Local runners ready for Region II

Posted: November 1, 2012

James Wood’s Amber Hawkins is hoping to make it two years in a row that a Northwestern District cross country runner has won the Region II meet. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Handley High School’s boys’ cross country team hopes to qualify for the Group AA state cross country meet at Great Meadow next Saturday.

But for the Judges to earn a spot in the state meet, they must finish in the top four and that’s something no Winchester or Frederick County team (boys or girls) has done since 2008.

In arguably the toughest regional race in Group AA each year, the Judges hope to punch their ticket to Great Meadow after winning the Northwestern District championship last Wednesday.

The Judges already had a regional berth by virtue of their regular season district title, so Handley coach Mark Stickley was able to give a few of his runners a rest last week.

The Judges only had six of their seven runners compete in the district championship, and Stickley hopes his team will be fresh for today’s Region II Championship at Tuscarora High School (girls’ race starts at 3 p.m. followed by the boys’ race).

“We have to run better than we did [at the district meet last week],” Stickley said. “But having everybody back — you want to hop e that they come back [strong]. We’ve been trying to keep their fitness high with cross training. If they step in where they have been [running during the season] we’ve got a really good shot of making it to state. I really believe that. I think we’ll be there.”

Handley will compete against three other district champion teams, including Potomac Falls (Dulles District), Brentsville (Evergreen) and Western Albemarle (Jefferson). Brentsville placed all five of its runners in the top seven to win the Evergreen, and both Potomac Falls and Western Albemarle placed all seven varsity runners in the top 20 to win their respective district races.

The Judges, led by senior Jim Thomson’s third-place finish in 17 minutes, 26 seconds, won the district and placed five runners in the top 16.

It’s going to take the Judges’ best race to crack the top four at Tuscarora today, but Thomson likes his team’s chances.

“We want to get to states, and I think we’ve got a good shot,” Thomson said.

The Northwestern District teams —from Frederick County and Winchester — have been shut out of the top four at regionals since 2008, and it’s been just as challenging for individuals to qualify by placing in the Top 15 . Only four area runners qualified for state in 2010 and only five advanced last year.

Runners from the Northwestern District compete with the best runners from the Jefferson, Evergreen and Dulles District at Region II, and those districts feature some of the best cross country programs in the state.

Handley’s boys finished eighth and Millbrook’s girls came in ninth, followed by Handley’s girls in 10th at regionals last year.

“The last two years for us has been a rough regional meet,” said Hanldey girls’ coach Emily Budnyk Putt, whose team placed six in the Top 12 to win the district meet last week. “I think the goal is just to run well. Last year we were last. We’re looking forward to just feeling good and going after it.”

Handley’s girls will compete against fellow district champions Tuscarora (Dulles), Brentsville (Evergreen) and Fluvanna (Jefferson).

James Wood senior and Northwestern District runner-up Danny Aldstadt is the only returning state qualifier.

Aldstadt, who took second at the district championship in 17:10, is one of three James Wood qualifiers, including Luke Farinholt (fifth, 17:51) and Andrew Shade (ninth, 18:10).

Even though James Wood narrowly missed qualifying as a team (losing a tiebreaker to Millbrook), Aldstadt said regionals is always a highly competitive race with some of the top runners in the state, including defending Group AA state champion Thomas Madden of Skyline.

“You don’t want to go out [too fast],” Aldstadt said. “Jim [Thomson] and I have been pushing each other all year so we’ve been kind of pacing off that. You just have to run smart and hope everything goes well. We’ve been working hard all year so hopefully that pays off.”

James Wood senior and Northwestern District champion Amber Hawkins could give the district back-to-back girls’ regional champions. Millbrook senior and current Iowa State freshman Crystal Nelson won regionals at Great Meadow last season, and Hawkins will compete against fellow district champion Jackie Deffer of Briar Woods, Kayla Gibbons of Warren County and Nicki Douma of Fluvanna.

“I’d like to win or at least get top three at regions and hopefully top five at states,” Hawkins said. “We’ll see how that goes, but I feel pretty prepared.”

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