John Tatter (R.J. Reynolds) came into a race with a plan to take the lead during a mid point in the race. He wanted to string out the field hoping to take the kick out of some guys and ensure the pace was honest. Tatter took the lead and headed into through the two mile leading a pack of runners. Fellow North Carolina stars Cameron Ponder (Mount Tabor) sat in 4th/5th, Laderique McNeill (Harnett Central) 12th and David Melville (Northern Guilford) around 15th with a mile left in the race.
Tatter was expecting to take the pace, and at some point have someone else take over. Tatter ended with one final competitor Michael Phillips (Chiles, Florida) battling with him for the Foot Locker South title. They emerged from the woods back down to the lake, and Tatter had a slight lead on Phillips and was rolling! Tatter didn't look back around the lake holding off Phillips clocking 14:55! The second fastest time ever on the new McAlpine course only behind Drew Hunter.
Ponder ran out of gas, dropping out of the race over the last mile. It's heartbreaking to see as he's certainly one of the best distance runners the state has ever seen. But we're sure this won't be the biggest race Ponder will race in in his career.
David Melville took the approach of not going to the very front and trying to work his way up throughout the race. It worked. Melville moved up throughout the course of the race, coming around the lake in the top 10. Melville was able to battle to the line with Jake Renfree (Knoxville Catholic, Tennessee) to take 9th overall. Melville becomes the first athlete from North Carolina to qualify for both NXN and Foot Locker over the course of his high school career. He clocked 15:10 to punch his ticket.
McNeill capped off a really impressive season running 15:27 to finish 15th. Really impressive for McNeill to continue to perform well on the big stage. Expect a big track season soon. Also finishing in the South All-Region team was Andrew Hammel (Christ School) running 15:39 for 26th, Ben Verchick (Union Pines) running 15:44 for 33rd and Brandon Hernandez (A.L. Brown) running 15:44 for 34th.
In the girls race Rebecca Story (Knoxville, Tennessee) took out the pace, and was the class of the field with a big lead early on. Behind here were about 20 or 30 girls in a massive pack for chasing her down. Mariah Howlett (Lake Norman Charter) was towards the front of this pack with Natalie Tyner (Laney) and Elise Wright (T.C. Roberson) just behind.
Story held onto her lead through the lake, and not much changed in the chase pack. There were a ton of girls in contention and the pack was only slightly decreasing as girls started to fall off the pace. Our three North Carolina stars were still in the top group, all three in the top 10 coming off the hill going around the lake. But not by much.
The ventured around the lake and not much was different. The chase pack seemed to be closing in on Story ever so slightly. Mariah Howlett was in great position and was still contending for second place. As they came back to the lake Howlett was rolling and in the top 5 still, but there was a big group just behind her if she fell back. Tyner and Wright had fallen out of the top 10 by a few spots.
Story came through with the win, but the field was closing hard. She clocked 17:24 to take the win, but the chase pack wasn't far back with Victoria Starcher (Ripley, WV) taking 2nd in 17:28. Howlett was 4th in 17:29! 8 seconds slower than Nevada Mareno ran last fall to win. 10th place wasn't far back. 3 seconds was the difference between 2nd and 10th in what will be a very competitive girls South team. Howlett's PR was a big one. New NC#1 on the year, and 34 second high school PR on a course she's run many times throughout her high school career.
Natalie Tyner took 14th in 17:47 with Wright at 17:56. Both girls went for it and came up just a big short, they should have no regrets about their races. Tyner is only a junior and should be one of the top returners in the field. Wright set a PR by 7 seconds.