A crowded field at Oatlands sweetens winning; Flint Hill volleyball dominates

The Oatlands Invitational was probably too big for its own good.

That seemed to be the consensus after Saturday’s cross country meet in Leesburg, which had more than 1,100 finishers split between the top boys and girls races. And yet, when you place first out of 551 girls, as Herndon senior Gillian Bushée did, there is a point of pride that is inevitable.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect to win,” said Bushée, who finished in 18:14. “Oatlands is the first major meet I’ve won. … Freshman year I got [39th] place, so looking back now that I’ve won it, it’s super cool.”

Several runners said they enjoyed connecting with athletes from so many of the area’s top schools and emphasized how sweet it felt to finally compete in pleasant weather. But the first kilometer sapped some of their goodwill.

“Honestly, the first 60 seconds of the race was scary,” said Potomac School senior Charlie Ortmans, who won the boys race in 15:19. “My main focus there was just not to get engulfed. … But this ranks high [in my career] because I was able to conquer it.”

While it can be difficult for coaches and runners to glean much from a meet as big as Oatland’s, it provides a chance to gauge the depth of their teams. Only four girls’ teams finished with five top-100 runners. Each earned top-four finishes at Oatlands.

“Just the size of it felt like something out of a movie,” Wootton senior Maya Gottesman said. Her team narrowly won for the second week in a row, scoring 213 points, just ahead of Western Albemarle (216). WT Woodson (243) and Tuscarora (257) were third and fourth.

On the boys side, Centennial, led by fourth-place finisher Antonio Camacho-Bucks, finished second behind Blacksburg. St. Albans was third, with junior Pierre Attiogbe finishing third individually.

Before Flint Hills’ 17th Annual Invitational Volleyball Tournament, Micki Murray was focused on one thing: recognition. When playing on a team with several talented hitters committed to Division I schools, it can be difficult for players like Murray, who plays a combination of defensive specialist and outside hitter, to stand out.

“I came into the tournament like, ‘I’m going to get something. I’m going to get the team for the whole tournament, [or] I have to have MVP.’ That was my mentality all morning,” the junior said.

Murray’s hard work helped the Huskies finish first in their pool; they defeated Trinity Christian, Broadneck and Jackson-Reed. Flint Hill then beat Norfolk Academy in the semifinals and Cox in the championship game on Saturday. Flint Hill (15-0) has yet to drop a set this season.

Throughout Saturday, the team’s “fireworks” lived up to her nickname as a constant source of energy. “I’m always screaming and yelling because that’s what brings the energy up,” Murray said. At the end of the day, she received her recognition in the form of the tournament’s MVP award.

Evie Huang, Natalie Nguyen and Sydney Bryant also made the all-tournament team for Flint Hill.

Unlike some of its counterparts, the Bishop McNamara girls soccer program had never traveled entering this year. So in April, coach Dave Mongey and his players raised money for an unforgettable trip.

The Mustangs visited Italy for nine days. They received a blessing from Pope Francis at Easter and saw the statue of David in Florence. They trained with international academies and watched Torino play Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

“The real beauty of it was that it was very football intensive from one aspect and then the other aspect was very cultural,” Mongey said. “We could just be together 24/7.”

After McNamara was banned from many team-bonding activities during the coronavirus pandemic, the trip created cohesion that has fueled the Mustangs’ strong start. The Forestville private school opened with four blowout wins before suffering its first loss against Good Counsel on Thursday.

In 2019, McNamara reached the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinals for the first time. The pandemic halted the Mustangs’ momentum; they finished 2-6 in WCAC play last year. With one player graduating from last season’s team, Mongey figured a trip could be a springboard into this fall.

“They deserve a lot of credit for sticking with it and growing and maturing,” Mongey said, “to be in a position to be able to compete again at the highest level within the WCAC.”

The Bowie Bulldogs have long been at the forefront of football in Prince George’s County as winners of five county championships and a consistent contender at the state level. You might assume that Bowie has a parade of upperclassmen who pick up the torch each fall, cycling in and then out of the privileged position of senior leader.

But the reality is not that simple. As with most programs, roster construction can be uneven for the Bulldogs, and every team is different. The first sign this season might not go as planned came in the preseason opener when returning All-Met first-teamer Kareem Davis went down with an ankle injury.

When the season started, coach Frantz Deetjen realized that his best lineup would consist of five freshmen – more than he had ever started. So far, that risk has paid off. Despite their youth, the Bulldogs are 6-1, with their only loss coming to reigning 4A champion Northwestern.

“They’re holding up. It’s a beautiful thing,” Deetjen said. “This is the first time I can remember having so many [freshman starters] – usually it’s one or two at most.”

The team is led in scoring by a freshman, Anderson Donis, who has seven goals.

For Deetjen, the youth movement required a shift in his coaching mindset.

“My older kids on this team, they know I expect more from them every day,” he said. “With the new students, you have to caress them a little and teach them. … But we are blessed not only to have talented freshmen, but also some great leaders on the roster.”

That leadership becomes more important every day as the calendar approaches October. In Deetjen’s view, September is the time to figure out kinks and October is when you find your form before the postseason.

“The regular season is the preseason,” Deetjen said. “Being a county or league champion is cool, but the only thing that matters is who’s playing right before Thanksgiving.”

While playing for the US Indoor National Team, sophomore Sammie Goin has appeared at many major field hockey events. But it wasn’t until the weekend that she did it with her high school.

Independence High in Ashburn, which opened in 2019, was among schools from 20 states selected to compete in the MAX Field Hockey National Showcase this past weekend in Pennsylvania.

“It was really good for our name,” Goin said.

The Tigers (9-1) defeated Seneca (Tabernacle, NJ), 6-0, then dropped a close 4-2 game against Myers Park (Charlotte).

Elle Patterson, who will be a member of the first graduating class in school history this spring, has seen the program go from having minimal expectations when she was a freshman to competing with the best schools in the country. She is committed to play at Delaware and met some future teammates over the weekend.

The trip to Villanova University was a learning experience that Independence can use as it heads into the postseason. Goin said the team can struggle in high-intensity games, such as the one against Myers Park, giving the Tigers plenty to work on.

In preparation for senior night, St. John’s players posters and gift baskets for their six seniors. But for juniors like Nadia Watkins, this season is about learning how to lead in order to maintain the team’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference dominance in future seasons.

“I’m like a big sister to the sophomores and like a younger sister to the top two players who are seniors,” Watkins said, “which is a nice place to be because next year I’m going to step up and really take on a leadership role .”

With no time to warm up before her doubles match Thursday against rival Elizabeth Seton, Watkins got a crash course in leadership as she worked with senior Eva Doomes to overcome an early deficit. The duo battled windy conditions and nerves to win, 9-7. Watkins then went on to win her singles match, 8-2.

“My freshman year, I was really nervous. I wasn’t too confident,” Watkins said.[Coach Shaun Nguyen] prioritizing mental health, which has really helped me on the field because I’ve gained so much confidence.”

She helped St. John’s to prevail, 6-3, over Seton in a rematch of last year’s WCAC championship game to keep the Cadets undefeated this year.

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