Coach Julie Bravin is calling it the perfect season. It’s more than just the George Mason High School boys and girls cross country teams finishing in the top spot at the VHSL state meet last Saturday. She says that win is a testament to the teamwork and determination that let the teams hit the ground running right after their finishes at last year’s state meet.
Bravin says that on the bus ride home after the 2010 meet, the girls team, fresh from its third consecutive championship, was looking for a fourth, and the boys team was ready to work to make a fifth-place finish into a first.
“They wanted it so bad they prepared 365 days,” Bravin said.
With six-day-a-week practices over two hours in length, the Mason runners have taken to the bike paths and sidewalks of Falls Church, pushing themselves to be better than the year before. It’s a team effort, said Bravin, who praised team members for their ability to motivate one another to excel.
And excel they did, throughout the regular season, with the girls placing in the top 10 in early invitationals and the boys steadily improving.
An early October invitational at Gettysburg High School in Pennsylvania which saw both teams place first in the small school category foreshadowed what was to come in the postseason.
The postseason winning streak began with the Bull Run District Meet Oct. 26, where the girls team took first and the boys team, struggling without key runners due to injury and illness, took second. The Region B meet a week later saw both the teams in the top spot. On Nov. 12 came the VHSL state meet.
Bravin had separate strategies for the two teams – the boys needed to “start smart,” while the girls needed to start strong on the first mile of the 3.1-mile course, but both teams had to give it all they had in the third mile.
The boys team stuck together, the top five Mason runners finishing only 27 seconds apart. Runners on the girls team, according to senior Michele de Mars, picked out the players to beat and went for it, knowing that a strong finish for the player would mean a strong finish for the team.
“We just stood in a circle telling each other how bad we wanted it,” de Mars said, recalling how the memory of her teammates’ faces in those moments before the race pushed her to succeed.
In the end, the runners completed the course with strong enough finishes to best the 15 other teams from high schools across the state they were up against.
The state win is the fourth in a row for the girls team, but a first for the boys since 1987.
“To have us all on the podium, it was very rewarding,” said de Mars, delighted that both the boys and girls teams could share in the victory.
De Mars placed third (19:42) at the meet, and shares along with seventh-place finisher Eva Estrada (20:13) the distinction of graduating with four state titles. They also earned All-State honors for finishing in the top 15, along with fifth-place junior Julia Estrada (20:04), 10th-place senior Emma Vieillescazes (20:28), and 14th-place freshman Alicia Devereaux (20:37) for the girls team, and junior Jeremy K. Brown for the boys team, who finished 14th (17:16), for a total of six All-State runners. Additionally on the girls team, sophomore Lauren Meinhart placed 23rd (21:13) and junior Hannah Beaman placed 27th (21:18). For the boys team, junior Jesse Schaffer finished 16th (17:18), freshman Jackson Jost finished 17th (17:20), sophomore Paul Sanders finished 30th (17:38), sophomore Austin Gogal finished 34th (17:42), junior Jeremy M. Brown finished 56th (18:15), and senior Paul Henninger finished 77th (18:45).
Bravin says that in the history of the program, never have there been five All-State runners on the girls team, which she says shows they were “never comfortable with their success, and always striving to be the best.”
In looking to the future of the program – which this year will graduate three seniors from the girls starting lineup and one from the boys – de Mars says she will graduate knowing the team will get stronger, and Bravin says that eighth-grade runners are vying for their shot at the team, and current players are ready to take on starting-lineup roles.