WCAC, PVAC, ISL Girls Preview

From left to right: Natalie Desarbo, Meredith Gotzman and Kayla Moxley (photos by Erik Cloyd, Brandon Miles and Nolan Jez)

We preview the biggest private school conferences in the DC area outside of the IAAM for a potential cross country season. Previews include all teams in the conferences, including those from DC and Virginia.


Photo by Mary Ann Magnant

In 2017, the girls from St. John's College took down Bishop O'Connell at the WCAC Championships, ending the latter's ten-year winning streak at the conference meet. Since then, St. John's has won three straight titles of their own, including overcoming a 2-3-4 finish last year from O'Connell to win by three points. The bad news for the rest of the WCAC? St. John's returns all seven of their varsity runners including reigning champion Meredith Gotzman, who ran 18:22 last year as a freshman.

Speaking of rising sophomores, Leah Stephens (above) ran 20:12 last year at Holy Cross (and then 11:16 indoors (the fastest freshman time in the state). Stephens is now running at Good Counsel, staying in the WCAC, and recently clocked an 18:47 5K personal best at the VA Elite XC Invitational. With Stephens and junior Isabella Sauro the Good Counsel girls could potentially be in position to knock O'Connell down to the third spot in the conference.

WCAC Girls 2020-21 Virtual Meet


Photo by Brandon Miles

Five years, five different team champions from the ISL:

  • 2019: Holton-Arms 79, National Cathedral 99
  • 2018: Stone Ridge 69, National Cathedral 79
  • 2017: National Cathedral 75, Stone Ridge 75
  • 2016: Georgetown Visitation 53, Georgetown Day 73
  • 2015: Georgetown Day 42, Georgetown Visitation 57

No team has won back-to-back ISL team titles since Georgetown Visitation won in 2013 and 2014, and the reigning champions from Holton-Arms will face an uphill battle to try and put an end to the streak after losing defending champion Francesca Cetta. Based on returners, the conference could be as wide-open as it has been in over a decade, with four teams separated by just 21 points in the returning virtual meet and no team coming in at under 80 points.

Stone Ridge junior Katherine Strong was just hitting her stride during the 2020 indoor season, clocking personal bests in the 1600 (5:11) and 3200 (11:18). She has brought that momentum with her into the fall, running a personal-best 18:14 5K at the VA Elite XC Invitational. Montgomery County private school rival Natalie Desarbo will likely be the driving force for a Holton-Arms team seeking to defend its title; the two schools are the only in the ISL to return two girls who ran under 20 minutes last fall.

Meanwhile, Georgetown Visitation junior Lili Grant (above) is both the top returning runner from last year's conference meet (third overall) and owns the top returning 5K time by over 45 seconds at 18:39. The conference is as deep as ever this year; after the top two finishers from last year (Cetta and Allie Boehm), the next eight are all back for the 2020-21 season.

ISL Girls 2020-21 Virtual Meet


Photo by Dan Loughlin

Edmund Burke's Katie Hirsch (above), the 2018 PVAC champion, did not run at last year's meet, opening the door for Washington International's Elsa Coony to grab the individual title. Hirsch enters the 2020-21 year as the conference's top returning runner by a wide margin; her 19:30 mark from last year's Team Nationals Southeast regional meet is over a minute and half better than the next returning time.

Similar to the boys race, behind the senior Coony at the top, the next four runners at last year's meet were freshmen, led by Charles E. Smith's Ella Sheintal. As is the case with the ISL, returning times indicate what could be a wide-open field at a potential PVAC championship race this year, with four teams (led by Washington Christian) separated by just 16 points at the top.

PVAC Girls 2020-21 Virtual Meet