Boys Individual Race
Individually, we knew there would be a battle between David Melville (Northern Guilford) and Cameron Ponder (Mount Tabor). The question was would anyone be able to hang with them. The gun went off and the boys fought for position. It seemed like Melville and Ponder both were in good position, but neither were wanting to take it from the gun. The boys went around the horseshoe and it was Laderique McNeill (Harnett Central) leading Frank Rushok (West Carteret) and Hunter White (North Henderson) with the whole field and many of the big names just behind.
Coming through the mile Melville moved up to the lead, and Ponder hung right on his hip, knowing he wouldn't be able to spot the 2 time defending champion any room. McNeill was the wildcard after dominating at his conference and regional meet, and wanted to test the waters against two of the states all time great XC runners. Brandon Hernandez (A.L. Brown), Rushok and White were in a group of 6 that were emerging from the field.
This was Melville's move. He knew after getting out kicked by Ponder last week that he was going to have to push the pace from really far out. Ponder knew if he let him go he may never come back, so had to hunker down and hang on. McNeill had nothing to lose, other than having regret of not going for it. Over the next mile the trio pulled away from the field with Hernandez being the last to lose contact.
Through two miles the three stayed in tact. But up the hill it was McNeill who took over the pace from Melville. Could McNeill really upset two of the nations best runners? With around 800 to go, Ponder did what he does best. He's very strong from about a half mile out as we've seen at Wendy's, Manhattan and the Midwest regional. He put space on Melville and McNeill. Their hope was that he wasn't able to hold on to his surge. The three came down the final straightaway with Ponder continuing to roll. Melville and McNeill were close battling for second. Ponder was able to hold it through the line clocking a 15:19.77. The 7th fastest time ever on Ivey Redmon, and second fastest on the new, slightly slower, configuration of the course.
Cameron Ponder after winning the 3A individual title
Melville wasn't far behind running 15:26 getting the edge on McNeill who ran 15:28. The gap back to the second group had grown significantly, but Brandon Hernandez was able to hold on to finish 4th in 15:54 with Hunter White in 5th in 15:56. Ben Verchick (Union Pines) had the wheels to hold off a massive pack battling for 6th. He clocked 16:01 edging Kyle Durham (Weddington), Will Mazur (Weddington), Charles Pace (Mount Tabor) and Michael Zapherson (T.C. Roberson) to round out the all-state finishers.
David Melville after taking 2nd
Laderique McNeill after a big run taking 3rd
The team battle was honestly not what we were expecting. We thought it'd take a team having a big day across the board with little room for error. Neither Chapel Hill, Weddington or Mount Tabor were flawless. It came down to who had athletes step up the most and who had the least amount of error.
Mount Tabor had the individual champion in Cameron Ponder, but were missing the 1-2 punch that had been he and Michael Moerk all season. Moerk had an off race and took 17th overall. But their other senior Charles Pace (Mount Tabor) had the best day of the year. Pace was 10th in the Midwest region last week, but stepped up when it mattered at states taking 9th overall. The story for Tabor this year was that they had the talent through three, but didn't have a 5th. Guess what team had the best 5th runner in 3A? Mount Tabor. William Scurry and James Vlasis locked up the team title placing 25th and 31st running just over their PRs. The Spartans went on to beat Weddington and Chapel Hill by a wide margin. Final score was 72-110-144. Weddington and Tabor were close even through 4. The Warriors just didn't have a 5th man. Though it looks like even if their 5th had a good day Tabor still might have edged them.
Tabor boys after first 3A team title
Northern Guilford went from 4th in the Midwest to 4A in the state scoring 180 points, with the West Champs A.C. Reynolds taking 2nd over Cuthberston 213-215.