There’s something that’s been a goal in the back of Mary Milby’s mind all year.
And as she stood at the start line of the Region 3C cross country championships on Wednesday at Rockingham County Fairgrounds, she realized that goal was in reach.
“I felt a lot more pressure and a little more nervousness, too,” the Spotswood senior said. “When I was standing on that line seeing just how many more people were around me and knowing how many I had to get past to get to the next level, it was exciting.”
Milby, who will continue running next year at James Madison, did just that as she finished sixth with a time of 20:37.4 and was one of two city/county runners to qualify for next week’s Virginia High School Class 3 championships at Green Hill Park in Salem.
Turner Ashby’s Emily Rees, who is also going to the state meet for the first time, punched her ticket with a time of 20:58.5, good enough for a 10th-place finish.
The SHS boys, meanwhile, were led by Aidan Sheahan (17:13.7) and Ethan Duncan (17:19.8) finishing 16th and 17th, but finished third overall as a team behind Western Albemarle (15) — which placed seven of the top eight — and Fort Defiance (102). The Trailblazers boys will move on to the VHSL Class 3 championships as a team with a third-place finish.
The Western girls (35) — led by Sterling Hull as the individual winner — also took home the team title while Liberty Christian Academy (83) and Fort (92) were also top-three.
“I’ve been mentally out of it for the past week or so,” said Sheahan, another senior at SHS. “There was definitely a big barrier there. It was still fun. It was good competition, but not where I wanted to be and I know that’s not where my team wants to be either.”
Milby, who won the Valley District race on Oct. 22 at the fairground in wet conditions, said that she didn’t feel as ready for the regional meet and it showed in her time.
Despite qualifying for the state meet, she said she felt she could have ran better.
“I definitely didn’t feel as good as I did at districts. I was feeling a little heavy, but otherwise, I was OK. I just gave it the best effort I could today. Being familiar with the course has pros and cons. A con is that you get a little complacent when you’re running the same course over and over again and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got this.’ That was kind of the mindset I had going into this and it totally backfired for me obviously.”
For Rees, who was unclear in the immediate aftermath of the race on whether she had qualified or not, reaching the state meet is something she, too, has had her sight on.
“All year long, every race, I’ve been working and practicing for this,” Rees said. “I’ve been using that to push myself to get to states. That means everything to me. Ever since my freshman year, I’ve always wanted to make it. I’ve been unlucky some years.”
Jamie Milby, a junior for the Trailblazers and sister of Mary, was just shy of reaching the state meet as she finished 11th with a time of 21:03.4 while Broadway’s Mia Ryan was the next closest city/county runner after that in 30th place with a time of 21:58.5.
On the boys side, outside of Sheahan and Duncan, Spotswood’s Jacob Amberg (17:35.9) was 22nd, Broadway’s Trevor White (17:50.4) finished 25th, respectively, and William Peters — another runner for the Trailblazers — was 30th with a time of 17:59.4.
“I think I did really well,” Rees said. “I tried to stay closer to the top, so I didn’t give much gap between the other girls. At the end, I really had to push myself. I was neck and neck with some other girls, so I really had to sprint at the end to make the place.”
The SHS boys advanced by winning a tiebreaker over Waynesboro and Sheahan said the Trailblazers will need to have a solid week of practice before heading to states.
“It’ll be a different race,” Milby said. “It’s completely flat. That’ll be a fast course. Hopefully there will be some good times and different from what we’ve been running.”
As for Milby, she no longer has to feel the nerves of reaching her year-long goal of reaching the state meet because she has finally accomplished it.
That means the Spotswood senior can now not worry about the result, what time she has to get to qualify or any other outside factors.
In fact, she said she’s just going to sit back and enjoy it.
“I’m happy about that,” Milby said. “It’s my first time. It’s quite exciting. I’m looking forward to that. I’m just running it to run it. I don’t really know what to expect. Hopefully I’ll just do better than I did last time and have a good time in my last cross country race.”