Two Lions battle for lead role


October 12, 1994|By BILL FREE

Give Justin Combs credit.

He never stopped chasing his more celebrated Liberty cross country teammate Joe Ledda, and finally Combs has caught and passed Ledda three times this season.

Combs, a quiet senior, finished ahead of Ledda, a talkative senior, in three of the first five meets they have raced.

Combs almost made it four of five last week in a dual meet against South Carroll, forcing Ledda to hold on for dear life for a one-second victory at Liberty.

A very tired Ledda sprawled out on the grass moments after crossing the finish line while Combs stayed on his feet and yelled to Ledda, "You're lucky."

"If I had 10 more meters I would have beaten him," said Combs, who gained about 50 feet on Ledda as the two top Liberty runners and good friends sprinted down the stretch.

The emergence of Combs as the No. 1 Liberty runner in three meets has been a little surprising because Ledda is the defending Carroll County champion and was expected to duel Westminster's Mike Recek for that same honor Oct. 28 at Western Maryland College.

Ledda also has boldly predicted that Liberty would end Westminster's 10-year reign as county boys champions.

Ledda said his slow start has been caused by a full-time physical therapy job he held last summer.

"I was working all summer and Justin was out running every day," said Ledda. "Justin is a lot better runner now than he was."

All of which brings up a point the two runners debate every day in practices and meets.

"Justin and I argue every day over who is the best runner on our team," said Ledda. "We have a lot of fun with it. I don't think there's any doubt that it's helping us both to be running off each other."

Combs believes all the pressure is on Ledda and it might be telling a little now.

"Joe's a vocal guy and kind of cocky," said Combs. "Talking too much can hurt sometimes but you have to give Joe credit for going out on a limb and putting a lot of pressure on himself in an attempt to build our team up for the county championships."

In the South Carroll dual meet, Combs said he made a mistake of letting Ledda get too far ahead of him as they headed for the final 50 yards of the race.

"I wanted to get Joe badly," said Combs, who finished seven seconds ahead of Ledda in the Westminster Invitational.

Combs was eighth out of 148 runners in the Westminster Invitational and Ledda was 12th.

The only Carroll runner who beat Combs in that race was Recek.

Even some of the most avid Liberty followers are predicting that Recek will replace Ledda as the county individual champion.

Recek (16 minutes, 41 seconds) finished one minute ahead of Ledda (17:41) in the Westminster Invitational at Western Maryland.

No matter what happens in 16 days, Ledda has prompted a lot of people to look forward to the Carroll County championships.

South Carroll co-coach Rob Pennington was even looking forward to Ledda going head-to-head against Recek last week in what was supposed to be a tri-meet instead of a dual meet.

But Westminster did not show up to run against Liberty and South Carroll because of a scheduling mix-up.

"I was going to stop being a coach and become a spectator to watch Ledda and Recek run," said Pennington.

It seems that if anyone at Westminster would have looked at the master fall sports schedule for Carroll County, the school's cross country team would have made it to Liberty last week for the tri-meet.

County officials made a scheduling mistake that was very easy to spot. They had the tri-meet scheduled at both Liberty and Westminster.

The immediate reaction naturally would be to call and find out which one of the two places was correct.

But that miscue apparently was overlooked at Westminster, because Owls' coach Jim Gilford went by the two fall sports schedules he had been given for Westminster.

"I was given one fall schedule in the spring and another in August and both of them had the tri-meet at Westminster," said Gilford.

However, Liberty coach Dan Jones said he could not understand why Gilford thought the tri-meet was at Westminster.

"We rotate it every year and it was at Westminster last year," said Jones.

The ultimate responsibility for the mix-up has to rest with county officials because no one caught the mistake.

Five schools isn't many to keep up with in comparison to a county such as Baltimore, which has 21 schools.

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