Wood’s Hawkins wins R-II cross country title
LEESBURG — James Wood senior Amber Hawkins took a humble approach by saying she hoped to be in the top three at Thursday’s Region II cross country championship.
But by the time she reached the first mile in Thursday’s regional championship at Tuscarora High School, Hawkins’ only competition was the clock.
The Colonels senior standout and Northwestern District champion quickly pulled away from a field of 88 other runners to give James Wood its best regional finish since Josh Wilson was the runner-up in 2007.
Hawkins finished with a time of 18 minutes, 26 seconds to beat Western Albemarle runner-up Annie Taylor by 29 seconds.
“I just opened up and settled into a really good groove and I used the course to my advantage,” Hawkins said. “I worked the up-hills and definitely opened it up on the downhills. It’s just the way we’ve been training and I felt really strong.”
Hawkins’ strength proved too much for the field as she finished as the only runner to average a sub six-minute pace (5:56). Her pace was 10 seconds faster than Taylor.
“She got out to the front pretty much from the get-go,” James Wood coach Mike Onda said. “Through about the first mile there was a group that was trying to stay pretty close to her but once they got along the back [part of the course] you could see the gap starting to open up. She was able to open it up from there.”
Hawkins led by about 50 meters after the first mile of the 3.1-mile (or 5K) race and closed strong for nearly a 30-second margin of victory.
Hawkins said practicing on her home course at James Wood — with its hilly terrain — made it much easier to deal with Tuscarora’s course.
“The hills are not as bad [here] but from all the work we’ve been doing on our course it definitely made this easier,” Hawkins said. “I feel very confident about states so I think I’m going to do very well. It’s been an amazing ride this season.”
After missing the postseason meets because of an illness last year, Onda said Hawkins’ performance this year is a result of the dedication to her training.
“She’s been working hard all season and has continued to improve,” Onda said. “This is just the culmination of all that. She had a great race here and hopefully she’ll continue to race great here for the next few weeks — definitely at state and if she wants to go down to Foot Locker [at the South Regional].”
Hawkins now heads to next Saturday’s Group AA state championship, and she’s one of four area runners to qualify individually by finishing in the Top 15.
James Wood senior Danny Aldstadt finished ninth (16:27) to qualify for the state meet for the second consecutive season.
Hawkins and Aldstadt will be James Wood’s only state qualifiers. The Colonels’ Luke Farinholt just missed qualifying for the second straight year, finishing 17th (16:43) after taking 16th at regionals last season at Great Meadow. He missed qualifying by six seconds last year, and by eight Thursday.
Millbrook freshman Nadia Dahimene will be the Pioneers’ lone state qualifier. She ran a strong race, finishing 12th (19:50) in a pack of six girls who finished three seconds apart for the final four state-qualifying berths.
Pioneer freshman Rylee Learn narrowly missed qualifying, finishing 16th (19:51) and just one spot behind Handley junior Ashden Personius (same time), who finished 15th and paced the Judges to third in the team race.
Sherando senior James Reese finished with a strong kick to lock up a state berth, taking 13th (16:33) overall.
Hawkins, Aldstadt, Dahimene and Reese join Handley’s boys’ (runner-up) and girls’ (third) teams at next Saturday’s Group AA state meet at Great Meadow in The Plains. The girls’ race is scheduled for 11:45 a.m., followed by the boys’ race at 12:30 p.m.
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