Yazid Zouaimia didn't have enough time to be disappointed about where he stood with the Northern Region's top runners during the Northern Region Finals on Nov. 5.
As runners from Chantilly High School, Oakton High School and Fairfax continued to pull away, leaving the Centreville High School runner in fourth place, Zouaimia knew he couldn't let disappointment get in the way of his team's goals.
"I knew we had a shot at making [the State Finals] as a team," Zouaimia said. "So I knew the best I could do was hold on to fourth place and help the team out."
But as the end of the race drew nearer, Zouaimia began to hear the panting and footsteps of Robert E. Lee's Natnael Meseret behind him, challenging his fourth-place position.
"I saw [Meseret] closing in on me," he said. "I could see him in the corner of my eye coming at me hard."
As Meseret began to make up ground, Zouaimia quickly switched his mindset into defending fourth place as if it were first.
"[Meseret] started sprinting and then my instincts went in," he said. "I started going as fast as I could. I went to my fourth gear. I didn't want to disappoint my team."
The extra effort to hold on to what many runners would consider a disappointing position surprised Zouaimia.
"I wasn't expecting to be holding on to fourth place at the beginning of the race," he said.
Zouaimia joked that this race was the hardest he'd ever had to work for fourth place.
But as the two runners charged to the finish line, Zouaimia was able to hold off Meseret and clinch fourth overall.
What might seem like a disappointing finish would become one of the reasons Zouaimia’s team qualified for the Virginia AAA State Finals at The Plains, Va., for the first time since 1994.
"It's huge for us," Centreville head coach Kelley Devlin said. "This is history making for us. We haven't had a boys' cross country team advance to the State Finals [for awhile]."
The Wildcat runners weren't just boosted by Zouaimia finish, but also by the team's depth which included strong performances from Bobby Kelly and Mattson Heiner.
Bobby Kelly finished in 18th place with a time of 16:00 and Mattson Heiner finished 21st with a time of 16:03.
"We have a lot of depth on this team," Devlin said. "We don't have to rely on any one runner."
The depth didn't just come naturally. Devlin said that the boys' team's strong sense of camaraderie and hard work has allowed the team to achieve its goals.
"These are strong mature guys who know that they could accomplish this goal," Devlin said. "It's just their amazing work ethic. They work together on days when there isn't practice scheduled. They're passionate about bringing success to Centreville."
Devlin said that her team's depth was the difference maker, as the Wildcats finished in fourth place with an average team time of 16:08.
Devlin also credited first-year cross country runner Joey Hannah helping contribute to the team's success.
Hannah, a baseball player, joined the team to work on conditioning but didn't realize the large role he would play this season for the cross country team.
"I didn't really know what to expect coming into the season," Hannah said. "But I've had a blast and I'm proud to say I'm on the first team to go to States."
The Wildcats advance to the Virginia AAA State Finals held at The Plains, Va., on Nov. 14.