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County girls put best feet forward

November 09, 2003|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

The queens of Maryland small-school girls cross country live in Washington County.

Following Saturday's efforts at the state cross country championships at Hereford High School in Parkton, they should be reclining in their thrones.

North Hagerstown senior Jessica Hanlin captured the Class 2A crown, Clear Spring junior Ashley Lockard took home the Class 1A title and Williamsport won its second straight Class 1A team championship.

"It was fun," said sophomore Theresa Ruland, who led the Wildcats with her third-place finish. "We took everything in stride, literally."

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Hanlin's victory was a surprise. Two weeks ago, she finished seventh at the county meet.

"Beginning of the season, I wasn't even placing in many races," said Hanlin, who placed 10th at states last year. "I was at the back of the back, it felt like. It's just been a steady improvement.

"I really wanted it badly, but I didn't honestly think it could happen," she said. "There are a lot of great girls out there."

She beat them all Saturday, covering Hereford's notoriously hilly three-mile course in 20 minutes, 22 seconds - 7 seconds ahead of runner-up Alison Smith of Atholton.

"I went in without any strategy," Hanlin said, "except to relax the first mile."

She took over the lead around the one-mile mark and never surrendered it, holding off the hard-charging Smith down the stretch.

"She was coming. I could feel it," Hanlin said. "I just desperately tried to hang on, praying I could keep it up."

The Class 1A finish was even tighter. Lockard won in 20:03, while Westmar's Jennifer Patton took second in 20:07.

Lockard - who cruised to wins at the MVAL Antietam Conference, county and West region championships - didn't have it so easy at states. The Blazers' first-year cross country runner sat on Patton's shoulder for nearly two miles before surging ahead by a few strides, which proved to be an insurmountable distance.

"It was just hard. I didn't expect her to be that close, not at all," Lockard said. "She pushed me really hard and held on."

No team was within striking distance of the Williamsport girls, who took five of the top 16 places for a winning score of 35 points - 30 fewer than second-place Loch Raven and 18 fewer than their winning total last year.

The Wildcats won with an all-freshman top five last season. This year, they did it with the same five, now sophomores - Ruland (third, 20:48), Laura Forsythe (sixth, 21:16), Makenna Hardy (ninth, 21:32), Kristin Berry (13th, 22:04) and Amanda Breeden (16th, 22:10).

"Honestly, I didn't expect five in the top 16. It was a little better than I hoped for," Williamsport coach Randy Buchman said. "Theresa and Laura ran their typically consistent races ... and Kristin, pound for pound, maybe had the best day."

There may be even better days ahead for the young Wildcats. Buchman has been talking about "the dynasty" since last year.

"The girls laugh at my dynasty talk," Buchman said. "But I do feel a responsibility of maintaining for them a compelling vision for the future years."

For now, they can just wear the crown, once they get used to how it fits again. Countless miles of training tend to blur the time and space between seasons.

"When we were freshmen, I couldn't see this. This year, I couldn't even see this," Forsythe said. "Now, it's finally here. It doesn't set in for a while."

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