- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Southern Maryland Athletic Conference cross country meet the previous week provided the perfect indication of how Thursday’s Class 3A South Region Championships would unfold for the cream of the crop.
The regional meet’s best individuals and teams also headlined the 3A South field at the SMAC gathering, as both postseason competitions trekked the course of Oak Ridge Park in Hughesville.
Thomas Stone seniors Brendan Johnson (16 minutes 14 seconds) and Rachel Halmon (20:26) turned in the fastest boys and girls times to capture acclaim as regional champions, each comfortably crossing the finish line well ahead of the pack by 19 and eight seconds, respectively.
Johnson continued his dominating campaign that included a perfect regular season versus SMAC competition and boasting the league meet title.
Female teammate Halmon was sixth at the SMAC meet behind five runners from other regions, as the 3A South bragging rights resulted in the middle-distance track standout’s first postseason title of any kind in cross country.
“I went out a little bit slower than last week and it felt pretty easy after the first mile,” Johnson said after bettering his SMAC first-place time by four seconds on the same course. “It gives me a lot of confidence going into states. It was easier to run today because it was cooler temperatures. Last week [at SMAC] was like 80 degrees. But the terrain, when it’s soggy like this, it’s harder to run at a fast pace because the ground doesn’t give you as much back.”
Halmon added, “I didn’t know that I was going to be the favorite [at this regional meet based on the SMAC results]. Last year I ran cross country but I wasn’t that competitive. I came in 10th in regionals last year. Last year at SMAC, I didn’t even come in the top 15. This [regional title] is like a building block for me for indoor [track season in the winter]. I knew I could win but you never know what other schools’ [runners] are going to do.”
Like the boys and girls individual champions, the region’s top teams also won with relative ease.
The Northern boys claimed their fifth straight regional championship after just missing the SMAC meet crown the week before, settling for runner-up by a tiebreaker to North Point of the 4A East. With 29 points, the Northern boys easily surpassed second-place Stone’s 65 at the 3A South meet.
Led by runner-up Justin Cerrito, who also finished right behind Johnson at the SMAC meet, the Northern boys featured five of the region’s top nine finishers.
The Huntingtown girls also ran away with regional team gold, posting 26 points with all five of their scoring runners capturing spots among the top eight. The Northern girls finished a distant second with 50.
“I don’t think today was my best, but [Johnson] ran a great race and I can’t fault him for that,” Cerrito said after his 16:33 finish, making for a bit of a bittersweet day for him given his team’s top output offset his inability to overcome Johnson. “It’s a nice little [regional title] streak we like to keep going [as a team]. We knew who our competition was, and we knew we had a strong chance to win if we went out and ran our race that we would come through.”
Northern boys teammate Scott Carpenter finished third in the field in 17:02.
“I thought everyone ran well [on our team],” he said. “It was great to see everybody come out and run as well as we did. Coming into the race, we knew we had a pretty good chance of placing well. I think that kind of pushed us and contributed to the win.”
Huntingtown freshmen phenoms Hannah Russell and Bridgett Redding paced their girls squad to the regional banner. Russell’s 20:34 was good enough for runner-up individually, while Redding was seven seconds behind in third.
“It’s really exciting to see how our whole team is doing so good. We’ve been working so hard for this,” Russell said. “We’ve all wanted [the regional team title] all season. This is what we’ve been training for. The coaches have been pushing us really hard. It feels really good to come out as regional champs.”
Redding added, “[Being freshmen like Russell and me] raises your self-confidence because you know the seniors are going to be gone next year [in the SMAC and region]. I think [our team] is going to be better next year, and we’re going to have a shot at winning this again next year. As the season has went along, we’ve really improved a lot.
“It’s pretty good that there are no seniors on the team so we’re all going to be moving forward together next year.”
Johnson’s only losses individually this season came against competition outside the SMAC at invitationals.
The Stone star finished second at the Track and Trail Invitational in Fair Hill, just a few seconds behind a West Virginia product on Sept. 15.
One week later at the famed Bull Run Invitational in Parkton, Johnson was third behind a pair of Maryland stellar runners that will vie for a state title.
Johnson expects to be in contention for the 3A state title as one of the top 10 in an elite field.
“I wouldn’t be giving myself a chance if I didn’t say I could win states,” he said. “I think I can win states. I have to be having a right day. If it’s my day, I know I can win it.”
The 3A state meet is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday (boys) and 11:30 a.m. Saturday (girls) at Hereford High School in Baltimore County.