LEBANON, Va. – It was domination and a perfect score on a perfect day for a run.
Virginia High senior Kelsey Harrington continued her remarkable season, breaking her own course record by winning the Region 2D girls championship at Lebanon Primary School on a beautiful Wednesday morning at Lebanon Primary School.
Harrington finished in a record time of 17:15.60, even impressing Lebanon senior Jessey Ball, who placed second in 20:37.30.
“She is really good. Just to see her that far ahead it is like ‘Wow’,’” said Ball, who won the Class 2 state championship as a freshman. “I could be up there if I really worked for it. It is just amazing. It is just amazing to watch her.”
It wasn’t a surprise. Harrington has had an unbeaten season to date, while breaking the course record in every event but one, that being on a scorching 95-degree day at Steele Creek Park last month.
“It is amazing what she did today with no one near her,” Virginia High cross country coach Josh Shuler said. “Your next place person is probably three minutes behind her. That is an incredibly fast time for this course. This is a hard course, a lot of hills and it is going to be exciting to see what she does at state and moving on from there at Foot Locker.”
Harrington started in front and never let up, leading the Bearcats to a second place team finish, just four points behind team champion Union.
“It was pretty good. The weather was great and I just like the atmosphere. It was good,” said Harrington, who won the Southwest District meet on the same course on a miserable weather day last week. “I don’t think it was the weather}. I think I just put it in my mind and the training with my coach because he puts in a lot of work.
“I feel like that helped, and then knowing that we want to be region title champs, putting that in my head. That kind of made it where I want to run harder.”
Not only did the Union girls finish on top, led by Sydney Ball, who finished fourth in 21:49.40, but the Bears also won the boys championship with a perfect team score of 15, paced by Tanner Cusano, who crossed the finish line in 16:45.90. His teammate, Jacob Mullins, was second in 17:32.90.
“I felt pretty good until this hill right here that really hurt, but I tried to push through it, came out with the win, just really pleased with how the team did today. It was incredible,” said Cusano, who was pleasantly surprised that the Bears had the top five finishers and seven of the top eight, with the only non-Union boy mixed in being John Battle’s Andrew Smith, who placed sixth. “We were considering it, but we really had to execute to get it done. I am really proud of the whole team…
“The key was to know how good you are, don’t hold back. One thing our coach always tells us is not to hold back and none of us held back today and we did really good.”
Union coach Mark Castle, who earned Region 2D boys and girls coach of the year honors, was all smiles after the Bears won both titles for the second year in a row.
“We are excited. This is an amazing bunch of kids. We are just tickled to death for them, we really are,” Castle said. “I have been doing this for a while. Even coming into today it wasn’t even a thought in our mind trying to get a perfect score.
“We have had a special group because this year our focus from the beginning has kind of been just controlling ourselves. We can’t worry about who is next door, we can’t worry about state, region or conference. We just have got to get better as a unit and as a group and fight that stopwatch and be a family. That is what they have done.”
The Union girls finished with 68 points, four points ahead of Virginia High’s 72. The Caruso-led boys finished with a perfect 15 points, well ahead of Tazewell, who finished with 95.
“I ran a lot, but I was hurt for a long time so I didn’t really get to achieve any of my goals,” said Caruso, the Region 2D boys runner of the year, who was raised in California. “When I came out here I was fresh and ready to go and I am achieving some of those goals now….
“One goal coming into the season was to break 16 minutes} and the biggest goal right now is to win state as a team and do as well as I can as an individual.”
Virginia High had a solid team day as well, with the girls finishing second and the boys coming in third, just four points behind second place Tazewell. The Bearcat boys were led by Corbin Birt, who placed 15th. Tazewell’s top finisher was Jacob Dowell in 14th.
“We are pretty pleased. We didn’t finish the job quite the way we wanted to on the girls side, but the girls ran really well, they ran their hearts out and it just wasn’t our day to win it,” Shuler said. “We can’t be too unhappy with a runner-up finish, with Kelsey running the way she did and breaking her own course record.
“It was a good day overall. We are definitely proud of both the boys and girls. It has been a long time since we qualified both teams for state.”
The top three boys and girls teams and the top five boys and girls not on those teams qualified for the Class 2 state meet slated to be held at Green Hill Park in Salem, which will host the Class 1-3 events next Saturday, the first time those meets haven’t been held at Great Meadow in Washington, D.C. in 25 years. Classes 4-6 will continue to be held there.
Harrington, who won the 1600 and 3200 meter runs at the Class 2 state track meet last May, now has her eyes on the biggest prize for high school cross country in Virginia. Her only previous appearance in state competition came as a freshman, finishing 22nd, the same meet that saw Ball finished first.
It feels pretty good,” said Ball, who will make her fourth straight state cross country appearance. “Like last week Kelsey was really out there. She makes me want to try hard, but I am proud of myself getting second. It has been rough this season. I have been trying to get under 20 minutes} and I have only done it once.
“I have been working, I have been pushing. I didn’t get it today, but I am really proud of how I did.”
Harrington, who set the course record in Salem during the Knights Crossing Invitational held earlier this season, has her goals set. Why not aim high.
“Just try to beat the time I ran there at the beginning of the year, which was 17:13 and just win the 2A state championship,” said Harrington, who was named Region 2D girls runner of the year.
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