Strength in Numbers: AHS boys win state title; Helmers wins individual, leads girls to runner-up

Albemarle’s boys cross country team had to wait a long time to find out they’d won. There was a mad scramble in the aftermath of the race, with coaches checking Twitter and for updates. Coach Adrian Lorenzoni’s cell phone batter gave out and he commandeered an athlete’s phone.


“It was like 25 minutes,” said Albemarle runner Mark Pellissier. “But once it was official, I just started screaming, we were breaking down.”


A lot of programs talk about running as a pack but nobody lived it Friday quite like Albemarle’s boys cross country team.


With five finishers between 20th and 32nd and all five finishing within just 19 seconds of one another in the Class 5A state title race at Great Meadow in The Plains, Albemarle won the boys team state title, the first team state title in program history. Albemarle edged out by just six points a Deep Run squad that finished as the runner-up despite individual champion Zachary Levet.


Winning 95-101, the Patriots wrapped up the win with Harris Naseh taking 20th overall, Pellissier taking 22nd, Josh Fard finishing 26th, Cutter Hutson finishing 30th and J.D. MacKnight taking 32nd. Each runner’s point total didn’t reflect their point total as 10 runners in the top 31 ran as individuals, but the total of 95 was enough to hold off Deep Run. Albemarle had two other runners, Samuel Tamblre in 38th and Will Mackenzie in 41st finish in the top 50.


“This started in the summer, getting training runs in at Darden Towe,” Fard said. “We’ve just done everything as a team.”


Seven runners executed as a pack for Albemarle, which is no easy task as it requires coordination and discipline from every runner. Pellissier and Fard explained that Lorenzoni, who’s particularly into the statistical part of the strategy, and coach Chris Cantone had figured out exactly where the Patriots needed to be at the 2K mark, without a runner that was going to make the top 10, in order to win a state title. Around that 2K mark, the coaches were telling Pellissier, for example, that they needed to move up eight places. That he needed to pass eight people.


That’s when the training kicked in. Albemarle runners paired up and traded off making runs, and because they’d trained as a pack for so long, each time a teammate made a move, the teammate they’d pass would go with them, confident they could keep up because they’d been next to each other during every training run. All that training and all that passing and strategizing on race day paid off in the title, even if it took at least one cell phone’s entire battery capacity to get there.


“The feeling is indescribable,” Naseh said. “To see it pay off like that is just amazing.”


Orange County’s Ethan Pettyjohn ran individually and finished 43rd overall.


Albemarle girls finish as runner-up

That pack performance shared the stage with Albemarle’s girls squad as they took second overall in the Class 5A race, led by individual champion Ryann Helmers, who won her first  individual state championship in cross country, pairing with her 3200-meter outdoor state title from this spring.


The win capped a big week for Helmers who committed to Rice to run next year earlier this week.


Helmers spearheaded Albemarle’s runner-up finish behind a Tuscarora squad tha won the title with three runners in the top seven. Albemarle countered with Helmers followed by Natalie Li in 21st overall, Arianna Deboer in 26th, Madelyne Zarzyski in 31st and Kenzie Lloyd in 32nd. Madeline Konebusch finished 35th and Albemarle still easily would’ve finished second if she’d been the fifth scoring runner.


The Patriots’ finish ties the program’s 2015 performance for the best in school history. The Patriots were the runner-up that year, also behind Tuscarora.