Patriot Harriers Perfect in League Finale
Framed by the magnificent vista of Carolina Horse Park, Pinecrest runners Jennie Cunningham and Chris Kelly repeated as Southeastern Conference cross country girls’ and boys’ champions Tuesday afternoon.
The first nine places in the 5K race were taken by Patriot girls. The Patriot boys took the first seven spots. Running in a tight pack, Jaleigh Jensen, Mulloy Manning and Sarah Pressley finished within two seconds of Cunningham’s winning time of 20:49.
“I think today the four of us knew what needed to be done to win the conference meet for the 21st year in a row,” Cunningham said afterward. “The easiest way to describe it is we’re a team. We motivate each other in the middle of races. The camaraderie in the race itself is unreal on this team. We demonstrated that very well.”
Slow to hit her stride after undergoing surgery to correct a sinus problem in June, Cunningham gave indications of a return to form when she led her team with a time of 19:23 in a meet held at Beeson Park in Kernersville on Saturday.
“It took a lot longer to recover than I anticipated,” the senior said. “I got back out there this weekend and knew I had it — that I was back in the game.”
The second wave of Patriot finishers included Kelsey Rea, Zia Matti, Sarah Klug, Kara Zoellner and Mary Katherine Johnston in the fifth through ninth spots.
Patriot senior Will Pearson went into the boys’ race with one thought in mind.
“My goal was to beat Chris,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was the other way around, but I think we’re both satisfied that we ran a good race.”
After a half a lap around the 7/8th of a mile track and the run through the woods, the pair returned to the oval together with about a 20-second lead over the rest of the field.
“I know he has a good kick, we both do,” Kelly, a junior whose brother Connor also won the meet in 2010, said. “It was pretty scary. I knew I had to not leave anything on the track.”
Pearson knew this was about the time his teammate would try to separate himself.
“I had to stay with him and show him how to do it at the end,” he said. “In the last 400 meters, when he started to kick, I knew it was over.”
Kelly crossed the finish line in 16:32. Pearson came in three seconds later followed by teammates Mathew Harmody, Becket Killam, Jacob Troutman, Javier Bustos and Robert Anderson. It was the 18th time in the last 19 years the boys coached by Jeremy Swofford have won the conference meet.
Cunningham and Patriot girls’ coach John Buchholz, who was voted girls’ conference coach of the year, are among those looking forward to the East Regional meet scheduled to be held at the unique venue a week from Saturday.
“It’s gorgeous,” Cunningham said. “Honestly, my favorite part is back in the woods. It definitely helps to be out here on all grass, which is easy on the legs. It’s a real easy course to let go and have fun.”
The Hoke County park provides plenty of convenient parking and race views for spectators. Buchholz is hoping that some NCHSAA officials will attend the regional meet and consider the facility as a site for future state meets. He also expressed thanks to Patriot parents for their help throughout the season.
“We appreciate what the park is doing for us,” he said.
The Patriot boys and girls will be seeking their second regional title in a row.
Based on their times, Buchholz calls the Patriot girls’ team the school’s deepest ever. He is not looking forward to deciding which runners to bring to the regionals out of about 12 close contenders. It won’t be an easy task for Swofford either.
Pinecrest freshmen won the junior varsity races. Neil Clark was the boys’ winner in 18:29 and Rachel Von Cannon won the girls’ race in 22:06.
Team results: Boys – Pinecrest 15, Scotland 59, Richmond 85, Purnell Swett 107, Lumberton 122, Hoke 136; Girls – Pinecrest 15, Richmond 79, Lumberton 86, Purnell Swett 88, Hoke 106; All-conference (first 14 places): Boys – Chris Kelly (PC) 16:31, Will Pearson (PC) 16;35, Mathew Harmody (PC) 16:53, Becket Killam (PC) 17:02, Jacob Troutman (PC) 17:12, Javier Bustos (PC) 17:21, Robert Anderson (PC) 17:22, Brandon Gibson (RS) 17:31, Logan Ward (SC) 17:32, Brandon Elliott (PC) 17:49, John Holloway (SC) 18:17, Graham Hawes (PC) 18:39, Kendall Romaine (SC) 18:39, Randy Altman (RS) 18:59); Girls – Jennie Cunningham (PC) 20:49, Jaleigh Jensen (PC) 20:50, Mulloy Manning (PC) 20:50, Sarah Pressley (PC) 20:51, Kelsey Rea (PC) 21:10, Zia Matti (PC) 21:11, Sarah Klug (PC) 21:36, Kara Zoellner (PC) 22:08, Mary Katherine Johnston (PC) 22:42, Mary Hansen (LU) 22:50, Morgan Tedder (RS) 23:27, Kendall Blaine (LU) 23:39, Hayden Rudd (PC) 23:47, Chloe Wariax (PS) 23:58.
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