Many teams hope to bond throughout the season and become one much like a family. The Chopticon cross country team doesn’t really have to do that this year as much of the team is a family.
Out of 30 runners on both the boys and girls teams, 11 are siblings from five different families. That has led by plenty of competition as the Braves prepare for the 2017 season, which is scheduled to begin Saturday with the Seahawk Invitational at South River High School in Anne Arundel County.
“They’re competing against each other, which is healthy and they push each other and they do extra outside of practice to get ready because they want to beat their own sibling,” said Chopticon head coach Kelly Schmidt, who is entering her fourth season. “They’re all very competitive. It’s pretty neat.”
Chopticon has three Weddings; Colin, a senior, and his freshman twin brothers, Jeff and Zach as well as senior Bethany Prettyman and her sophomore sister Sara. Junior Nick Gagnon runs alongside his freshman sister Nadia and junior Tyler Modrzjewski is joined by his sister, Jenna, a freshman. Sophomore Blake Davis and his freshman brother Brandon are also on the team.
“They’re freshmen and I’m a senior, but they’re pretty much better than me already,” Colin Wedding said of his brothers. “[Dinnertime is] interesting because we keep challenging and keep dogging on each other.”
“It can be healthy, but it can be annoying sometimes,” Zach Wedding said as he glanced over at Jeff.
Jeff Wedding, who is 26 minutes older than Zach, said three brothers on the same team is “definitely competitive because we’re always trying to do better than the other.”
Bethany and Sara Prettyman are used to being challenged as they are just 2 of 10 children in the family, which includes six boys and four girls.
“We’re the two youngest, so most of our lives we’ve been competing with older kids,” Bethany said, “but it’s a lot of fun.”
“She’s older so she’s allowed to be faster,” said Sara Prettyman, the youngest of the clan. “I probably will eventually [catch up to her], but right now, no. Is there smack talk? On the course? No. At home. Yes. [We used to debate who had] bragging rights but not as much as we used to because ever since we got on the team we’re forced to hang out with each other. I have to deal with her.”
The Braves will rely on siblings, as well as inexperience as 16 of Chopticon’s 30 runners are freshmen. Seven of Chopticon’s top 14 runners — seven each for boys and girls — will be freshmen and nine will be underclassmen.
“It’s exciting because we have a building ground and we can build up from here and up over the next four years,” Schmidt said. “We were worried because we lost some key athletes, but then we got these great athletes that came in. They’ve come in and they’re willing to work and they don’t complain and they’re excited and they seem like they’re a team already. We’re going to work them and get them to where we need them to be by the end of the season.”
“I’m really impressed with all the freshmen this year, [especially] their effort and not knowing what they were getting into this year after middle school,” Chopticon senior Makenzie VanDevander said. “And just their times are impressive.”
Teammate Jenna Bell, a junior, added, “We just have to focus on [them] learning the skills that come along with running, [but] we’re doing a really good job of [running as a team] so far.”
Last year, the boys were 5-7-1 overall and placed seventh at the SMAC and Class 4A East Region championships. The girls won 8 of 13 regular season meets and were sixth and ninth, respectively, in the postseason meets.
Tyler Modrzjewski was fifth at SMAC (16 minutes 59.87 seconds), seventh at regionals (17:37.90) and was the Braves’ lone state championships representative when he placed 15th in 16:49.53.
Chopticon, which will compete in the 3A this season, has revamped its course to include eight hills — four hills twice each, something the Braves excel in. Both teams are hoping to qualify for the state championships, something the Braves have not done since 2014.
“We’re looking pretty strong so far,” said Modrzjewski, who was the 2016 All-County boys cross country Athlete of the Year and will be the Braves’ No. 1 runner this season. “[The newcomers] look super strong, they look like me when I was a freshman, so I’m going to push them as hard as I push myself.”
“I think we have a pretty good chance to do well this season,” said Colin Wedding, who is projected to be the No. 5 runner. “We just need to practice and push ourselves to our limits.”