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Sept. 16, 2009

Cross country girls dominate Gaithersburg

by Anya Gosine, Online Managing, Op/Ed and Food Editor
WHEATON REGIONAL PARK, Sept. 15

As they broke in their new home course at Wheaton Regional Park, Blair cross country proved formidable against Gaithersburg in their first dual divisional meet of the season. For the girls (1-0-0), juniors Jennifer Sholar and Theresa Ragen and sophomores Myla Sapp and Kathryn Klett finished in the top seven. Though the boys lost, junior captains Gabriel Pollak and Jeremy Ardanuy and juniors Anthony Curcio and Connor Dowd were able to clinch high rankings.

The biggest challenge for the girls was Gaithersburg runner Abby Spitler, who ranked second in the county competition last year. Spitler easily stole first place at the meet, but the Blair girls kept in a close pack behind her throughout the race, which enabled them to reach the finish right on her heels. "The Gaithersburg girls were not very deep, but we were able to keep together as a pack," coach James Demma said. Sholar, who placed second overall, kept close to Spitler at the beginning of the race before she fell behind. "I was up with her for the first mile, but after that she moved ahead and I just tried to run my best," Sholar said.

At the end of the boys' race, excitement and intense competition erupted when runners from both schools accelerated as they closed in on the finish line. While the Blair boys couldn't quite snag first place, they ran a very close race.

The experience of competing on their home course for the first time posed difficulties for Blazer runners. The team had practiced on location only once before the meet, and Demma was initially uncertain about how the team would perform. "It's like an experiment," he said before the race began.

But as the runners finished, Demma realized the course had a slightly negative effect on Blazer times. "We looked much slower today," he said.

To overcome the difficulty of adjusting to an unfamiliar course, some runners developed special tactics to propel them through their first meet. At the beginning, Pollak focused on running ahead of the others so he could reach the trail first. "My strategy was to get out fast," Pollak said. In contrast, Ragen utilized the many uphills to move ahead of her opponents. "I'm stronger on the uphills, so I tried to pass others there to increase the distance between us, then recover on the downhill," she said. This strategizing was effective for Ragen, and she recognized the importance of such planning. "It was still our first time [on the course], so we didn't really have the home field advantage," she said.

Another weakness was the absences of junior captain Peter Leonard and senior captain Jan Nguyen, who were unable to race because of sickness and injury.

Despite the challenges, the meet was a welcome opportunity for first-time runners to adjust to the competitive atmosphere, according to Pollak. "It was good for getting new runners into the racing experience," he said. Demma recognized that this was an important aspect of the meet because the young team will face tough opponents in the weeks ahead. "We have many fast and new runners, but they're not experienced enough yet," he said. "We just moved up from Division III, so we're facing much tougher schools in Division II."

While the team was not victorious, Pollak was happy with the Blazers' performance overall. "I was really proud of the team for staying positive even though we have a tough home course," he said. "It makes cross country really fun and rewarding."

Cross Country's next home meet is Wednesay, Sept. 30 against Wooton at 3:30 p.m.
Editor's note: Jennifer Sholar is a staff writer for Silver Chips Print.



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