Two of the best cross-country runners in North Carolina history in Mary Bonner Dalton and Hannah Rae Shaffer are set to square off at the NCHSAA 4A State Championship tomorrow afternoon. The two have been dominant on separate sides of the state and have yet to race head-to-head this fall.
Dalton holds a season-best of 16:58 from the flat McAlpine course as well as a 17:03 to break the Wendy's meet record, the oldest cross country invitational in North Carolina history. She's been undefeated through four races this fall and would be no surprise to see her break the Ivey Redmon course record tomorrow afternoon. The record is held by Carmen Alder set in 2020 of 17:11 who went on to eventually win the NCHSAA title that February (COVID season delay).
While Dalton is the favorite, she's got as strong of competition as she could ask for in Cardinal Gibbons junior Hannah Rae Shaffer. Shaffer has won 4 of 6 races this spring only taking 2nd at Great American and 2nd at MileStat in Virginia. She holds a season-best of 17:18 and ran 17:24 twice at WakeMed. Outdoors it was Dalton taking the 3200m title, but Shaffer was not far behind clocking 10:14 in 2nd to Dalton's 10:08. The second and third fastest marks in NCHSAA State Championship meet history. Shaffer has not lost to any other NC girl this season and while based off time she's a slight underdog, but I expect these two to be in a battle for the state title tomorrow.
In most other years, many of the girls listed next are likely to come into the state meet as the favorites. There are 12 girls so far this season that have broken 18 minutes in 4A.
Bronwyn Parks of Mount Tabor has had a stellar senior campaign taking a big win early in the year at Friday Night Lights and later running 17:27 at WakeMed for 4th overall in the ROC. Ashlei Summers of Hoggard was 31st at the state meet last year, but has solidified herself as a top 5 contender this season running a season best of 17:40 and running 18:00 of faster five times. Parks' Tabor teammate Joiner Evans has shown a ceiling on a good day of running 17:29 at MileStat and 17:45 at WakeMed. Chandler Welsh of RJ Reynolds has been amongst the best in North Carolina over the last two years and has always excelled on her local Ivey Redmon course. You also have Grace Hanson whose run 17:51 and despite a 5th place finish at the regional meet, would be no surprise to bring home a top 3 finish tomorrow.
Two younger stars to keep an eye on are freshman Alessia Potts of Pinecrest who set a new personal best of 17:55 at the 4A Mideast regional last weekend and Kasey Dingman who had run 17:59 and been just behind the girls above over the last two years. This could be a battle for future NCHSAA XC State Champions once a strong junior and senior class moves on.
All the talent above, and two girls you cannot rule out are defending champion Stella Kermes and Charlotte Bell of Cuthbertson. Kermes has run the sixth-fastest mark in North Carolina this season of 17:44 and beat Dalton down the homestretch last year running 17:40. Bell has run 18:00 which came last week in a third-place finish at the 4A Midwest regional on this Ivey Redmon course. Kermes did not run at the regional last weekend and very well could be out for tomorrow, but if healthy it'd be hard to be surprised if the Cuthbertson girls emerged at the state championship after what we've seen from their program over the last five years.
Team-wise, we have three of the most talented teams in state history. Two time defending champions in Cuthbertson graduated senior Alyssa Preisano this year which has been hard to duplicate, but they Cavaliers have rebuilt to be nearly as strong as the Southeast Championship squad from a year ago. However, Cardinal Gibbons very early in the year debuted at Knights Crossing in Virginia and showed they look to be the team to beat with a top 5 of four juniors and a sophomore. The Crusaders look tough to beat with a 17:58 team average and fifth runner Ina Lazarchyk who had run 18:19. Gibbons won the most recent head-to-head matchup between themselves, Cuthbertson and Mount Tabor at Great American, despite losing to Delaware power Tatnall.
|1||Tatnall||68||7+9+11+18+23 (147+193)||0:27 1-5 Split | 17:56 Avg|
|2||Cardinal Gibbons||96||1+10+20+31+34 (55+65)||1:02 1-5 Split | 18:02 Avg|
|3||Assumption||147||4+24+35+37+47 (64+67)||1:12 1-5 Split | 18:21 Avg|
|4||Cuthbertson High School||148||6+19+30+32+61 (130)||1:19 1-5 Split | 18:19 Avg|
|5||Mount Tabor||189||2+8+44+52+83 (158+189)||1:58 1-5 Split | 18:28 Avg|
Mount Tabor and Cuthbertson have been close all year as the second best team in the state behind Gibbons. Tabor took the win against a shorthanded Cuthbertson at their regional meet a weekend ago 42-66 with an 18:28 team average. The Spartans have a strong 1-2 and four veteran seniors in their top five alongside freshman star Rachel Riley. They have been very consistent as a team over the course of the season, but will need a perfect day to challenge Gibbons up front. Cuthbertson has some question marks with Kermes regional absence, but have had a great season from fourth runner Josie Schihl whose breakout keep their state championship hopes alive. While Gibbons are certainly going to be tough to beat, Cuthbertson has plenty of talent and proven success at the state championship to give them a great run for their money.
Marvin Ridge and Hoggard both have strong squads that would likely be favorites in years past, but with 4A being so strong with the top three they'll need a PR day across the board to break into the top 3 finishing teams.