CARY, N.C. - Two months ago, Tatnall's girls cross country team wrestled the Southeast’s No. 1 ranking away from Collins Hill with a sixth-runner, tie-breaking victory at the McDonald’s X-Country Festival at Maymont Park in Richmond, Va.
Tatnall - albeit running as Wilmington (Del.) XC - strengthened its hold on the top spot on Saturday by overwhelming Collins Hill (aka, Suwanee XC), 45-72 for the NXN Southeast championship title. The schools will continue their battle at Nike Cross Nationals this weekend in Portland, Ore.
It will mark the third consecutive trip to nationals for Tatnall, which has spent the season laying waste to the competition with a tightly-knit five-pack that has designs on improving last year’s 12th-place finish.
Cool temperatures and a fast surface provided Tatnall with near-perfect conditions racing conditions over the 5-kilometer WakeMed Soccer complex course.
“After we saw the first two races (Saturday) and we saw how well our kids ran in the boys race - and we had a bunch of PRs in the open race for girls - we walked into the tent (and told the girls), ‘Hey this is the day for PRs. This is a fast course, take it to them,’” said Castagno, the school's cross country coach, who was on hand to watch the team he had guided through the Delaware State meet before handing the reins to honorary coach Rick Fehr for the postseason competitions. “At the mile point our three girls were leading with a very fast mile times. They were aggressive and went after it.
“We really weren’t letting anyone else get in the way of what we were trying to do and that was to get to Oregon.”
About the only thing Tatnall failed to do was make off with top individual honors. Those went to Collins Hill’s Amanda Winslow (17:34), who seized control of the race near the midway point and finished nine seconds in front of runner-up Madeline Morgan (Mountain Brook/Bama XC Club).
Unlike the Sept. 26 meeting at Maymont - which was decided when Tatnall’s Katie Oldham edged Collins Hill’s Sydney Williams by four spots to break the tie - Tatnall’s front-end strength overwhelmed the Georgia power.
In something of a mild upset, Kaitlin Buenaga (3rd, 17:47) led her Tatnall teammates Juliet Bottorff (6th, 17:56) and Haley Pierce (7th, 18:06) across the finish line in front of Collins Hill’s second runner, Nicky Akande (8th, 18:06) and Vicky Winslow (12th, 18:16).
Tatnall turned a five-point edge after three finishers into a rout as Kallie Fehr (13th, 18:17) and Molly Parsons (16th, 18:23) were in recovery mode before Collins Hill’s fourth runner could get to the finish line.
It was a convincing victory in an evenly-matched race between two teams had not raced since their respective Nov. 8 state meets.
“It was good,” Castagno said of the break. “You also have to time that properly. … It’s sometimes hard to play it. Mentally, the biggest thing was to take the intensity off the kids for two or three weeks, come here and get back up again.
“High school kids can only do that so many times and they’re fried.”
While Tatnall and Collins Hill get to carry their competition forward to Portland, Morgan, Midlothian’s Kathleetn Lautzenheiser (4th, 17:48), Science Hill’s Allie Scalf (5th, 17:53), Blacksburg’s Allison Homer (9th, 18:09) and Community School of Naples’ Erika Fluehr (10th, 18:11) earned individual berths to the championship.
In the boys race, Melbourne (Fla.) junior Brian Atkinson (15:11) captured individual honors, while Virginia powerhouse Jamestown rode the finish of Colin Hearns (6th, 15:26) and Andrew Colley (7th, 15:33) to the team title over local entry Capital District, 115-155.