A magical season concluded was topped with a fairytale ending last Saturday afternoon for the George Mason High School Girls Cross Country team as it captured its first-ever state title at Great Meadows.
It was a fitting end to a remarkable fall for a team that burst onto the scene just this year. After winning the Bull Run district for the first time in team history they placed first at the regional meet just a week later in what was also their first Regional title. Then, this weekend, they capped it all off with a third victory at the Virginia state meet.
“It was a history-making season,” said veteran Head Coach Julie Bravin. “[This] was the first time we’ve had a girls team win anything big like this.”
For the third consecutive week, Mason was led by a third-place finish from freshman Natalie Young, along with a fifth spot from Eva Estrada, also a freshman. Young and Estrada were separated by just five seconds with times of 19:22 and 19:27, respectively. Young was only topped by Megan Marsico, a junior from Glenvar, and Sophia Holmes of district rival Clarke County. Both Young and Estrada were among the All-State qualifiers, each of whom pulled a hat trick in the honors arena- All-District, All-Region and All-State.
Other notable runners for Mason were sophomore Mollie Breen, freshman Leah Roth, junior Courtney Ready, freshman Michele De Mars and junior Brandie Arredondo. Breen placed fifteenth, rounding out the All-State members – one of three from Mason. Roth missed the cut for All-State by a mere 18 seconds with a time of 20:44, but helped the team out with a solid 17th place overall.
Ready, De Mars and Arredondo all turned in gutsy performances at Great Meadows, despite the fact that each had separate ailments which could have easily kept them from running. Ready placed 23rd out of 113, with De Mars at 27th and Arredondo placing 35th. According to Bravin, Ready and Arredondo were sick while De Mars was suffering from a leg injury and was reportedly in a great deal of pain throughout the race. Bravin noted that overcoming the extra challenges is something that many other runners were also dealing with, and that the scattered nicks and bruises on key runners probably made the race tighter than it otherwise would have been.
Like Regionals, the race once again came down to a very slim margin between Mason and Clarke. The point margin between first and second was one the smallest ever, as Mason pulled it off thanks to solid races across the board while the Clarke runners ended up with only three more points.
Nonetheless, it was a two-team race the entire way. Though Mason and Clarke were separated by just three points, third-place Radford was a spec in the rearview mirror of the top two schools, finishing 44 points behind Clarke.
Coach Bravin said that the Altoona Invitational, a race that took place in mid-September, was the first time she realized the type of potential this team had and that her optimism just grew throughout the season. Surprisingly-high finishes at meets with the best competition in the area also helped built character throughout the team, giving them more and more to feed of off as the season went on. “We knew we had a chance [all along] but we knew it wouldn’t come easy,” expressed Coach Bravin.
She also noted that the team peaked at the perfect time, continually running their best races each week in the postseason.
Despite having already earned the title of 2008 State Champions, the team believes they have a lot to look forward to. The same group will be returning in ’09 fully loaded, including three All-State runners and two more All-Regions. The team will likely be heavy favorites to return to states next year and for years to come. The two dominant freshmen, Young and Estrada, have three more years of eligibility and Mason is stockpiled with talent at the JV level with reason to believe they will continue to compete for state titles for years to come.