It’s easy for runners at the annual Oatlands Invitational cross country extravaganza to get caught up into the moment and enormity of the event regarded as one of the largest such meets on the east coast.
With one-hundred-and-one schools represented at last Saturday’s mid-season meet extravaganza, held on the Oatlands’ 5K course in Leesburg, simply keeping one’s focus could be a difficult task for runners. So the best way for athletes to protect themselves from being inhibited or overwhelmed by all of their racing peers and the surroundings as a whole was to focus on `team.’ Afterall, cross country is considered a true team sport. At Oatlands, the top five members from respective schools to cross the finish line counted towards the teams’ overall score.
"When you’re on the starting line, you notice how [big the racing field] is," said Yorktown High junior boys’ runner Dylan McGowan. "You are sort of racing for yourself [in one regard], but you want to check on your teammates too."
McGowan, a junior, was Yorktown’s top finisher (55th overall) in the varsity boys’ `B’ race consisting of 400-plus runners.
The Oatlands course has a relatively easy first mile before two enormous hills highlight the middle to latter part of the race trek.
"It’s endless hills," said McGowan. "At the beginning, you’re thinking it will be a fast race. But in the second and third miles it’s hills."
But McGowan, who timed at 18 minutes, one second, persevered and put together a strong run.
His teammates who also scored for the Patriots, in order of finish on the team ladder, were senior John Papavisas, sophomore Joe Hager, junior Henry Resing and junior Phil Garretson.
Earlier last week at the Monroe Parker Invitational meet on Sept. 30, McGowan, who a year ago finished 11th overall at the National District championships, finished 40th overall in a field of 223 runners on the Burke Lake course.
<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 20the 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 on Saturday. Thousands of spectators attended the event, which began at 9 a.m. Four JV 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. 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.
The Oatlands extravaganza is considered the largest high school meet in Virginia and one of the largest on the east coast. 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 (South Riding) 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.