THE PLAINS Jill Porto found an unusual method to derive inspiration: She looked at a picture.
The picture, which appeared in a recent newspaper, featured Prince William County’s top triumvirate of female cross country runners: Hylton’s Jemissa Hess, Forest Park’s Beth Fahey and Stonewall Jackson’s Kristin Milot.
Porto believed there was no reason that she couldn’t be the fourth member of the Big Three.
“When I look at it, it pumps me up,” Porto explained. “I want to try harder.”
The photo provided the motivation. On Saturday, Porto took care of business.
The Potomac junior won the girls’ A race at the Great Meadow Invitational, besting a field that included Hess and Fahey. Porto finished a solid six seconds in front of Hess, who took second, and 23 seconds in front of Fahey, who placed fourth.
“My goal was to make the top 10, but I really wanted to win it. Everyone wants first,” said Porto, just before a congratulatory hug from Hess.
Her coach had expected a high finish, but not the highest finish.
“She was looking really good this week,” said Panthers’ coach Bill Stearns. “I felt she could come in and run in the top five. We talked about strategy at the end just in case, but I wasn’t sure she was going to need it.”
Porto was behind Fahey and Hess most of the way. She followed Fahey until the second mile and, when the pace picked up, drafted Hess. By the time Porto hit the home stretch, she was still hanging with Hess, and still using the picture to push herself.
“At the end, I was thinking of the picture,” Porto said.
“There’s two or three girls in the mix as far as states,” said Hylton head coach John Rock. “I wouldn’t say it was an upset. It was an early-season meet, and it tells you what you need to work on.”
Besides Porto, Hess and Fahey, just one other area runner finished in the top 20 at the meet, which included 48 schools. Colonial Forge’s Tina Porter finished 17th overall, leading the Eagles to a ninth-place team finish, the best of any area schools.
Herndon won the overall girls’ team title by placing four runners in the top 25.
Colonial Forge fared similarly well in the boys meet, taking 10th, one spot behind Forest Park. The Eagles had the top boys finisher of the day, Mike Porter, who came in eighth. Porter’s time of 16:37.14 was 35 seconds behind Thomas Jefferson’s Christopher Landry.
Bryce Iverson was the top Bruins’ runner. He finished 15th, 10 seconds behind Porter and 45 seconds behind Landry. Jefferson won the overall team title, thanks to a 1-2 individual finish by Landry and Keith Bechtol.
As for Porto, the race served notice to the competition that she is ready to enter the county’s elite distance runners. It also served notice to herself that she’s ready for the top flight she admitted that she wasn’t very confident about her chances when the race began.
“Jemissa’s still outstanding. Jemissa has the experience, I think she’s probably the best runner in the state,” explained Stearns. “But this tells Jill that she can run with them. It’s nice that she won, but now she knows she can run with the big guns.”
WOODBRIDGE BOYS THIRD: The Vikings boys cross country team finished third overall at the Lebanon Valley Invitational. The Vikings were led by Galen Huling who finished 10th in 18:52 and Travis Carleton who finished 15th. Beth Fowler was ninth (22:30) for the girls.