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Less than 15 minutes into last Saturday’s varsity boys cross-country race at the Monroe Parker Invitational, spectators near the finish line scrambled into place at the sight of an oncoming runner, whose arrival at the course’s last stretch appeared well ahead of schedule. The runner, Edison senior Louis Colson, was also caught off guard, surprised to find himself so far removed from both the pack and his own expectations.

Colson barreled across the finish line in 14 minutes, 43 seconds, finishing 22 seconds ahead of second-place MacKenzie Haight (Marshall) and vaulting himself into the No. 9 spot on Burke Lake Park’s all-time list for best times. His performance slid in between two former Edison greats: George Watts (14:42 - 1974) and Eric Kweder (14:45 - 1996).

“I was definitely not expecting that,” said Colson, who finished third at last year’s Monroe Parker with a time of 15:18. “I was going in thinking maybe I’d hit 15 minutes or something like that. But the weather was perfect, the race went out just the way I liked it, and I was surprised and happy with the time.”

Weather was a key factor on a beautiful, temperate day that contrasted with the scorching temperatures at last year’s meet. Times from Haight (2nd - 15:05), Chantilly junior Ryan McGorty (3rd - 15:11) and Chantilly junior Dakota Lange (4th - 15:15) were all faster than former Lake Braddock senior Nick Tuck’s second-place time of 15:16 last fall.

The most notable time left in the dust was that of Sean McGorty, last year’s area phenom who coasted to victory at the Monroe Parker in 14:50. The Chantilly senior - now a freshman at Stanford - went on to complete one of the most decorated seasons in the history of an area rich in running talent, eventually finishing second at Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego.

While his ultimate goal this fall is to make it to Foot Locker Nationals, Colson said he hasn’t been aiming for McGorty’s achievements, instead focusing on where his own capabilities might take him.

“I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “I still put McGorty on this pedestal, and I’m not sure if I have the confidence yet to go after his times, but I’ll just have to take it race by race.”

Another factor aiding Colson’s blistering time Saturday was the quality of competition around him. The addition of some Prince William County teams made the meet faster than usual, and Colson was pushed throughout the race by Haight, who stuck with him for the race’s first two miles. The sight of Colson and Haight side-by-side could be a recurring one throughout the season, as they both set the pace at the PR Kickoff Relays at Bull Run Regional Park a week earlier.

Given his time at Saturday’s meet, it would seem Colson has the potential to continue to set the standard at upcoming meets in the same way McGorty did last year. To have that kind of season, though, he’ll have to drop time with each passing meet the way his predecessor from Chantilly did throughout last fall. Colson’s physical maturation from age 16 to age 17 this year, along with his good health and improved training since the end of last season, have helped put his name and McGorty’s into the same conversation. But his coach, Berni Flynn, doesn’t think it’s a fair comparison.

“It’s not really something I would want to compare, Louis to Sean,” Flynn said. “It’s easy to do when you look at times, but each year’s different when you look at the runners. We’re more looking at the runners this year, and then maybe afterwards you look back and see how he did compared to Sean.”

Flynn, Edison’s cross-country coach since 2004, compares Colson more to Leoule and Tihut Degfae, twin brothers who dominated during their cross-country and track days at Edison and who now run for Virginia Tech as seniors. Myah Hicks, the former state 800-meter champion who now runs at Maryland as a junior, is another Edison great that comes to her mind.

Regardless of who you’re comparing him to, Colson just wants to measure himself against his own times. He believes more improvement is still to come on the heels of a tapering process that he hopes will yield faster times in October and November.

“[Saturday’s win] sort of gives me confidence because usually I do progress and get faster throughout the season, so hopefully I can keep it up,” he said.

Colson’s performance wasn’t the only one that stood out Saturday at Burke Lake. West Springfield senior Caroline Alcorta solidified her reputation as one of the area’s premier runners with a time of 16:58 to claim the girls individual title. It was the same time she posted at last October’s Northern Region meet, indicating personal-best times are likely to come in upcoming weeks as the weather gets cooler and her body grows fitter. Her 16:58 mark places her No. 8 all-time on the Burke Lake girls list.

Despite losing its top three runners from last year’s team, Chantilly defended its first place title in the boys team category thanks to gritty performances from McGorty and Lange as well as solid times from the rest of their top five. Patriot fell in behind Chantilly at second place, while Robinson claimed third.

Hannah Christen’s time of 17:28 led Lake Braddock to defend its title on the girls side, even without the services of Sophie Chase (Stanford) or Katie Roche (held out as a precaution). Robinson finished second, followed by Chantilly in third.

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com