* Thais Rolly is the defending MileStat.com XC Invitational champion
Photo Credit: Mary Ann Magnant
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There are two defending champions looking to grab wins on Saturday. On the girls side, Thais Rolly of McLean (VA) won the elite race last fall and set a new 5K course record in 17:27.
While the Duke commit was looking to have a few races under her belt leading up to Virginia's largest high school cross country invitational, college visits and Hurricane Ian took away some of those opportunities.
This weekend Rolly, an Eastbay Nationals qualifier last year, will debut at the same meet that boosted her confidence for the remainder of the season back in 2021.
Going head-to-head with Rolly will be Maddie Gardiner of The Covenant School (VA), the defending VISAA champion. Last year, Gardiner finished 10 seconds behind Rolly.
* Maddie Gardiner is a contender for the MileStat.com XC Invitational title
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The junior has a few races under her belt this season and could put together a race under 18 minutes for the first time this year. She enters the weekend with a 5K personal best of 17:13 from the Eastbay South Regional from last year. That race qualified her to nationals, much like Rolly.
Then there's Leah Stephens, the Our Lady Of Good Counsel (MD) senior and defending Maryland Private School State champion. She has made noticeable strides this season.
Stephens enters with an undefeated season, which includes two sub-18 minute 5Ks, including a new personal best of 17:21 from the adidas XC Challenge. This was a standout performance for her as she was able to take down one of New York's top athletes by 20 seconds. She also finished seventh in this race a year ago.
Another strong competitor to look out for -- and another Eastbay finalist -- will be Allie Zealand of Lynchburg, Virginia. But she will compete in the community open race due to homeschooling and sanctioning rules.
Zealand has a 17:21 5K best from last season and could put Rolly's course record in jeopardy. So far this year, Zealand owns a season best of 17:49 from the NCRunners Elite XC Invitational.