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Tiller’s Cougars are Cross Country Champions Once Again

Oakton boys, behind McCullen, win another Concorde title. Lanie Smith leads Cougar girls to a second place showing.

Phil Tiller’s Oakton High boys’ cross country team continued its dominance at the Concorde District Championships with another first place finish last Thursday afternoon at Burke Lake Park.

The Cougars, with 35 points, won the postseason meet for the fifth straight year, finishing well ahead of second place finisher Centreville (61 points) on the hilly, 2.98-mile course. Both Oakton and Centreville will advance to this Thursday’s Northern Region championships at Burke Lake. Also advancing to regionals from the Concorde will be Herndon (65), which was third at districts, and Chantilly (78), which was fourth.

“It was really a nice day for us,” said Oakton ninth year head coach Phil Tiller, of the Oakton boys’ showing at districts. “We really went in with the expectations of winning. My team is at the point these years where we’re always going for the late season win.”

For a number of Oakton’s senior runners, the first place district finish was their fourth as members of the powerful program.

“None of them has ever lost [at districts],” said Tiller. “They haven’t had that bitter taste.”

Tiller said he received numerous phone calls, e-mails during the week leading up to districts from former Oakton runners who wanted to wish the coach and his team best wishes for another big district showing.

“They’d say, `Go get ‘em, good luck,’ or they’d want me to tell the guys `Great job.’

It’s just a great tradition here,” said Tiller. “Our guys did not want to be the first class to let [the district banner] go. They’re all about keeping the streak alive.”

Leading the way for Oakton was senior Andrew McCullen, who captured his first-ever individual district crown with a time of 15 minutes, nine seconds.

“He really had an outstanding day,” said Tiller.

McCullen finished ahead of Chantilly’s Christopher Foley (15:14), who was second, and third place Yazid Zouaimia (15:16) of Centreville. Oakton’s Patrick Fulghum (15:41) was fourth overall and Herndon’s Jack Jasper (15:54) was fifth.

Oakton’s last individual district boys’ champion prior to McCullen was Joe LoRusso, who finished first at districts in both his junior (2006) and senior (2007) years.

Tiller credited Fulghum, Oakton’s No. 2 runner throughout the season, with running well alone. He was well behind the top three runners but well ahead of fifth place Jasper and the rest of the field.

“He ran the entire race alone,” said Tiller. “He was 20 seconds behind the leaders and 20 seconds ahead of fifth. 15:41 is a very good time for him.”

In all, Oakton had six runners among the top 20 and four in the top seven. Along with LoRusso and Fulghum’s outstanding runs, the Cougars received stellar showings from sixth place Matt Woodhouse, seventh place Padriac Flynn, 17th place James Caracoglia and 20th place Patrick Eberhart. Andrew Larkin finished a solid 24th.

“Having four of the top seven [finishers] really put the icing on the cake for us,” said Tiller, of Oakton’s ability to win the team title with relative ease.

<b>WHILE THE OAKTON BOYS</b> were champions, the Cougar girls put together a pretty nice showing themselves with a second place team finish behind champion Robinson (41 points). Oakton (56) earned second place honors ahead of third place Centreville (75) and fourth place Herndon (88).

Lanie Smith of Oakton was the individual girls’ champion, finishing with a time of 18:34, ahead of Robinson’s Taylor Crosson (18:37) and Chantilly’s Rachel Grochowski (18:46).

“It was very nice to see Lanie Smith win,” said Tiller. “She’s the first female champion for us in a few years.”

Other good outings for Oakton came from Alison Gregor and Jessie Daley, who were 11th and 12th, respectively; Kathryn Berlin (14th); and Oshin Shukla (18th). Morgan Bayer and Kristi Carrigan finished 29th and 32nd.

Tiller said Robinson gained control of the race early last week and never relinquished it.

“The gun went off and they dictated what would happen,” said Tiller, of the two-time defending district champion Rams. “We’ll learn from watching this and be ready for regionals.”

A year ago, following a disappointing third place finish at districts, the Oakton girls went on to earn second place at regionals.