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Oatlands Invitational: No Ordinary Meet

Potomac Falls impressive on both boys' and girls' side.

Potomac Falls, in one of the biggest regular season cross country competitions of the fall, put together strong races on both the boys' and girls' sides at last Saturday's Fourth Annual Oatlands Invitational in Leesburg. The renowned event, one of the largest high-school meets on the East Coast, consisted of more than 100 schools from Virginia and beyond.

The Potomac Falls boys finished third overall among 48 teams in the elite varsity boys' 'A' race division. Oakton High won the team title, while Robinson High finished second. Both teams are out of the Northern Region.

The Panthers were led by seniors Ryan Hagen (16 minutes, 35 seconds; 16th overall), Josh Hardin (31st overall), Brian Robinson (50th) and Andrew Mott (59th). Junior Alvaro Morales finished 60th overall.

The Panther girls, meanwhile, were a solid 10th place out of 37 teams in the varsity girls' 'A' race. Potomac Falls, without injured No. 1 runner Christina Lee, finished with four girls in the top 100. The overall race field was 260-plus runners.

The Panthers' top finisher was sophomore Melissa Saunders (41st overall), followed by teammates Shannon Brady (64th), a senior, junior Rachel Diniega (78th), freshman Koeley Brady (88th) and sophomore Rachel Hagen (111th).

The Dominion High boys finished 13th overall in the varsity 'A' race. The Titans' top outing came from sophomore J.T. Duke, who was 29th overall. Senior Nick Phillips was Dominion's next top runner and 49th overall.

Competing in such an enormous meet was unsettling for runners if their focus was not sharp.

"It's really scary," Suzanne Rodgers, Potomac Falls senior girls team member, said of the magnitude of the midseason event. "I know when we were at the starting line I looked [at all the competing runners] and said, 'Oh gosh.' It's really a tough course."

Panther senior Kaitlyn Hunter said Potomac Falls has a deep, talented girls' team.

"Our top seven is real competitive," said Hunter. "I think we have a good shot at [winning] districts."

Potomac Falls' girls and boys compete in the Dulles District.

<b>THE TEAM CHAMPION</b> in the 48-schools' varsity boys' 'A' race at Oatlands was Oakton High School (133 points) out of the Northern Region. The Cougars finished ahead of runner-up Robinson (165 points, Northern Region) and third place Potomac Falls (216), out of Loudoun County. Clarke County (328, Berryville, Va.) was fourth and Gonzaga High (331, Washington, D.C.) was fifth. The individual 'A' race champion was Tyler Stutzman (15:44) of Western Albemarle High (Crozet, Va.). The top Northern Virginia-area finisher was Jared Berman of Robinson in Fairfax County.

In the varsity boys' 'B' race, Thomas Jefferson High (Alexandria) was the team champion with 29 points. Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) was second with 117 points. Top local team finishers in the 59-team race were Herndon High (fifth place, 261 points) and Briar Woods (eighth place, 356). The individual champion was Demetri Goutos (16:35) of Saratoga Springs, who finished ahead of Thomas Jefferson runners Alex Witko (second, 16:49) and Logan Gates (third, 16:56). Also for Jefferson, Timmy Galvin was fifth overall and James Wu was seventh. Westfield High's Jack Canatsey was sixth.

<b>ON THE GIRLS' SIDE</b>, Saratoga Springs was the 'A' race team champion with 33 points, finishing ahead of second-place Brentsville (Nokesville) with 206 points and third-place Oakton (218). Other area teams finishing in the top 10 of the 37-team race were fourth-place Osbourn Park (Manassas) and 10th-place Potomac Falls.

Jefferson High, meanwhile, was the varsity girls' 'B' team champion with 52 points. Other area teams to finish in the top 10 in the 47-school race were Westfield (fourth place), Briar Woods (fifth), Yorktown High (seventh) and Centreville (10th). Rachel Grochowski of Chantilly High was the individual champion with a time of 19:43. Jefferson runners Stephanie Marzen, Sarah Stites and Katherine Sheridan finished second, third and ninth, respectively, while Briar Woods' Giana Leone (eighth) and Yorktown's Lindsey Hunt (10th) were also in the top 10.

<b>IT WAS A PICTURESQUE</b>, autumn day at Oatlands Saturday. Thousands of spectators attended the event, which began at 9 a.m. Four junior varsity races were held in the morning, two boys and two girls.

Later in the morning, the four varsity races began, carrying into the afternoon. The 'A' races, for the most part, consisted of the higher caliber runners. Following all eight races — JV and varsity combined — a brief awards presentation took place at around 2:30 p.m. Top-25 finishers in each of the races earned medals.

There were 101 teams, compared to 73 last year, and 4,300 runners on hand for the meet, which has become known as the second leg of the triple crown of Northern Virginia-area high-school cross country. Most of the meets' teams were from Virginia, but guest schools from New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Maryland and Washington, D.C., were also participants.

The host schools for the Oatland Invitational were Loudoun County and Freedom high schools of the Dulles District. The meet organizers were Matt Oblas of Freedom and Derek Farry of Loudoun County.

The mostly grass running course, a 5K layout on the grounds of the historic Leesburg site, was a challenge for most all of the runners. There are several excruciating hills following the first, relatively easy mile. The near picture-perfect course setting includes some wood trails and a couple of creek crossings.