WINCHESTER — Another week, another sweep.
The Millbrook girls’ cross country team won its third straight Judges Classic on Saturday at Kernstown Battlefield, then the Pioneer boys followed a half-hour later by winning the event for the first time in the team’s 17-year history.
The Pioneer girls won by 11 points over runner-up James Wood (80-91) and the boys won by 21 points over No. 2 Rock Ridge (62-83) at the 14-team event one week after each team handily won the season-opening 22-team Central Invitational in Woodstock.
Not a bad start for a girls’ team that lost five of last year’s top seven runners and a boys’ team that lost six of its top seven.
Success for the Millbrook girls so early isn’t entirely surprising. Most of the girls were on last year’s team that placed first in the Class 4 Northwestern District, second in Region 4C and third in Class 4.
The Pioneers still feature one of the state’s best runners in sophomore Lina Guerrero (one place away from all-state honors last year, third on Saturday) and they added a talented freshman in Madison Murphy (second in 19:54.4 over the 3.1-mile course on Saturday, six-tenths of a second ahead of Guerrero). Murphy — who holds the No. 1 time in the history of the Kids Bloomin’ Mile — finished second to Skyline freshman Ava Bordner (19:49.8).
Millbrook’s boys, however, came into the year with the least big-meet experience of the top five teams in the Class 4 Northwestern District. But that clearly hasn’t mattered so far.
“They’re just a good, hard-working group of kids, really,” Millbrook coach Kevin Shirk said. “I know that we lost six of our top seven from last year, but most of them have put in about a year of good, solid, hard work [in our program], aside from the freshmen who came in. It’s probably misleading just looking at last year’s cross country season because they had good track seasons in winter and spring and worked hard all summer. Just kind of seeing the payoff from all that hard work now.
“Still, I didn’t really expect [this type of] success right off the bat this year. It’s nice. I was hoping we’d come on late and maybe beat some people as we got close to the district meet. This is a good position to be in, too. I like it.”
In the boys’ meet, James Wood was the next top local team, taking fourth with 121 points. Handley, led by senior meet runner-up Grayson Westfall (17:01.9, 10 seconds behind Rock Ridge senior Ronan Stone, 16:51.8) placed fifth with 139 points and Clarke County was 13th with 332.
Millbrook’s scoring five runners were senior Silas Schroer (fourth in 17:20), sophomore Carter Johnson (sixth in 17:25.2), senior Christopher Simonelli (13th in 17:42.5), junior Chance Crosen (17th in 17:55.4) and freshman Peyton Comins (22nd in 18:05.2).
Schroer was Millbrook’s No. 7 runner at last year’s district meet, but this year he’s running like someone who could be the No. 1 for a lot of teams. One week after beating 2018 Winchester Star Runner of the Year James Harris of Sherando at the Central meet, Schroer only finished behind Westfall among local runners on Saturday.
Schroer finished 39 seconds ahead of his time from last year’s Judges Classic.
“I’ve been injured the past three years,” said Schroer, who added that he had iliotibial band problems his freshman and sophomore years and had an Achilles injury last year. “This is the only year that I’ve been healthy through the whole summer. The consistent training is what’s really helping me.”
Schroer’s strategy on Saturday was to latch on to Handley’s Westfall and Bennett Cupps after finishing well behind both of them last year. Schroer was behind both of those runners at the 1.75-mile mark and went on to pass Cupps.
Before it was announced that Millbrook had won its second title in two weeks, Schroer expressed just how impressed he was with Millbrook’s start to the season.
“We’re completely crushing our expectations,” Schroer said. “To be able to bring in almost a whole new varsity crew and do what we’re doing is great. We have really good chemistry. We do a lot of training runs together. We’re just really good friends, and I think that definitely helps on the course.”
Led by sophomore Nathaniel Woshner (eighth in 17:33.8), James Wood had three runners place in the top 25. The Colonels were also paced by sophomore Liam McDonald (20th in 18:03.9) and junior Chris White (24th in 18:09.6).
In taking second, Westfall moved up nine places and improved by 12 seconds from last year’s Judges Classic.
“The main thing here is just to keep a steady pace and stick with it the best you can,” Westfall said. “I’m really satisfied with what I did today. It doesn’t need to be first place for me to be happy with my performance.”
Handley coach Mark Stickley said Wesftfall had ample reason to like what he did.
“He ran really well,” Stickley said. “He’s running really hard, he’s training hard. He looked great. I didn’t get to see the finish, but he was right there, battling. He’s worked so hard over the last four years, and it’s so nice to see him getting some payoff and having a good race like that today. It would have been nice to win, but you can’t be disappointed with second.”
The Judges were also led by Cupps (seventh in 17:30.4) and sophomore Ryan Stickley (27th in 18:15.1).
Clarke County’s top finish came from freshman Ben Fulmer (35th in 18:32.7).
The Millbrook girls had one freshman and four sophomores record scoring performances on Saturday. After Murphy and Guerrero, Millbrook was led by Becca Edlich (24th in 22:03.6), Maria Mejia Villalon (25th in 22:04.9) and Cailey Johnson (31st in 22:21.1).
“The girls have stepped up their training,” Shirk said. “I know the intensity of their runs has gotten a little bit better. They’ve gotten a little bit faster just from their training runs. They’re just a good solid group of talented girls. They work really well together as well, especially that sophomore class. And having Madison Murphy come in right off the bat and succeed. She’s running great. I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg for her yet. I think she has a ways to go.”
Murphy certainly got the job done Saturday. There was no catching Skyline’s Bordner after she took the lead about halfway through the race following James Wood senior Kenzie Konyar’s strong start, but Murphy and Guerrero worked well off each other, with Murphy overcoming a slight deficit with her closing sprint.
Murphy said her top 5K time in middle school was a 22:07, so she’s taking to competing against high school competition well.
“I ran this course in middle school,” Murphy said. “I was worried about all the hills, and how that was going to play into my run. So I was very surprised with my time.”
Murphy said the support she’s received from her teammates has helped with her quick success.
“Everyone’s just so nice and so encouraging,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what your skill level is. Everyone’s just always there for each other. That’s what I like most about this team. That’s one of the main reasons I was excited to join.”
Guerrero thought she could have done better, but she still ran 45 seconds faster than she did at last year’s Judges Classic. Guerrero was plenty excited about the team’s performance, though.
“We really worked for it today,” she said. “We did amazing. I think we all did well. I definitely think this team could do what last year’s team did. I miss those girls, they were great, but I really like what this team is capable of.”
James Wood definitely had a strong performance as well with four runners in the top 20. Konyar led the way by finishing fifth (20:32.5) and she was followed by sophomore Lauren Beatty (14th in 21:25.7), freshman Quetzali Angel-Perez (18th in 21:50.8) and sophomore Elena Farinholt (20th in 21:54.7).
“I think they ran real well,” James Wood coach Mike Onda said. “We had a nice tight pack and beat girls this week that we were behind last week. They ran real well.
“Quetzi is running real strong for a freshman. We’re really happy with her performance. She’s a good competitor who trains hard, races hard.”
Handley (sixth with 153 points) had three runners place in the top 25 — senior Tori Stanford (16th in 21:25.3), senior Kendall Felix (19th in 21:51.9) and freshman Sarah Roberson (23rd in 22:00).
Clarke County’s top performance came from returning all-state runner Sydney Jacobson, a sophomore who placed 40th in 22:31.8. The Eagles placed 13th with 320 points.
For more coverage on Saturday’s meet, see Tuesday’s edition of The Winchester Star.