While other area Cross Country meets were canceled due to the effects of Tropical Storm Hanna, the George Mason High School team traveled to Gettysburg, Penn. for the annual Gettysburg Invitational Meet.
The Mustangs had 6 runners place in the top 20 of their respective groups, including a second overall finish from freshman phenomenon Natalie Young. The girls team finished second out of 24 Group 2 schools, and the boys finished third in the less competitive Group 3.
Young and her fellow underclassmen stole the show for Mason, posting three of the top ten best times out of a pool of over 180 runners, many of them coming from larger schools. Young finished with a scorching time of 19:23 in her varsity debut, showing that the Mason’s Girls Cross Country team will not have to mourn the absence of former Mason star and recent Notre Dame recruit Susannah Sullivan.
Teammate Courtney Ready was impressed by Young’s showing at the meet. “Natalie did an incredible job in her first meet. She blew away the competition.”
Despite finishing over a minute behind Young’s pace, freshman Eva Estrada and sophomore Mollie Breen also managed to finish in the top ten, with respective times of 20:35 and 20:36. Breen began her second year of what looks to be a promising career at Mason after an impressive start as a freshman, according to Head Coach Julie Braven.
Braven anticipated the debuts of Estrada and Young, after the pair spent their eighth grade Cross Country season torching Junior Varsity competition. Despite their smaller frames, the two girls have combined natural speed with hours of hard work and training to give Mason one of the most dominant freshman duos in the area.
“Eva Estrada and Natalie Young are outstanding,” said Ready. “With this many fast young runners, we are going to do really well at states this year.”
Youth was a running theme for the girls team, as the eighth grade squad finished fourth at Gettysburg, and the JV team placed third in their group.
On the boys team, it was more of the same from their veteran runners. The boys were placed in Group 3 with other schools close to Mason’s size, and fared well as a group.
Out of 104 runners, junior Miles Butler finished 12th with an 18:18 clip. Junior Teddy Rueckert and sophomore Jordan Robarge were just seven and eight seconds respectively off Butler’s pace, but were still separated by two runners. Mason’s next three finishers were senior Daniel Benn, sophomore Matt Baker and junior Nick Smirniotopolous – the trio finished within eight seconds of each other, and took 22nd through 24th places overall.
“We had six of our runners in the top 25, and last year we only had one, which is a really good sign for this year,” said first-year runner Smirniotopolous.
The inclement weather Falls Church received on Saturday was also present in Gettysburg. A steady downpour throughout the morning provided for drenched uniforms and muddy, sometimes slippery surfaces for the runners, and certainly played a role in the way the races ensued.
“Some people were able to use the rain as motivation, while the mud definitely made it harder for others. It’s just a matter of how you’re able to cope with the situation,” said a Mustang runner.
With top four finishes at one of the most competitive events on the schedule, the Mason Cross Country team appears to be stronger than ever across the board. Prodigies on the girls side combined with experience on the boys side became a recipe for success. Following up on Friday’s meet, the team traveled to Rappahannock County this Wednesday in their first meeting with competition in the Bull Run District. Results were unavailable at press time.