Although this year's event did not produce lightning-fast times, the atmosphere and competition were still top-notch.
Although this meet has long been known for its incredible times, the combination of a slight lengthening of the course and a steady rain between 5 and 6 PM definitely slowed it down. Despite that, there was an atmosphere of excitement all night, and the meet's format allows that to build with the championship races last. The crowd was intense, cheering on all the runners, and the competition was fierce among individuals and teams. That's what leads to strong early-season performances at the Jungle Run every year! Check out the summaries below for each of the four varsity-level races.
(Results, Photos, Videos)
The early leader was Chris O'Brien (Raleigh Charter), followed closely by David Schuler (Leesville Road). As the field came through the mile mark, the chase pack contained freshman Madison Daniel (Research Triangle HS), Pinecrest teammates Robert Anderson and Brandon Elliott, and Esai Cunningham (Western Harnett, wearing the wrong number).
At the finish, it was Daniel getting home in 17:08, a fine time for a ninth-grader this early in the season. Anderson was the closest challenger, and his mark of 17:09 would have placed him fifth among his teammates in the varsity race. O'Brien finished a few seconds behind at 17:14, and after them the rest of the field faded back by 30 seconds over the last half of the race. Leesville Road pulled out a narrow win over South View, with Pinecrest third; all three schools were running their second 7 runners in this race, and showing solid depth.
The front of this race strung out very quickly, with Aly Chura (Franklin Academy) taking the lead at 800m over Hana Ratcliffe (Durham School of the Arts). Chura's teammate Marisa Banks was in third, just ahead of the first small pack of runners.
Those three would remain in the front throughout the race, although Ratliffe did gradually track down Chura over the middle mile. Ratliffe took the win with a strong final 400, posting the first sub-20 time of the day with her 19:59, while Chura finished at 20:21. Banks had to hold off fast-rising Abby Verchick (Union Pines) to claim third in 21:13. Leesville Road also claimed this race, edging Millbrook and Pinecrest in another battle of second-7's. (Unfortunately, many of the photos of the leaders from this race did not come out well).
Philip Hall (Terry Sanford) went straight to the lead, and by the halfway point of the race he had only one challenger in Collin Loy (Southern Alamance). Jordan teammates Nikolaus Kreiling and Daniel Beamer led the first true pack, a trio of Millbrook runners hard on their heels. The back of that same group contained multiple Pinecrest runners and the first of a group of RJ Reynolds athletes moving steadily forward through the field after a moderately conservative start. As the field passed through the stadium the first time, it was clear that Pinecrest and Millbrook were in a tight battle for the team lead.
Over the final mile-plus, Hall was able to cruise a bit, looking very comfortable on the way to a legitimate PR of 15:56.. Kreiling caught and passed Loy, running 16:05, and Beamer also got past in the final stretch to take third. In the team competition, Millbrook was able to hold off a hard-charging final mile by RJ Reynolds to take the win, as Pinecrest faded ever so slightly into third (the top three schools were separated by only 15 points total).
Video of Championship Boys Coming Soon
The concluding race of the night would also bring the only real controversy. From the gun, it looked like this would be a two-girl race all the way, as Arden Vessie (Corinth Holders) and Indy Reid-Shaw (Orange) were pushing each other hard, and they pulled out to a significant lead. Chandler Borton (RJ Reynolds) trailed a good distance behind them, a few steps ahead of the main pack.
At the halfway point, Vessie took a small lead over Reid-Shaw, while Borton broke away from the main pack and began to bridge the gap to the leaders. Callie Wynn (West Davidson) had worked her way to the front of the first main group, and would soon join a four-girl lead group over the final mile.
About 800m from the finish, those four leaders took a wrong turn, going to the near side of the practice football field instead of going around. When they realized their error, they crossed the field, perhaps even backtracking a bit in the process, but they remained solidly out in front of the rest of the field despite the mistake. Vessie entered the stadium first, with Borton right on her heels and Reid-Shaw a step behind. Borton lowered her head on the backstretch and powered past Vessie to take the win, clocking 19:04. Vessie held on for second in 19:08, a big PR for her and a great sign of her early fitness. Reid-Shaw stayed close, putting up a strong 19:10, while Wynn also had a big PR with her 19:20. Though initially disqualified, the four were reinstated after a hastily-called Jury of Appeals heard the arguments from the coaches for RJ Reynolds and Orange.