Cunningham Repeats as State Champ
By Charlie Bergmann
Special to The Pilot
Pinecrest’s Jennie Cunningham successfully defended her title in the 1,000-meter run at Saturday’s 4-A NCHSAA State Indoor Championships held at UNC’s Eddie Smith Field House.
The junior finished about two seconds in front of Maura McDonnell of Green Hope with a time of 2:57.41. The Patriot girls finished seventh in the meet won by Wakefield. Junior Hannah Hensley came in second in the high jump (5-foot-6) and fifth in the long jump (18-08.5).
Two members of the Patriot boys’ squad placed. Senior James Kennedy was eighth in the triple jump (42-08) and just missed placing in the long jump after coming in ninth. Junior Becket Killam finished eighth in the 1,600-meter run. Southeast Guilford and Knightdale shared the team title for the boys.
At the 1A/2A/3A championships also held on Saturday, Union Pines senior Spencer Walden finished third in the high jump with a leap of 6-4. Cardinal Gibbons won the boys’ team title and Burlington Cummings won the girls’ meet.
The Patriot record holder in the 800, Cunningham is the two-time East Regional champion and was the runner-up at the state meet last spring.
“Everybody says the 1,000 is your 800 pace and then you just hold on for another 200 meters,” she said before a team workout on Monday. “At the end of the race I definitely felt the holding on for 200 meters.”
About 400 meters into Saturday’s race, Cunningham made her move.
“I was running on the outside of lane one shoulder to shoulder with Mattie Blue from Broughton,” she said. “I just knew I needed to get down into the bottom of the lane and get in front of her. I took the lead for the last 600, which was really unusual for me. I don’t like to be in front, but it worked out pretty well.”
Her time was less than a second off the state record of 2:56.71 set by Becca Deloache of Myers Park in 2010.
“Going into the race, I didn’t have a clue what the record was,” she said. “I didn’t even fathom being close to it. Next year I’ll definitely aim for that.”
The athletes enjoyed competing indoors again. Last year the championships were held outdoors at Reid Classical School in Fayetteville because the UNC facility was not available.
“It was a lovely new experience to be back inside,” Cunningham said.
Saturday’s performance qualified Cunningham to compete in the elite division at the New Balance Indoor Nationals to be held in New York City March 9-11.
Last year she won the event in the emerging elite class.
Hensley qualified for the New York meet in the high jump after setting a new Patriot record of 5-8 during indoor qualifying. On Saturday, a close miss at that height was all that separated her from a state title.
Cunningham is positive about the team’s prospects for the outdoor season that also gets under way in March.
“The team is moving great as a group,” she said. “We have girls qualifying in all kinds of races. Everyone is out trying their hardest and it’s really showing.”
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