Washington County is as primed as maybe it’s ever been for the Maryland State Cross Country Championships, which will be held Saturday at Hereford High School.
Three county runners enter as West region champs and strong title contenders — Williamsport senior Evan Hardy (2A boys), Smithsburg junior Luke Daigneault (1A boys) and Boonsboro junior Sarah Zielinski (1A girls).
Hardy, who finished third as a sophomore and second as a junior at states in 1A, has one final shot at the gold, but this time in 2A.
“He hates losing,” Williamsport coach Randy Buchman said. “I think everyone would say he’s the favorite to win, but nobody is going to give it to him. There will be some guys chasing him, guys who won’t just roll over. We’ll see.”
If Hardy has a target on his back, then so does Winters Mill, the two-time defending 2A boys team champ. Williamsport has finished second to Winters Mill in all three of their meetings this season, mostly recently at last week’s region meet.
“Winters Mill is strong. Their top five is just really quality,” Williamsport coach Randy Buchman said. “But if somewhere they falter, we think we might be able to sneak up on them.”
Between the pressure of the state meet and the grueling hills on Hereford’s infamous 3-mile course, even the swiftest of runners sometimes crumble.
“Anything can happen at Hereford,” Boonsboro coach Becky Walter said. “It’s a tough course, and it comes down to which team is the toughest and which individual is the toughest.”
Walter hopes she has both, as the Zielinski-led Warriors are aiming to win Boonsboro’s first 1A girls team title since 1995.
While the Warriors only finished third at last week’s region meet at Smithsburg, they competed without two of their top runners — Kortney Cunningham and Ella Hawkins — who had to play soccer for Boonsboro that day instead. But the Warriors’ soccer season is over, and their cross country team should be at full strength Saturday.
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“I like what I see right now on paper,” said Walter, whose girls were county champs this year for the first time since 1995. “On paper, I have us coming out on top. But races are run for a reason.”
The team to beat is Bohemia Manor, which has won the last three 1A girls state titles.
“They’re the defending state champs, they’ve got the experience and they always show up ready to race,” Walter said. “We could potentially have two or three girls in before their first girl. It’s basically going to come down to whose fifth girl comes in first.”
Zielinski is hoping to finish first overall. She led last year’s state race early, before fading to a 10th-place finish.
Smithsburg senior Lauren Johnson is the county’s top returnee after her fourth-place finish last year.
“I want to win. It would be really cool to win,” Zielinski said. “It will be close between me and Lauren Johnson, and Bohemia Manor has some good girls and there are other good girls. ... I just have to not make really dumb mistakes.”
Smithsburg’s Daigneault is the No. 2 overall returnee in the 1A boys race after his ninth-place finish last year. Bohemia Manor’s Ryan Pfarr, who placed third last year, is the top returnee.
In their one race against each other this season, which was at Hereford at the Bull Run Invitational in September, Pfarr finished more than a minute ahead of Daigneault.
“I was very sick that day,” the Smithsburg junior said. “I had a fever.”
Daigneault’s victory at last week’s region race on his home course has helped restore his confidence. He’s ready to try to win at Hereford.
“I definitely think after this that it’s a definite possibility,” he said after winning the region title.
Smithsburg and Boonsboro both will have complete boys and girls team competing Saturday.
The North Hagerstown girls and South Hagerstown boys will have complete teams in Class 3A.
The North girls, who finished second in their region race last week at Thomas Johnson, have a pair of frontrunners in sophomore Emily Ward and senior Emily Simmons.
The South boys, competing as a team at states for the first time since the 1970s, have a medal (top-25) contender in junior Bryan Durboraw.