Although a very high heat index and a damp surface slowed the times, the competition was fierce at UNCW this weekend.
From the gun, there was very little separation among the boys in this race, as a wave of runners passed through the fence at 00 meters. At the one-mile mark, there was a two-person breakaway containing Bakri Abushouk (Cary) and Philip Hall (Terry Sanford). Cary's Abel Tecle was just in front of the first group of runners, trying to bridge the gap to the leaders, and being followed by Sam Miner (East Chapel Hill).
The fast first mile, combined with the humidity, began to drag on the field; by the half-way point, Abushouk was by himself. Hall and Tecle were dueling for second, while a true chase pack had begun to develop that would affect the team battle.
The second time around the athletic facilities amounted to a victory lap for Bakri, who pulled away to a 42-second win over second place, his 15:27 the only time under 16 minues in the field.. Tecle was able to take possession of second place, giving the Imps a 1-2 finish that would power them to a dominating team win. Hall finished third, while Tom Nobles (Green Hope) got past Miner for fourth place. Jake Zawada was able to lead Cardinal Gibbons to second place overall, with Apex third and East Chapel Hill fourth in the major-race debut for both teams.
Jennifer Stephenson of Victory Christian set the early pace at the front of an enormous pack over the first 400m (kudos to her coach for letting her run up in the championship race while her team was in varsity). She was matched by Sydney Foreman (Ardrey Kell) and Maura McDonnell (Green Hope). By the time the leaders made it to one mile, a pack of five had developed, as slow-starting Cardinal Gibbons teammates Mary Grace Doggett and Sophie Ebihara had fought through traffic to latch onto Foreman and McDonnell; Pegah Kamrani (East Chapel Hill) was also right there. Stephenson was hanging on in striking range, which she would continue to do through the race, her first at this level of competition. Lurking not far behind were Blake Dodge (West Carteret) and teammates Grace Sullivan and Bianca Bishop (Providence).
As the runners started around the loop for the second time, the front group had separated into to pairs. Doggett and Ebihara were powering each other and pulling away gradually, while Foreman and McDonnell were battling a few meters back. Kamrani refused to drop back and stayed close enough to threaten the top four, while Stephenson was still in contact. Meanwhile, there were four Providence runners in the next stretched-out group, then a little ways back was a passel of Carrboro girls, which signalled a brewing team battle.
Doggett maintained her pace while everyone else wilted in the heat, finishing with a strong 18:38. Ebihara stayed within visual range the whole race, and Foreman held third place. Kamrani got past McDonnell for fourth, and then runners started to hit the line in waves, creating some chaos in the chute (although the timing handled everything just fine). Powered by the return of Samiiah Wilson and Rachel Bartolomeo, even if they aren't at full strength yet, Cardinal Gibbons was able to defeat a Green Hope team that is still missing two of its top 5 from summer injuries. For third place, Providence edged Carrboro, which had four runners come in together in one of the best examples of pack running on display this weekend.
This race had the largest early lead pack of any of the races Saturday, with as many as eight still in close contact at the mile mark. Sam Williams (Bishop McGuiness) held a slim lead over teammates Adam Chase and Graves Littlejohn of Forsyth Country Day; another pair of teammates, Connor Flater and David Loy of High Point Christian, was right in the mix. Notice the yellow of Walter Williams at the back of this group, as they would factor heavily into the last half of the race.
Williams began to take control over the next half-mile, coming to the midpoint with about a 10-meter advantage over Chase; the two would not change positions over the second loop. The intrigue lay in the battle for third, where Josh Valdez and Carter Bowman of Williams were beginning to challenge Littlejohn and Flater.
Williams closed out the win nicely given the suffocating heat at the time of this race, defeating Chase by 23 seconds. Bowman, not in any of the previous shots as he trailed the leaders, made his more-conservative start pay off as he got all the way up to third over the final mile. Littlejohn and Flater held on to round out the top 5; that gave FCD two in the top 4 and powered their team to the title over Bishop McGuiness.
(with guest reporter Monica Greene)
In contrast to the varsity boys, this race became by far the most strung-out, disconnected affair of the morning. The 300-meter mark was about the last time that more than three runners were together among the top 10, as Gabby Merritt (Greensboro Day) quickly established her superiority over the field. It was also clear that the team race would come down to Greensboro Day versus Franklin Academy, as the top 6 runners in the race at the mile mark were from those two schools (three from each, and Franklin Academy had a fourth in the top 10 at that point).
At the midpoint, Maria Vanderford (Northwood) and Carly Kreber (Bishop McGuinness) had crept into the picture and begun to set their sights on the top 5. Merritt was already way out in front and running a time trial, with Hannah Zenker (Franklin Academy) second and Kaitlyn Lingard (Greensboro Day) third, followed by another big gap. With Lauren Smir was in fourth place, Greensboro Day had three of the top four runners at this point, while Franklin Academy had four in the top 15.
Merritt pulled away steadily, running the only sub-20 time of the race and winning by 41 seconds over Zenker, while Lingard was able to stay within 10 seconds to take third. Vanderford was able to get past Smir, with Kreber sixth. Greensboro Day did not finish five runners, and Franklin Academy had a few drop off the pace, opening the door for a late rise by Forsyth Country Day. Haley Doherty was the first finisher from FCD, as they edged Franklin Academy for the team title.
(with guest reporter Monica Greene)