St Michael’s. St. Christopher's. Veritas. Collegiate, Saint Bridget and St. Catherine’s.
They and other private schools clustered heavily near the top of the finishing orders of the JV cross country races held Oct. 24 at The Collegiate School.
But the presence of one particular public school couldn’t be missed in either of those races. Because that school – across both JV events – was the best overall.
That school was Powhatan Middle.
“We were a little excited, just to say the least,” said head middle school cross country coach Jean Wood. “It was a lot of joyful cheering and yelling going on. It was very exciting, no question – and especially…to see so many of our runners place in the top 20 or better.”
Powhatan Middle School’s first-ever team victories in both the boys’ and girls’ JV races at The Collegiate School – also the last meet of the school’s 2019 cross country season – weren’t just about those shimmering, historic moments in time. It was also about the culmination of the efforts of the runners who made notable strides and encouraged one another to reach where they arrived.
“Having worked with most of those students with the exception of our new sixth graders in the previous years – really fantastic to see so much growth in their running,” Wood said.
“And I think the coolest part was seeing the other kids that either weren’t running or finished get excited for the other runners, too,” said assistant coach Justin Watts. “There was very much a team component to that.”
Leading into the finale, high marks in 2019 had already been achieved. The boys’ team ran second in the Milestat.com invite at Pole Green Park, as well as third in the Fork Union cross country invitational. And then the girls delivered their best collective result of the year with that final race.
Longtime runners improved, newcomers impressed and the group overall excelled. Kaitlyn Rissmeyer, typically the girls' team’s fastest runner and has been for years, jumped up from 19th to a team-leading fourth (22:36.35). Eastan Weber, who wasn’t with the team last year, capped a season in which she was consistently one of Powhatan’s fastest runners with a sixth place run (23:00.98). Sally Smartschan signified a bright future with her 12th place finish (23:29.77) and Aleah Burnett, who’s been with the group for years, improved from 26th to 17th (24:08.76). Another longtime runner, Ella Green, made massive gains, rocketing all the way up from 49th place to 22nd. Powhatan’s five runners in the top 22 propelled the group from last year’s fifth place finish to the team title ahead of runner-up St. Bridget, 61-75.
In the boys’ race, Powhatan saw five runners capture positions in the top ten to help elevate the team from last year’s fourth-place result to a resounding first, 27-78 ahead of St. Christopher's. Standout sixth grader Dylan Mapes – “he is somebody to watch, no question…he has been crushing it all season,” Wood said – rolled out a fifth-place time of 19:35.13.
And once again – in comparing last year to this year – improvements for the returners were vast.
Chase Babb, who stepped up and has been a fantastic leader, cheerleader, encourager and motivator this season according to his coaches, made monster strides with a mountain-climbing-type improvement from 64th to 11th (20:54.24). Ian Timmons, who like his older brother Gavin is a leader on his cross country team both with his character and his run times, elevated himself from 31st to ninth (20:32.93). River Leynes powered all the way from 39th to eighth (20:00.25). Luca Blevins skyrocketed from 34th to fourth (19:33.45).
And Kyle Marsh, the individual boys’ race champion who turned in the top time of 17:36.07, improved from 18th last year to first this year.
But where he placed – and even the time he ran – took a backseat to what he showed his coaches, the other teams’ coaches and the spectators in that home stretch. It was a display that, to Wood, “was even more spectacular than the time itself.”
Watts saw it for himself. He had placed himself a couple hundred meters before the finish to give the runners that last bit of motivation. He saw the lead runner, who was ahead of Marsh at the time by maybe a foot or so, unexpectedly take a turn to start running outside the fence – “the goal was: you’re supposed to stay on the inside of the fence,” Watts noted – and almost the first step he took outside, Marsh got a nice lead on the runner.
And then Marsh stopped in his tracks, turned around, ran back to get the opposing runner and said, "No dude, it’s this way" according to Watts, and the two started running together.
Even on that last stretch, they were running head-to-head. It was at the very end that Marsh, with a final burst of speed, passed the runner – St. Michael’s Brady Scioscia (17:36.76) – to win by a narrow margin of .69 hundredths of a second.
“That was a spectacular finish,” said Wood, who had positioned herself right at the end – and that was even without her knowing what had transpired moments earlier.
So when Wood met Marsh at the end of the shoot – before she could even shake his hand and give him a congratulatory hug – the other coach from St. Michael’s, she said, “was just all over himself with what fantastic sportsmanship he had witnessed.”
“Just made it that much sweeter.”
Wood sees big things in the future for their runners, whom she also praised as coachable.
"These groups that we've been taking to the invitational meets have that intrinsic motivation," she added. "They're out there running in the morning. They're running at home. If it's raining and we don't have practice, they go home and run. You can't teach that."
Throughout Powhatan Middle School Cross Country’s memorable season, parent volunteer Michelle Clancy was at “pretty much every practice” according to Wood. She was a major help to the 40-runner program’s two coaches, especially considering when Coach Wood, recovering from an injury, was not able to go out on the trails.
“Without her, the kids wouldn’t have been able to get out there on the trails quite as much,” Wood said.