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The VHSL realignment means more individuals, yet it could negatively affect some conferences.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Shown battling for second place in the 2012 Group AA state cross country championship, Cave Spring’s Katie Fortner (left) and Blacksburg’s Bonnie Angermeier are two of the top returning runners among all divisions in Virginia.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
As cross country season gets under way each fall, ambitious runners set their sights on a primary goal: reaching the state championship meet.
This November, more runners will be lacing their spikes up at what the runners like to call "States."
The Virginia High School League's realignment into six divisions means there will be six state championship meets this year at Great Meadow, instead of the traditional three meets.
Although the number of teams and individuals competing in each race will be down, the total number of participants will be up.
"It gives more kids a chance to get there," said James DeMarco, whose Blacksburg teams are not only regular participants at the state championships, but regular winners.
Conferences are allowed to establish their own criteria on how many teams and individuals advance to the regionals, of which there will be two: East and West.
The top six teams from each regional, plus the top 10 individual runners whose teams do not advance, will qualify for the state meet.
So the total teams competing at Great Meadow will increase from the previous 48 (four teams each from four regions) to 72.
While the changes will generally increase a runner's chance to make it to The Plains, it could negatively affect certain teams from especially strong conferences.
For example, Conference 32 in Division 3A includes Abingdon, Blacksburg, Cave Spring, Christiansburg, Hidden Valley and Patrick County.
Only two teams will advance to the regional.
"You could have a potential top 10 team at state, or even a top six team, and they might not even get out of the conference," DeMarco said.
Consider the Group AA podium in the girls team race in 2011, which featured a River Ridge District sweep of the podium, with winner Blacksburg followed by Hidden Valley and Christiansburg.
Last year, when Blacksburg repeated, Hidden Valley, Christiansburg and Cave Spring all finished in the top nine.
On the other hand, the new format will help ensure that the top runners from schools that don't have the depth to compete for team titles in a cross country powerhouse conference still have a good shot to advance.
The increase in state championship races necessitated spreading the events over two days.
Divisions 4, 5 and 6 will race on Friday, Nov. 15, with Divisions 1, 2 and 3 racing the next day.
Blacksburg hopes streaks continue
Last fall, Blacksburg's boys teams unleashed one of the more dominant seasons seen in Virginia cross country annals.
In winning its fourth consecutive state team title, the Bruins took four of the race's top six spots, with a fifth runner finishing 14th to also earn all-state honors.
Had the Bruins been pitted against a team consisting of the top five runners not on the Blacksburg team, Blacksburg still would have won the title.
Things will be different this fall.
Blacksburg lost five of its top seven runners from that team to graduation.
"We took a big hit," DeMarco admitted.
Not that the Bruins will be forced to field a squad of newbies.
Junior Noah Combs, fourth at the state meet last fall, is the team's top returner.
Kenneth Hagan was 35th at the state meet, but DeMarco has high hopes for the speedy senior, who had a stellar year on the track last spring that included a 1:52:98 in the 800.
Also figuring into the mix is senior Michael Carter, who missed last cross country season with an injury but who had a strong spring track season that included a best of 4:19.70 in the 1,600.
Jacob McCoy and Flip Bishop round out the team's current top five. Both are also middle distance specialists.
DeMarco said his team's speed and strength is a good start.
"But the ability to run hard for a long time is a talent in itself," DeMarco noted.
While the Bruins boys might have a little mystery about them heading into the season, the same can't be said of the girls.
"The girls are kind of like the boys team last year," DeMarco said. "They're really strong and dominant."
The two-time defending state champs return four of their top five runners from last year's team: all-staters Bonnie Angermeier and Emily Beatty, both juniors, plus junior Jenn Fleming and senior Claire Ewing-Nelson.
The Bruins also will gain the services of incoming freshmen Samantha Marin and Annie Kay Combs, Noah Combs' sister. Both were dominant in J.V. races as eighth graders.
"They're the best freshmen we've ever gotten," DeMarco said.
The Bruins enter the season in the top spot in the Milestat.com Cream of the Crop rankings that encompass all school divisions.
"It's us and a bunch of 6A schools," DeMarco said. "I told the girls it is really flattering."
News and notes
Former Radford University runner and coach Sean Bossman is the new coach at Christiansburg. He takes over for Shane Guynn, who moved up to the Christiansburg athletic director's job. ... At William Byrd, John McPhail is stepping in for Eric Royal, who is backing away this season to focus on teaching recertification courses. McPhail's daughter, Darby McPhail, is a senior Terrier who has taken the Blue Ridge District title the past two seasons. ... William Fleming girls soccer coach Morgan Hill is the new coach for the Colonels, taking over a program headed for years by the late Rudy Dillard. Dillard, who was planning to be an assistant to Hill this fall, died suddenly in July. ... Cave Spring's Dan Seymour, a second-team All Timesland runner last fall and first-teamer as a football kicker, won't run this fall. Seymour, who spent the summer working with renowned kicking coach Doug Blevins in Abingdon, will focus on football. ... Knights coach Tommy McGuire's squad increased by three this summer - in June he and wife Stacie welcomed triplets.
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