in his calves) on the non-state course at Great Meadow on Oct. 5.

Shirk said he expects a strong race from the Pioneer boys’ team.

“Our goal is to get six or seven boys under 17 minutes if it’s a nice day,” Shirk said. “I’d really like for the boys’ team to get a top three trophy. It will be a tough one with as many teams as there are but we’ve got an outside shot.”

Based on Milestat.com’s virtual meet results, Osbourn Park and Battlefield appear to be the strongest boys’ teams followed by Millbrook, Broad Run (Group 5A), Georgetown Day School and Dominion.

Loudoun Valley sophomore Andrew Hunter, Osbourn Park senior Nick Causey, The Potomac School senior Hale Ross and Battlefield seniors Haben Zemichael and Ryan Miller should contend for the overall boys’ title.

Handley boys’ coach Mark Stickley said he’s looking forward to a big local meet as his team gears up for the postseason and the Conference 23 meet.

“I think it will be a great meet,” Stickley said. “Mostly I’m looking for some PRs, for varsity of course and for JVs [some will be running their last meet]. I mostly need to see how we stack up with the other 4A schools.”

On the girls’ side, Millbrook won’t be at full strength with sophomore Rylee Learn not expected back until the conference meet, but Shirk hopes his team can perform well heading into the postseason.

“On the girls’ side we’re mainly just looking to run some personal bests and maybe see us put a couple girls under 20 minutes which we haven’t done since last year with Rylee in [the lineup],” Shirk said. “But I’d like to see Hannah [Croyle] break 20 minutes and Nadia [Dahimene] — I think she can run low 19s.”

The Third Battle Course features mostly flat terrain so that should lead to some fast times.

In the girls’ race, West Springfield senior Caroline Alcorta, who Shirk said is currently ranked eighth in the nation, is expected to compete as an individual, so former Millbrook and current Iowa State sophomore Crystal Nelson’s record time of 17 minutes, 59 seconds (set in 2011) could fall on Saturday. Alcorta won both the Adidas Cross Country Challenge in Raleigh, N.C. (17:18), on Sept. 20 and the Maymont Cross Country Festival in Richmond (17:55) on Sept. 28.

The top 20 runners receive custom medals (that look like a Virginia historical marker) and the overall varsity boys’ and girls’ winners will receive plaques. The top three teams will also receive plaques.

Shirk said that admission is free for today’s races but he hopes fans can donate some funds.

“We’ve never charged entry fees for the meet but this year we’re going to ask for donations at the gates which would go straight to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation,” Shirk said. “It’s just to show our appreciation for allowing us to use their property and for all they do for the property.”

— Contact Robert Stocks at rstocks@winchesterstar.com

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