BAUMHOLDER, Germany – On a perfect fall day for a race, Saturday’s cross-country meet at Baumholder had it all: A dominating team in green jerseys, two races decided by a sprint to the finish, and one heck of a comeback tale. Though the big schools were competing down the road in Stuttgart, two exciting races played out on the 3.1-mile course over the rutted, rolling hills at the Baumholder camp ground. Both the boys’ and girls’ races were tight throughout, the winner uncertain until the final seconds. In the boys’ race, the victor wasn’t immediately clear to spectators even after the top two harriers gutted it out, neck-and-neck, into the finish chute. Freshman Jamal Braxton of Bitburg got the win - by less than a second - in 18 minutes, 19.27 seconds, over SHAPE’s Gavin McLaren in 18:19.64. Braxton, 14, was thrilled to get the first cross-country victory of his young career, coming a week after he finished sixth in a meet against running powerhouses Ramstein and Wiesbaden. “It’s very nice,” he said after the race. “I’m very proud of myself.” For McLaren, second place was equally as sweet. The junior is happy to be running – running well is a bonus – after being sidelined for more than a year with health issues. “Doctors didn’t know what it was; a lot of symptoms,” he said. “Now I’m getting better.” McLaren is hoping to get back to his old form, when as a freshman, he recorded times in the low 16:00s. “He wants to be our top guy,” said SHAPE cross-country coach Stewart Foster of McLaren. “He’s getting healthier. It’s a fantastic story.” McLaren led the SHAPE boys to victory against four other teams. The Spartans scored 28 points to comfortably beat International School of Brussels, which came in second and had the third-place runner in junior Taichi Kimura. After beating McLaren a week ago, Kimura, 16, said he was disappointed in his performance. The course was challenging, he said, but the conditions were ideal. “The temperature was great,” he said. In the girls’ race, SHAPE dominated the field, putting six runners in the top 10 to score a meet low of 16 points. Leading the Spartans were a pair of sophomores, Alina Salgado and Anna Kyle. The two stayed almost stride-for-stride throughout the race, with Salgado sprinting to the front in the homestretch to win in 21:34.98. Kyle was clocked in 21:36.67. Salgado was relieved to be finished. “I don’t like the hills,” she said. Saturday’s team performance by the Spartans may put the rest of the DODDS-Europe girls’ field on notice. Last year, SHAPE finished second at the DODDS Europe cross-country championships. This year’s girls’ team, Foster said, is even more close-knit. “I think we’re definitely a candidate to compete for the top spot,” he said, though it’s too early to know with any certainty. “It’s only the second meet of the year. We don’t know the competition yet.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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