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Young Highlanders Excelling in Cross Country

McLean boys, girls excited for upcoming Liberty District Championships.

The autumn cross country season has been a successful one for the McLean Highlander girls' and boys' teams, both of which are preparing for the upcoming postseason.

The Liberty District Championships are scheduled to take place next Wednesday, Oct. 27 at Burke Lake Park. This week, on Wednesday, Oct. 20, McLean was set to wrap up the regular season at the Liberty District Coaches Festival event, at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston.

McLean head coach Jason Simoni has fielded young varsity squads this season, both on the girls and boys sides. Even so, his teams have competed quite well.

"I only have one senior in my top 10 for both the boys and girls team, so we should be very competitive next year," said Simoni.

McLean's top two girls' runners this season have been sophomores Madalyn Harper and Nancy Eveleigh. Harper enjoyed a strong freshmen season in 2009 and has continued to progress in the sport as a sophomore. Eveleigh, meanwhile, is succeeding in her first year as a cross country runner.

Both Harper and Eveleigh timed under 20 minutes earlier this season on the Burke Lake course.

"I expect strong performances of them at the Liberty District meet," said Simoni, of the two 10th graders.

Simoni is pleased with his other girls' runners as well this season. The McLean girls took second place in the Varsity B race at the Oatlands Invitational several weeks ago in Leesburg. The team, the coach said, has gelled nicely under captains Harper and Katerina Cronmiller.

<b>ON THE BOYS' SIDE</b>, McLean has not had that top, standout runner this season. But coach Simoni is pleased with the way his Highlander boys have competed.

Junior Jason Richards is leading the boys' team.

"He has made huge gains from last year," said Simoni. "He easily broke 17 minutes at Burke Lake earlier this year and should also run well at the Liberty District meet."

The Highlanders have received excellent leadership from senior captain Nick Hedrick.

"Nick has done a great job leading a very young group of varsity runners," said Simoni.

Other key team members have been Eric Leimkuhler, Dylan Johnson and Marcelo Leme, all returning runners from last year, as well as newcomer Bikal Paudel.

"Nick [Hedrick] will be graduating next year but I am pleased with the development of the boys' team and a group of freshmen and sophomores that will be moving up to fight for his spot," said the coach.

Those runners include freshman Mac Howard, sophomore Kevin Hwang and Alex Hedrick, who is Nick's younger brother.

Coach Simoni loves the work ethic, team improvement and positive attitude he has seen from his teams this season. He and the Highlanders are looking for good things to come in the postseason district and Northern Region races coming up. The top four girls and boys' teams at districts will qualify for the following week's Northern Region Championships.

"Overall I am very pleased with the dedication and hard work of my team," he said. "The girls are up against a very strong Liberty District group. T.J.[Thomas Jefferson] and Langley look like they should be one and two. I believe that we will be competing with Stone Bridge and Madison for the next two positions. I am hopeful that the girls' team will make it to the regional meet."

The boys' district field could be up for grabs.

"The boys meet seems to be up in the air," said Simoni. "Without a true front runner it will be difficult for the boys to advance to the regional race. However, it is not out of the question."