Chantilly High School senior Chris Foley’s victory at the Monroe Parker Invitational on Sept. 13 looked easy on paper, but his 10-second margin of victory doesn’t reflect the true story of this year’s season-opening cross-country race.
"In the second mile I couldn't really keep up with [Natnael Meseret] on the hills," the reigning Monroe Parker Invitational champion said of the 2.98-mile race at Burke Lake Park. "It was a tough pace."
At the race’s mid-point, Foley trailed Lee High School's Meseret and Centreville High School's Yazid Zouaimia in a tight battle for first. When the runners disappeared from the crowd's sight, Foley was third.
Foley jostled his way past Meseret and Zouaimia during a critical downhill stretch to take a lead he would hold to the finish line to complete the course in 15:04.
"When I was coming down the downhill stretch to the half-mile-to-go marker, I was confident I could [win]," he said. "I had 15 meters and I knew then I could hold it.
The race wasn't just won in the final stages, Foley said, but early on as the three runners fought back and forth for the lead.
"We did most of our battling in the first mile," he said.
While pleased with Foley’s victory in the season-opening race, his coaches are looking ahead.
"[Foley] wants to go to the state championship this year," Head Coach Matt Gilchrist said. "He won this [race] last year and he wanted to defend it, but what matters is later in the year [at regionals]."
Foley's victory was the highlight of the Chargers' day at Burke Lake. Gilchrist acknowledged the course wasn't the hardest his team would see, but said it did present an early challenge.
"It's got a little of everything and it's a fast course," Gilchrist said. "You just have to know your limits and when to fly. We'll learn from this and get better for future races."
Chantilly's boys team finished in 14th place. The girls team finished ninth with senior Rachel Grochowski leading the Chargers with a time of 18:46 for sixth-place overall finish.
Westfield High School also competed at the event with the boys team finishing 19th place in the team competition. The girls team did not post a score for the team competition.
"It was a good way to start the season," Westfield Head Coach Kelly Deegan said. "It's a great place for the kids to find out what they need to improve upon."
Westfield's top runners were senior Eric Mitchell, who finished 73rd with a time of 17:13, and junior Brianna Berling, who finished 54th with 20:23.
As the Bulldogs look to become more competitive in the Concorde District in cross country, Deegan knows it's going to take more work to reach that goal.
"We've got to keep working," she said. "There's no magic formula [to improving at cross country]. We just have to keep working hard."