WINCHESTER — A year ago, the James Wood girls’ cross country team missed qualifying for the Class 4 state meet by just four points.
But on Thursday, James Wood simply would not be denied at the Region 4C meet at Kernstown Battlefield.
The Colonels took second place with 74 points to finish behind only defending state champion Loudoun Valley’s 32 points to qualify for state competition for the first time since 1986. Led by runner-up Madison Murphy, Millbrook grabbed the third and final state-qualifying spot with 98 points at the eight-team meet. Sherando was sixth with 138 points.
A week ago at the Class 4 Northwestern District meet, it was the Colonels who finished 27 points behind district champion Millbrook, this after James Wood entered the postseason by taking third to Millbrook’s sixth at the Pioneers’ Third Battle Invitational to close the regular season.
James Wood senior Kenzie Konyar felt the disappointment of not winning the district title at Fairview Park in Woodstock had a lot to do with Thursday’s impressive performance.
“Honestly, I think it helped us losing last week,” said Konyar, who placed seventh in 19 minutes and 25 seconds on the 3.1-mile Kernstown course. “It put a chip on our shoulder and gave us some more motivation. We knew what we were up against, and we definitely came out stronger today.”
Konyar participated individually at the Class 4 state meet location of Great Meadow in The Plains each of the first three years of her career. When Konyar takes the course on Nov. 16 for the Class 4 state meet, it will be the first time more than one of her teammates will join her.
“There’s no words to describe the feeling,” said Konyar while standing underneath the James Wood tent as the drizzle that first started during the boys’ race — the second of the day — began to fall a little harder. “The girls’ team alone hasn’t been to states in 33 years, and the last time the boys’ and girls’ went to states, it’s not on record. [James Wood officials] don’t know if that’s ever happened.
“So doing this today is an amazing feeling. Knowing how hard we’ve worked all season, you can’t [approporiately] put it into words.”
Led by sophomore Lauren Beatty, James Wood had four girls place in the top 20. Beatty (sixth in 19:23.9) and Konyar earned all-region honors for placing in the top 10, and they were followed by sophomore Elena Farinholt (19th in 20:28.9), freshman Quetzali Angel-Perez (20th in 20:29.6) and sophomore Isabella Newman (32nd in 21:18.2).
“I felt so strong today, and I knew my team was behind me,” said Beatty, who was the No. 2 runner out of the Northwestern District on Thursday after placing fifth at last week’s district meet. “I was just so confident in them. We were just so hyped up before the race, and that just helped propel me. I just knew that I had to give it my all for my team today.”
James Wood coach Mike Onda said the girls definitely raised their performance from the district meet.
“We had a much tighter pack,” Onda said. “They were closer together, much faster. Everybody just really ran well and nobody had a bad race.
“I’m just really happy they were able to [make the state meet]. They deserve it.”
Millbrook’s scoring runners on Thursday were Murphy (18:27.9, 4.2 seconds behind Broad Run senior Ellie Desmond) and the sophomore quartet of Lina Guerrero (10th in 19:55.8), Becca Edlich (16th in 20:26.5), Maria Mejia Villalon (41st in 21:48.7) and Angela Dojcak (42nd in 21:50.2).
As he watched the race, Pioneers coach Kevin Shirk wasn’t sure his team would advance to its third consecutive state meet. The Pioneers edged Tuscarora (103) by just five points.
“I thought we could finish anywhere from second to fourth,” Shirk said. “We had a mixture of good days and bad days. It was kind of the opposite of last week where we were strong at 4 and 5. We kind of slipped a little bit at 4 and 5 today. I’m grateful to make it through.”
Shirk might not have known what place his team would finish, but he knew he could count on a low score from Murphy. The freshman set a PR on the challenging Kernstown course by engaging in a three-way battle over the last two miles with Desmond, last year’s Class 5 state runner-up, and Loudoun Valley junior Ricky Fetterolf, the defending Class 4 state champion.
Murphy said Desmond eventually took the lead for good with about a mile to go, but Murphy showed she too is one of the state’s top contenders, charging hard to pass Fetterolf in the final 200 meters.
“I knew today was going to be a tough race,” Murphy said. “I knew [Desmond and Fetterolf] were going to push extremely hard on this course today. I wanted to try and stick with them.
“When I fell back a little bit, I knew it wasn’t the end. I knew I could keep on going and add more endurance in, and have a really strong finish down the hill.”
Sherando was led by freshman Eva Winston (18th in 20:28.8). Handley did not qualify for regionals as a team but the Judges were paced by senior Kendall Felix (29th in 21:10.1).
For more coverage of Thursday’s meet, see Saturday’s edition.