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Just call Katie Harman a crowd-pleaser.

In a season where, when healthy, the River Hill junior never lost, she did manage to nearly always make things interesting. Two of Harman's three postseason victories this fall were decided by five seconds or less and during two other races this year, she waited until the final mile to pull away.

"I guess you could say, I was pretty good at making it exciting," Harman joked. "It's weird because I have the tendency to run up or down to the quality of my competition, which is why you see my times vary a lot. The big thing, though, is that I try to make sure I'm in position to move ahead at the end."

It was because of that ability to always do what was necessary down the stretch to cross the finish line first, that Harman has earned Columbia Flier/Howard County Times girls Runner of the Year honors.

"To put it simply, Katie hates losing," River Hill coach Earl Lauer said. "You put her head-to-head with someone in the final 400 to 800 meters and she's going to find a way to win."

In the early going this fall, Harman didn't need any late race heroics. At the season-opening Howard County Invitational, she pulled ahead early and ran practically unchallenged around the course at Centennial High School, winning by 27 seconds.

"I came in very confident because this summer I had trained harder than any other year. I got myself up to a lot of mileage and I felt really prepared," Harman said. "I felt like, with some of the top runners from last year gone, this year was a big chance for me."

Before she knew it, though, that opportunity to establish herself as the county's best runner had to be put on hold. Having injured her calf in the first few weeks of the season, Harman had the injury flare up at the Knights Invitational.

She ended up gutting it out and finishing the race, placing sixth, but the damage was done. Harman had a strained calf that ended up keeping her out of action for three weeks.

"I was hesitant to run her there at Knights and obviously, in hindsight, it was a mistake," Lauer said. "That was her one loss this year and I should take the hit for that one. We were certainly a lot more careful with her after that."

Unable to run, Harman shifted her focus to strength training.

And it was because of that dedication at the gym that, when fully healed, she was able to pick up right where she left off. On Oct. 10 at the Run from the Lions Den, Harman won with a time of 20 minutes, 38 seconds.

"Sure, I sometimes think about how much better my times could have been toward the end of the season had I not had all that time off, but I also think it helped me too," Harman said. "It gave me a chance to take a break from running and work on my muscles and get stronger."

She needed all the strength she had in order to win the county championship, out-dueling Howard's Elyse Borisko in the final 200 meters to win by two seconds with a time of 19:57. It was her closest race of the year.

The next week at regionals, on the same course, Harman was pushed by Mt. Hebron's Rebecca Yep for the first two miles before she broke away to win by 17 seconds in 20:09.

Then, trying to complete the postseason sweep, Harman had to make a little comeback at the state championship race. Trailing Century's Maura Linde coming out of the dip on Hereford's course, she used her patented kick to pull ahead, cross the line in 19:54 and win her first state cross country title.

"That and counties were definitely my two toughest races, but I had expected to be pushed by Elyse. That girl from Century surprised me a little, so I think that race at states was a little tougher," Harman said. "Either way, those are two races I will remember for a long time."

Named to the All-County first team are:

Elyse Borisko, Howard. There weren't a ton of first-place finishes for the Lions' junior this fall, although it wasn't because of a lack of talent or effort. Borisko simply kept getting edged by the county and state's best.

She kicked things off by placing second to Katie Harman at the Howard County Invitational in 20:51, which ended up as the only time this fall she didn't break 20 minutes. After running well at the Knights and Meade Invitationals, Borisko again squared off with Harman at the county championships.

The result was one of the year's best races. The two runners traded leads the entire way, before Borisko fell just short on the final straight away. Still her time of 19:59 was 52 seconds better than at the Howard County Invitational, run on the same course.

She bettered her time even further the next week at regionals, winning the Class 3A East race in 19:34. Then at states, Borisko led for much of the second half of the race before being passed at the end by Hereford's Kristen Malloy. Her time of 19:40 was a personal record on the Hereford course.

Anna Demaree, River Hill. The Hawks' gifted freshman wasted little time announcing herself as a runner to watch not only this season but for years to come. Her first ever race in a River Hill uniform, at the Howard County Invitational, resulted in a sixth place finish. Her time of 22:02 was third best of the runners from the county's public schools.

Then, running alongside teammate Katie Harman in practices, Demaree kept improving and in early October finished second to Harman at the Run from the Lions Den. There were some rough patches in the postseason, as Demaree had to learn not to constantly look behind her during races. The growing pains included a 17th place finish at the county championships and 22nd at the state meet.

Even with the hiccups, though, her year was highlighted by a very strong race at regionals where she placed third in a time of 21:07, which was her best showing of the fall on the Centennial course.

Caitlyn Fuller, Howard. On a Howard team that completed its second straight sweep of the postseason races, Fuller was consistently the Lions' No. 2 runner. A second team selection as a freshman, she moved herself to the top of the county's second tier this fall as a sophomore.

She put together top 11 finishes in all three of her final races of the year, including a fourth place effort at the county championships. In that county race, she outran the Centennial duo of Olivia Joseph and Chloe Heckman en route to finishing in 20:47. She was then sixth at regionals and 11th at states.

Although her finish at states was lower than the eighth-place mark from last season, her time was nearly 40 seconds faster.

Chloe Heckman, Centennial. The Eagles always could count on Heckman and teammate Olivia Joseph for a strong one-two combination at the top. The duo constantly ran on the shoulder of one another, often pushing for spots in the top 10.

Heckman, a junior coming off a second team all-county selection last fall, came into this year with plenty of experience. She translated that into a top-25 finish at Bull Run and a sixth place showing at the Bobcat Invitational. At the county championship, Heckman was also sixth (20:59), two seconds behind Joseph.

Her time was three seconds better at regionals, earning her fifth in the 3A East race. She then finished things off by taking 21st at states.

Olivia Joseph, Centennial. Like the majority of first-year high school runners, Joseph seemed to get better with each passing race. So it made sense that the freshman saved her best performance of the year for the state championships. Splitting away from teammate Chole Heckman early on, Joseph pushed to the front of the second pack and held her position en route to finishing sixth in a time of 20:43.

Two weeks before the state meet, Joseph had turned in an impressive fifth-place showing at the county championships. Other notable finishes over the course of the season included seventh place at the Bobcat Invitational, 11th at the Howard County Invitational and 24th at the Bull Run.

Meredith Mill, Howard. An important cog in the Lions' first state title last year, Mill was even better during the team's run to the championship trophy this fall as a sophomore. She closed the season as one of only four county runners to finish in the top 10 in each of the postseason races, taking seventh at counties, eighth at regionals and 10th at states.

Her consistency was also displayed in her times. Although the three final races were run on two different courses, Mill's times in all three were between 21:08 (states) and 21:12 (counties). In comparison, her time at the state meet last year, where she placed 11th, was 21:40.

Maeve Ricaurte, Glenelg Country. Dragons' coach Trey Cassidy raved about the potential of his junior runner before the season and it didn't take long for her to realize it. Running against the public schools in early September, Ricaurte finished fifth at the Howard County Invitational. It was only a small glimpse of things to come.

After a couple months of running well against strong competition at meets like the Meade Invitational and Georgetown Prep Classic, Ricaurte put it all together at the IAAM Championships. Crossing the line in 19:01 on the Oregon Ridge Park course, she not only won the small schools division but also outdueled John Carroll's Erika Stasakova to become the first Glenelg Country girl to win the overall title.

The following week she substantiated her spot as one of the areas best by placing third in the DC/MD Private School Championships.

Rebecca Yep, Mt. Hebron. None of the county top runners improved as much in one year as Yep, who finished 27th in 22:20 at last year's county championships at the Belmont Conference Center. This year was a completely different story, as the Vikings' sophomore placed in the top three at not only the county meet, but at regionals and states as well.

After not running in many races during the regular season, a slate that was highlighted by a fifth place finish at the Westminster Invitational, she came in ready to roll at counties with a time of 20:35 to place third. Then, the next week at regionals, she pushed Katie Harman for the first two miles en route to finishing second in 20:26. She finished things up with third at states.

E-mail Brent Kennedy at Brent Kennedy@patuxent.com

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