BAUMHOLDER, Germany – Patch High School teammates Baileigh Sessions and Morgan Mahlock were joking Friday night about the possibility that it would snow for the 2012 European cross country championships.
Little did they expect they’d actually have to run in it come Saturday afternoon.
But snow it did, making the 3.1 mile girls’ and boys’ races on Baumholder’s Rolling Hills Golf Course a chilly, slippery affair for the 317 runners and 27 teams that toed the line.
While the biggest surprise of the event was arguably the unseasonable October snowfall, some new champions were crowned, both individually and team-wise.
In a tight team contest, the Kaiserslautern boys won their first European cross country championship since 1996, led by the first-place effort of senior Michael Lawson, who finished in 16 minutes, 56 seconds despite not being able to feel his feet, they were so numb.
“I’m not going to lie – it was cold,” Lawson said afterwards. “If anything, I want to give thanks to my teammates, who pushed me the entire year. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Lawson held off Vilseck junior Ben Nelson, who was 18 seconds off the winning pace for second place, and Ramstein runner George Hyde, who was third in 17:21. Nelson’s identical twin, Michael, was eighth for the Falcons, putting Vilseck in the running for the Division I title. The race for the team crown was so close that no one was certain of the outcome until it was announced at the team awards. After Lawson, Kaiserslautern had two more runners in the top 10, Michael Close and Sean Davis, helping give the Red Raiders the edge over Patch and Vilseck.
In the Division I girls’ race, reigning titleholder Patch did it again, led by Sessions, who repeated as European overall individual champ, and Mahlock, who was runner-up for the second year in a row. Sessions, a junior, came from behind, passing Mahlock at about the halfway point, to win in 20:20. The two friends and training partners said the cold was definitely a factor. “Your mental (makeup) definitely had to be in check for this race,” Mahlock said. “It was really difficult. I think we did well.”
Turning in the race of her life was Brussels American School junior Ali DeFazio, who was fourth overall and tops in Division III with a time of 21:02. She was 19th in the same race last year.
“I can’t believe it happened, still,” an ecstatic DeFazio gushed after the race. “It’s such a great memory. I’m still high on adrenaline.”
DeFazio’s top-five performance helped boost Brussels to the top spot in the Division III girls’ team standings, ahead of Incirlik and Rota.
In the boys’ Division III race, Baumholder beat Alconbury for the team title, a goal the Bucs had been gunning for all season, after moving down from Division II this year due to force structure changes on post. “That’s my boys,” a proud Stephanie MacDowell told her team after the winners were announced.
In Division II, SHAPE, which moved down from Division I, earned its first team title in 10 years in topping the boys competition. On the girls’ side, Naples was crowned the eventual winner after a computer glitch held those results in suspense for a short while after competition ended.