Sweeping Up at the MAC & ISL Cross Country Championships

Danny Stock

Congratulations to the GDS men’s cross country team on their clean sweep of the three Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAC) Championship races at the Agricultural History Farm Park, in Derwood, Maryland! All five GDS Varsity runners finished in the top ten to claim, in a decisive fashion, the MAC Championship banner, (last held by GDS in 2014). In the Independent School League (ISL) Championship races, congratulations to the GDS women’s team for their sixth place finish in the Varsity A and B competitions within a 15-team league.

Sixty-seven GDS runners* competed on the slightly soggy fall day, when the team spirit was anything but overcast. During every event, athletes who had competed elsewhere in the day lined the course to cheer on their teammates. In this article, we share images celebrating both individual efforts and, more notably according to the coaches and athletes, the team achievements. Below, we highlight some of those voices that carry on the tight-knit community that is the GDS running program.

CLICK TO VISIT THE FULL GALLERY (photo credits: Cory F. Royster Photography and Kaiden Yu ’23)

MAC Championship Highlights
The men’s Varsity B race was dominated by GDS’s 35 runners—more than 40% of the field—who held five of the top ten spots, including second place finisher Liam Zeilinger ’23. Only seven of the finishers between places 20 and 40 were not GDS runners.

In the 9th/10th grade race—which Mac Penniman ’25 won on a home-stretch sprint—all seven GDS runners placed in the top 15.

ISL Championship Highlights
Ellie Kessler ’24 finished sixth out of the 91 varsity runners and helped carry a strong, and young, seven-runner varsity team to their sixth overall finish within the 15-team league. With only one returning varsity runner, Captain Sophie Axelrod ’22, on the 23-person squad this fall, it was an impressive finish to a season which saw dramatic improvements week after week. The remaining runners clinching sixth in the Varsity B race also shows the depth and commitment of the team, which only had six experienced High School cross country runners entering this fall.

Voices from the GDS Cross Country Team

Co-Captain Leah Belber ’22
“I am so proud of my team and everything that we have achieved. I think anyone who came out on Saturday to watch could tell how the team atmosphere was one of enthusiasm and trust, which led us seamlessly to the various victories, but ultimately to a satisfaction with the day, with the season, and with ourselves. Each person has worked through their own battles to be able to run and each person has their own reasons for what pushes and encourages them, but the way that we can come together and unify on a day like championships is so exciting. Getting to watch the teamwork throughout the races and seeing people pushing one another beautifully was so special for me. Everyone trusted their abilities. I saw so many smiles out on the course and races run exactly the way we wanted. I was not expecting this season to happen at all [given the ongoing pandemic] and for it to have all the hallmarks of a perfect cross country season is more than I could ever have hoped for. I am looking forward to next year as our women's program continues to grow and strengthen, and I have total faith in the future of this wonderful program.”

Co-Captain Noah Shelton ’22
The whole team has been working extremely hard all season to get to this point. To be able to have something to show for all that hard work is really amazing. As a team we haven’t won the MAC in six years. It has been awesome and really special to do just that with this team—none of us had experienced anything like that [achievement] before. It’s especially impressive that we were able to come back from the weird pandemic year, maintain a tightly knit community, and come back stronger than we were before. We are all really proud of what we have been able to accomplish this season and goals we’ve been chasing for years.

Assistant Coach Lauren Silberman ’08
Cross country is usually considered an individual sport, but the way we all came out and cheered for each other...it was really a team showing. What does that look like? I was running around the course trying to find places to cheer, but it was difficult to find spots where there weren’t GDS students, alumni, and coaches already cheering! There is so much depth on the team. Plus all of the boys’ divisions winning their races demonstrates just how strong the program is.

Assistant Coach Amanda Deringer
This has been a particularly meaningful season as runners were able to attend camp and jump right into the season in person. What I've noticed about this particular group is their focus, camaraderie, and willingness to maintain perspective on their running. Their collective growth through the season has not only shown in their racing, but also in their resilience.

Head Coach Anthony Belber
After a year and a half of team activities consisting of zoom calls, mailed-out training guides, and athletes working on their own, it has been so satisfying to be back together, training every afternoon and racing together every weekend. These championships just prove that our program continues to be resilient. The athletes as individuals are resilient. The results at the MAC and ISL Championships are a validation of all the hard work people have been putting in and the passion they have for their team and the sport.

*74 GDS runners on the coed team, but 7 did not compete on Saturday.