The look on Theo Woods’ face said it all: Pain and determination one second, relief and contentment the next.
The E.C. Glass senior battled Loudoun Valley’s Sam Affolder at Saturday’s Class 4 state championships for the first time since the rivals duked it out at the winter state met, when Woods scored a come-from-behind victory at the wire.
Affolder, part of an elite group of Loudoun Valley distance runners, ran like he wanted revenge. Woods, the Georgetown signee, could feel the Washington Huskies runner nipping at his heels the whole time.
But that only spurred him forward.
Once again, Woods found his final burst. He gutted out a grueling 800, squinting his eyes and gritting his teeth.
Woods crossed first and then closed his eyes, knowing that on the day of his final run for the Hilltoppers, he’d done all he could, gone out on top, won the battle yet again.
Yes, the look said everything: It was all worth it.
“A really good way to go out,” Woods said of the race.
He’s the guy who drove to E.C. Glass on a snowy winter day and shoveled six inches of snow with his parents, clearing one lane of the school’s track so he could prepare for an important upcoming indoor meet.
He’s the guy who held not one but two of the nation’s top high school times this spring, in the 800 (1:50.24) and the 1,600 sprint medley relay (3:27.54).
And he’s the guy who has become the stuff of legends around Glass and on the national running circuit. What Woods didn’t know that snowy afternoon was Hilltoppers head coach Rodney Smith was working up in the press box. He watched the event unfold, and the story has gotten around.
“It’s a cool story,” Woods said, “but we didn’t really think that much of it at the time. It was snowing, but we needed to get our workout in. Little things like that make a difference in the end, though.”
On Saturday, Woods and Affolder went to the line for the start of the 800 at 3 p.m. as the sun beat down on the steamy track. A false start as the leaders neared the first turn brought them back. Woods then changed his approach, deciding on a slower start, hoping for a final burst of energy.
The two runners, in a class alone, both broke meet the meet record of 1:53.11, set in 2014. Woods ran a 1:51.98, Affolder a 1:52.21. Then Woods took about 45 minutes to cool down before competing in the 4x400 relay.
“I didn’t know I had him until I crossed the line,” Woods said. “It was probably, both mentally and physically, the hardest race I’ve run. I haven’t felt this bad after a race ever.”
The two joked around before the meet. Affolder is more of a distance runner, but Loudoun Valley has owned those events in recent years. The only one it hasn’t is the 800 — because of Woods.
“I really just wanted the win and to give it everything I had,” the senior said. “And I think I showed how much heart I have. I really, really wanted it.”
His run was, just like at the winter meet, the highlight of the Class 4 state championships.
But several other local competitors made their mark, too.
In the Class 4 girls pole vault, Jefferson Forest’s Gracie Jauch, who entered already having garnered more pole vault state titles than any high school girl in Virginia history, reached 12 feet, 6 inches and won her sixth career state title (three outdoor, three indoor) by holding off Liberty Christian sophomore Emory Pafford.
The one wasn’t easy. Jauch twisted her ankle at practice this week and was sick Saturday.
“I’m not letting the state championships go,” she said of her pre-meet thoughts. “I knew I could get over the bars. I do it in my sleep. I’ve been vaulting four years now. I wasn’t gonna let anything stop me.”
Just clear the bar and make steady progress, she told herself Saturday. Then the University of Georgia signee said goodbye to her high school career by exiting on top.
“I don’t know when it’s gonna happen,” she said when asked if her accomplishments had settled in yet. “I’m still kind of waiting. Right now, I feel like I should be coming back next year and winning it again.”
In the boys pole vault, Amherst County senior Kyle Mosteller won his fourth career pole vault title and his second in an outdoor season.
The UVa signee cleared 15 feet, 6 inches to break away from the competition. He hit the mark on his final attempt.
“He just kind of willed himself over it,” Amherst coach Lance Carter said of Mosteller’s finish. “He wanted to be a four-time state champion, which is pretty impressive.”
Fellow Lancer Caleb Coles took second in the long jump and fifth in the high jump. LCA speedster Bryson Hunter was third in the 200 dash.
Glass’ Jette Davidson took fifth in the 1,600 run, an event Pulaski County’s Grace Boone ran away with. Boone also won the 400 and 800 dashes. Glass senior Jade Lane took fifth in the triple jump.
Field events and dashes dominated the morning slate. But by mid-afternoon, all eyes were trained on Woods and Affolder. They came around the backstretch neck and neck. Woods, however, found room on the straightway and bulleted toward the finish line.
“He got over my shoulder and stayed there for the entire race, pretty much,” Woods said. “He’d surge, I’d respond, and he’d surge again. It was really just a battle.”