Swanson ‘right on target’ at state meet

PARKTON — As a first-year cross country runner, Kent County sophomore Alden Swanson had modest expectations for last Saturday’s Class 1A state championship race at Hereford High School.

“It was just survival,” she said bluntly in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The 3-mile course in Baltimore County is notorious for its steep inclines and declines.

“Hilly” is too gentle of a word for the course that runners in these parts despise.

As Swanson said in her post-race interview, “You can’t really hill train in Kent County.”

That helps to explain why runners from high schools in the more mountainous parts of the state — Smithsburg, Northern Garrett, Catoctin and Liberty, for example — had the greatest success Saturday.

Smithsburg’s Cora Gentzel and Michaela Gross placed one-two and helped the Leopards win their sixth state title — and first since 2014.

They were second in 2021 and again last year.

Gentzel took charge in the second mile, building a 20-second lead, and was the only runner in the 1A field to break 20 minutes. Her winning time was 19 minutes, 43.05 seconds.

Gross was next in 20:16.96.

Isabel Devos of Harford Tech, who was the East Region champ, took third in 20:23.14.

There were 102 girls from 32 schools.

Swanson finished in the top half, 46th overall in 24:13.25.

She was Kent County’s only state qualifier.

The weather was nice enough on race day, Nov. 11 — sunny, still and the temperature hovering around 60 degrees — but the course was “really, really tough,” Swanson said.

“This may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she told The Evening Enterprise.

Coach Henry Sabetti echoed Swanson’s assessment of the weather and the course. 

And he gave a thumbs-up to Swanson’s performance.

“She had a good race,” Sabetti said in a phone interview Monday.

“Alden paced herself very well,” he said. “For her experience level and her fitness level, she was right on target.”

Sabetti, who just wrapped up his ninth year as the Trojans’ head cross country coach, said Swanson achieved well beyond his expectations.

“It’s been a great joy to coach her through the ups and downs of her 1st season as a varsity athlete,” Sabetti wrote in a text message.

Swanson, now 15, spent her freshman year of high school traveling the country with her three younger brothers and their parents visiting Title I schools in all 50 states and handing out free books to students and teachers from underserved communities.

She was an unknown when the season opened in September. But not for long. She won her first three races and in early October placed 19th of 248 at the Tidewater Fall Classic.

Then came a top-15 finish in the Bayside Conference meet and a top-10 finish in the state-qualifying region meet Nov. 2.

“It’s been pretty awesome, making friends and being on the team,” Swanson said.

On Monday, during the fall sports assembly, Swanson was recognized as the MVP on the girls cross country team.

She’s now running indoor track. Wednesday was the first day of practice.

 

 

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