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Sean McGorty began his final cross-country season in August with a lofty individual goal: finish in the top five at the Foot Locker national championship meet in December. Yet as he barreled toward the home stretch of last Saturday’s season-ending race in San Diego, the Chantilly senior looked poised to shatter even his own expectations.

A sizable gap separated McGorty and a large pack of trailing runners as the final 800 meters approached, creating a sight familiar to anyone who’s seen the Chantilly star race this year. This time, though, McGorty wasn’t all alone out in front. Northeast Region champion Edward Cheserek and Midwest Region champion Jake Leingang nipped at his heels before Cheserek burst ahead and kicked into high gear to capture his second straight Foot Locker Nationals title.

McGorty, who qualified for the 40-man national meet with a blistering 21-second victory at the Foot Locker South Regional two weeks prior, finished Saturday’s five-kilometer race in 15 minutes 5 seconds, six seconds behind Cheserek but two seconds ahead of third-place Leingang.

Even after an undefeated season that cemented his status as Virginia’s top distance runner, McGorty confirmed that his preseason goal never changed in the days leading up to last weekend’s big race.

“My goal from the very beginning of the season was to try to get top five at nationals, and I accomplished that, so I’m happy with the race,” McGorty said. “I think I executed my race plan to the best of my ability. No one really likes losing, but you can’t really complain with getting second at nationals. Edward’s a great athlete, so my hat’s off to him. He deserved to win.”

The runner-up finish marked an improvement on McGorty’s 10th place finish at last year’s national meet. It also signaled the end of a spectacular senior season that saw him rake in medals and records by the fistful. After winning his first two invitationals by an average of 26 seconds, the Stanford commit captured the championship boys’ division of the prestigious Great American Cross-Country Festival in Cary, N.C., where he broke meet and course records on Wake Med Soccer Park’s 5K setup.

A month later he ran a scorching 14:19 at the Northern Region meet on the 2.98-mile Burke Lake course, a school-record time that propelled the Chargers to their first region title since 1992. His 14:47 mark at the state meet the following week made him the first runner to ever break the 15-minute barrier in that event at Great Meadow’s 5K course. In addition to giving him his first state title, that finish also handed Chantilly its first-ever boys state crown.

McGorty followed that up with another memorable performance two weeks later in Charlotte, N.C., where he finished 21 seconds clear of an elite field representing 16 U.S. states and territories to claim his first Foot Locker South Region title. His second-place showing last weekend marked the best finish by a Virginian in the national meet since the state had two straight runners-up in Bobby Lockhart of John Handley in 2001 and Alan Webb of South Lakes in 2000.

“I don’t think I could have asked for a better way to start my senior year or a better way to end cross-country,” McGorty said. “It’s great how well the team did and the team atmosphere this year. I had such a great time with them. The seniors on the team, like Logan [Miller] and Faris [Sakallah], being able to share that senior year moment with them on top of the state podium winning as a team. So many things made this year so special.”

Lake Braddock senior Sophie Chase displayed improvement in the Foot Locker girls national meet, finishing in sixth place last Saturday to best her 11th-place showing at last year’s competition. Competing in her third Foot Locker Nationals meet, Chase ran stride-for-stride with the lead pack midway through the race but couldn’t match a strong move by Midwest champion Anna Roher, who turned on the jets during the last mile to win her first national title in 17:25.

Chase, who committed to Stanford on Monday, walked away from a stellar senior season that saw her capture a second consecutive individual state title with a time of 17:24, a course record at Great Meadow that stood 21 seconds clear of the second-place finisher. That effort helped the Bruins cruise to a team title, their first since Chase’s freshman year.

“I was a little bit disappointed right after [last weekend’s] race, but now taking a step back from it and just seeing how blessed I’ve been over this entire experience for the past three years, I just wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world,” said Chase, who finished the race on the challenging Balboa Park course in 17:42. “I’m really, really excited to be able to improve upon my place from sophomore and junior year, so I’m just really ecstatic being able to get into that top ten. That was always something I dreamed about.”

West Springfield junior Caroline Alcorta claimed 16th place with a time of 17:56 at Saturday’s race, finishing less than a second outside of the top 15 spots needed to qualify for All-American honors. It was the first Foot Locker Nationals appearance for Alcorta, who should enter her senior season as a favorite to win next year’s state title.

“Missing [All-American] by a second kind of stinks, but having motivation to get better is actually really exciting,” Alcorta said. “I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Oakton sophomore Allie Klimkiewicz, meanwhile, completed her first Foot Locker Nationals race in 18:33 to claim 33rd place.

“I’d never really run a race like this before,” Klimkiewicz said. “It was definitely a really good experience. It makes me want to come back next year and aim for a higher spot.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com