One program extended its reign over Maryland cross country while another reached a long-pursued goal.
The Severna Park cross country teams began the day with strong races and ended the day sharing the stage and beaming for photos as both the Falcon boys and girls captured 4A state championships at Hereford High School on November 10.
Severna Park’s boys captured their second consecutive state championship and fifth in the last seven seasons. Severna Park’s girls won the state for the first time since 2009 and the sixth time in program history.
Falcon runner Cara Vandemeulebroecke said the girls have watched the success of the Severna Park boys over the years and were primed to join their peers atop Maryland. “We’re one big team, so now we can just share it together,” said Vandemeulebroecke.
Severna Park’s girls progressed steadily in recent seasons before reaching the state’s pinnacle, taking sixth in Maryland in 2015, fifth in 2016 and second in 2017.
At this year’s state meet they had to overcome separate instances of in-race adversity to capture the crown. The Falcons were 200 yards into the race and had emerged from the treacherous bottleneck near the starting line with a race-leading pack when a false start was called, and the entire field was called back to the starting line.
On the restart, the Falcons’ pack was pinched and separated at the bottleneck. No. 2 runner Kelsie O’Neill, a major contributor to the Falcons’ successful season, had to drop out midway through the race.
Still, the Falcons persisted and put together a winning total of 102 to eclipse Howard (125) and rival Broadneck (128) in the 21-school, 149-runner field. Alyssa Combs fronted Severna Park’s effort, placing fourth in 19:22.34. Kamryn Eveleth (16th), Bella Dowdell (23rd), Cameron Zaniker (24th) and Vandemeulebroecke (35th) contributed to the winning total, with Caroline Gage (41st) also running a strong race.
South River’s Bronwyn Patterson was the individual 4A champion in 19:06.19 and helped the Seahawks to eighth place. Broadneck’s Anna Janke (seventh), Mollie Fenn (ninth), Madison Palmer (27th), Brooke Quillen (37th), Grace Denius (49th) and Lilah Sage (62nd) gave the Bruins a solid team finish.
But the Falcons owned the day.
“The big thing was having the girls believe they can do it,” said head coach Josh Alcombright. “We knew that we could do this all season, and it took them just believing it.”
O’Neill admitted that the Bruins’ victory at the county championship was a motivating factor for the Falcons to come back and win the 4A East region championship over Broadneck at Arundel on November 1 and the state on November 10.
“It’s really nice to win the state championship, but it was a battle throughout the championship season with Broadneck, and we kind of underestimated them at the county meet,” she said. “Now, beating them is great. I’m glad they did well too.”
Eveleth said the state title is a culmination of her running career, which aligned with the program’s year-over-year ascent.
“I’ve been running for all four years, I’m a senior, this is my last states, we came in second last year, and it just feels great to know that we won,” said Eveleth. “I’ve been wanting this for years.”
On the boys side, the Falcons continued their superb season and rebooted a dynasty. Severna Park won three straight titles from 2012 to 2014 before runner-up finishes to Dulaney in 2015 and 2016.
With titles in 2017 and 2018, Severna Park is back on top of Maryland, and the Falcons did it again this year in dominant fashion.
The finishes of Garrison Clark (fourth place in 16:02.63), Sam Martin (fifth in 16:20.41), Jake Gelfand (eighth), Nick Engelman (16th) and Nathan Vandemeulebroecke (19th) ensured a team total of 45 that far outpaced runner-up Northwood (105) and third-place Dulaney (157). The finishes of Matthew Bateman (23rd) and Nick Benedict (28th) would have still ensured a team championship for the Falcons in the 25-school, 177-runner field.
Northwood’s Obsaa Feda won the 4A race in 15:44.05. Sam Keeny of South River was the county’s top finisher, taking third in 16:02.39. Spencer Tate was Broadneck’s top finisher, taking eighth in 16:27.57.
Gelfand extolled the depth of the Falcons, who boast 20 runners who regularly achieve sub-18-minute times on 3.1-mile courses.
“It’s great for the team,” said Gelfand. “Our depth, we go probably 20-deep sub-18, and it’s just that kind of pushing that goes all the way up and makes us a better team overall.”
Engelman said the group benefits from a culture of inclusion and accountability, where no one is above the group.
“Coach A has done a really good job of making everyone feel like they’re just as important as another,” Engelman said. “Just because you’re first on this team, you’re not treated any differently. That’s what I love about it. No matter what place you are, you still feel just as important.”
Martin said the Falcons run with a mentality focused on team-wide performance.
“I think it’s the fact that we’re all together,” Martin said. “It’s one team. From the bottom up, everyone is pushing each other. You’re not just out there running for yourself. You’re running for the person next to you, the person behind you, the person in front of you, the person who may not even be in the same race as you, you’re just running together as one team, and you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for the next person on your team.”
Alcombright praised the combined efforts of coaches Justin Marvel, Jane Herschelman, Brian Szydlik, Krista Fisher and now-retired Elmer McPhail, the latter of whom was in attendance for the state championship races.
Alcombright also credited support of his family as well as the parents and families of the students in helping the success of the program.
Said Alcombright, “It’s a big family, and it takes everyone to do it.”