Cunningham Leads Patriots to Strong Finish at Regional Track Meet
Pinecrest’s Jennie Cunningham successfully defended her title in the 800-meter run at Saturday’s 4A East Regional Championships held at a sun-drenched John Williams Stadium.
“Every step was perfect,” Maj. Emily Potter of the U.S. Army, who helps coach the Patriot runners, told Cunningham moments after the sophomore outdueled Shelby Howell, of New Hanover.
Three other members of the Patriot girls’ squad, and four Patriot boys, qualified individually for Saturday’s state championship meet to be held at North Carolina A & T. The Patriot girls’ 3,200-meter relay team also made it.
The Pinecrest girls finished seventh as a team in the meet as Southeast Raleigh was a repeat winner. Knightdale won the boys’ title with the Patriots finishing in 10th place. The top four finishers in each event qualified for the state meet.
The Patriot boys got off to a good start in the field events when sophomore Jay Harris finished second and senior Ian Paran was third in the pole vault. Junior Shane Wallace also qualified with a toss in the shot put that was good for fourth place.
In his first year with the track team, Wallace made it in spite of coming into the meet with the shortest seed throw of any of the 16 entries. He has been coached by former Patriot and Clemson graduate Antwon Murchison.
“I needed something to do after school so I decided to do track,” Wallace said. “I just tried hard and listened to my coach. He’s helped me through a lot and I thank him for it.”
According to Murchison, once Wallace became dedicated, the progress followed.
”He’s just a humble worker and I like that,” Murchison said. “Now he’s reaping his reward.”
Senior Landon Sherwood, the Southeastern Conference Runner of the Year, was the only runner among the Patriot boys to advance with a fourth place finish in the 3,200-meter run.
“I just put in the miles I needed and did the team workouts, knowing the ultimate goal was to qualify for states,” he said. “I beat my PR (personal record) by eight seconds and that’s a big accomplishment.”
The Patriot girls’ 3,200-meter quartet made up of sophomores Cunningham and Hayden Rudd, freshman Jaleigh Jensen and senior Haley Germain finished third in the race won by West Johnston. Also early in the afternoon, freshman Heather Reed earned a trip to states with a fourth place finish in the pole vault.
Jensen surprised herself by passing a number of runners in the final two laps to qualify individually with a fourth place finish in the 1,600 and beat her PR by four seconds.
“I was hoping to qualify in the two mile, but I really wasn’t expecting it in the mile,” she said.
Later in the afternoon, Cunningham and Howell, the winner in the 1,600, were neck and neck going into the final turn of the 800 before the Patriot runner took the lead and held onto it the rest of the way.
One of Potter’s concerns going into the race was Cunningham’s sixth seed position that put her near the middle of the 16 contestants.
“We wanted to make sure she went out hard and didn’t get trapped in the pack,” the Army marathoner said. “She runs smart. She got in a perfect position in the beginning.”
For Cunningham, the race was more about pacing herself than about time.
“The main goal was to go out quickly, stick right behind the first place person, kick at the end and see what happens,” she said. “It worked out well.”
Cunningham’s winning time was 2:18.9. She now has two regional and two conference titles in the 800, and a state indoor title in the 1,000 meter run to her credit. She finished third in the 800 at last year’s state meet.
The final Patriot qualifier was Rudd with a fourth place finish in the 3,200.
Also adding to the team totals for the Patriot girls were Abby Snyder, fifth in the 300 hurdles, Mulloy Manning, sixth, 3,200, Zuri Thomas, seventh, shot put, Christina Stone, seventh, and Kelsey Rea, eighth, in the 400, and Rudd, eighth in the 1,600.
Steven Kennedy picked up points by taking seventh for the Patriot boys in the long jump.
The 800-meter relay team that included Kennedy, Travis Scales, Dee Kirkpatrick and Tavis Pearson also finished in seventh place.
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Cunningham now has two regional and two conference titles in the 800 and a state title in the 1,000 meter run to her credit. She finished third in the 800 at last year’s state meet.
The final Patriot to qualify for the state meet was Rudd by taking fourth in the 3,200. Also adding to the team totals for the Patriot girls were Abby Snyder, fifth, 300 hurdles, Mulloy Manning, sixth , 3,200, Zuri Thomas, seventh, shot put, Christina Stone, seventh, and Kelsey Rea, eighth, in the 400, and Rudd, eighth in the 1,600.
Steven Kennedy picked up points by taking seventh for the Patriot boys in the long jump. The 800 meter relay team that included Kennedy,Travis Scales, Dee Kirkpatrick and Tavis Pearson also finished in seventh place.
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