Men’s Cross Country Wins MAC Title; Women 6th in ISL

GDS’ men’s varsity team poses for photos after winning the MAC championships. Photos by Kaiden J. Yu.

The GDS men’s cross country team swept all three Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference championship races, winning the varsity title for the first time since 2014 to end Sidwell Friends’ five-year streak. The women’s team placed sixth in both the Varsity A and B races of the Independent School League.

The championship meet of the MAC and the ISL—along with the Interstate Athletic Conference, which St. Albans dominated—took place on Saturday, Oct. 30 on a five-kilometer course at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. 17 schools competed in the event, and GDS runners participated in five races over the course of the afternoon.

Head coach Anthony Belber said in an interview with the Bit the next day, “We had athletes who worked well together, individuals who pushed themselves to execute great races and a team attitude which was confident, hungry and focused.” He added, “The GDS men’s and women’s teams racing so well seems a fitting cap to a fantastic season.”

In the MAC varsity race, GDS’ first five runners, whose places are combined to produce the team score, all finished in the top ten, with the next two in the top twenty. GDS as a team won with a total of 31 points to Sidwell’s 59. The individual winner was Charlie Ortmans of the Potomac School, who finished in 15:45, over a minute ahead of the next fastest runner.

GDS junior Luke Cohen, who finished third in the Varsity A race with a time of 17:08, said winning the MAC banner “means a lot. I’m really proud of everyone. This whole season was for this one moment.” 

Volunteer coach Matt Simonson ’04 told the Bit, “No one expected our varsity boys to win so decisively, if at all.” He added, “For the men’s team, the day was one long, virtuous cycle, a chain reaction of enthusiasm and achievement.”

91 runners, representing 13 scoring teams, competed in the ISL Varsity A race. Sophomore Ellie Kessler, GDS’ fastest finisher, placed sixth with a time of 20:39, leading the team to a sixth-place score of 129. “It was honestly one of the most fun experiences I’ve had racing so far,” freshman Audrey Leff, who ran in the varsity race, said.

Simonson said of the women’s team, “It’s easy to forget that—due to COVID—only one of our varsity seven had ever run in a high school race before this year.” 

(The Augur Bit’s editors-in-chief, senior Seth Riker and junior Ethan Wolin, and its Sports editors, seniors Sophie Axelrod and Shai Dweck, are members of the cross country team. Bit faculty advisor Julia Fisher is an assistant coach.)

Freshmen Audrey Leff and Sadie Boyle run through the creek during the women’s varsity race.

The cross country team had raced on the same course the week before at the Skip Grant Invitational. The course includes several hills and a creek crossing and was muddied slightly for championships by rain the previous day. “Since I knew the course already,” Leff said, “I set goals for myself for this race that helped me run a lot better.”

GDS started the day with a victory in the MAC freshman/sophomore race, reserved for each school’s seven best underclassmen boys not in the varsity race. Freshman Mac Penniman won the race with a time of 18:30, passing a St. Albans runner in the final stretch to beat the combined IAC and MAC field. All seven GDS runners finished in the top fifteen of the MAC.

Next was the ISL Varsity B race (so called because the leagues do not hold junior-varsity championships). GDS’ 11 runners came in sixth among the seven scoring teams.

“It was a great race,” freshman Layla Coyne said after finishing. “Everyone was working their hardest and it paid off.”

GDS’ 35 runners comprised over a third of the field in the MAC Varsity B race that followed. Junior Liam Zeilinger came in second overall with a time of 18:53. When asked how he felt immediately after the race, he said, “Is it bad if I say tired? I’m just really proud of this whole team, and everyone working as hard as they do.” Continuing its sweep, GDS won the race with 30 points, ahead of Sidwell’s 44.

Head coach Anthony Belber addresses the team at the end of the meet.

Following the awards ceremony, Belber spoke to his team. “I’m so proud of everyone here,” he said. “This is why I coach—seeing everyone fight and work together.” He finished by counting the team down to its signature motto, by then familiar to everyone on the team: “Run good!”

The cross country team will compete next Saturday, Nov. 6, in its last race of the season, the District of Columbia State Athletic Association championships at Kenilworth Park in D.C.

CLARIFICATION (Nov. 1 at 6:45 p.m.): This article has been adjusted to clarify that 13 teams with five or more athletes scored in the ISL Varsity A race. Runners representing two other schools also competed in the race.

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