The individual champions in this classification emerged from huge, crowded fields to post the best times of the day.
(All photos by Jeff Sides except where credited otherwise)
(Photos, Videos, Results)
This race had a prohibitive individual favorite to go with a powerful team favorite, but that didn't prevent the excitement from building up ahead of time. The crowds were at their largest point of the day for this race, and the energy in the atmosphere was amazing! As expected, Bakri Abushouk went to the front of the race, ending up shoulder-to-shoulder with Nik Kreiling (Jordan) after the 200 meter starting field narrowed onto the main path. Abushouk's start was a bit more conservative than in some of his past races, but by the half-mile mark he had opened up a significant lead, and that grew to 20 seconds as he approached one mile, clocking 4:35 in the process. Behind him, the field was still essentially one continuous pack, even a mile into the race, with no separation developing between groups yet. Patrick Sheehan (Lake Norman, #372 right) was riding the front of that wave, with Josh Anderson (Watauga) right on his shoulder. Philip Hall (Terry Sanford, #508 right) ran on the outside of the first line of runners, while tucked neatly into the middle was a group of pre-race favorite Broughton runners, led by William Roberson (#303 right). Aside from the Caps, who were clearly in the best team position at this point, it was impossible to tell where the other contending teams stood in such a huge group of athletes, although Abel Tecle (Cary, #313 right) was in good position to help lead his team to a high finish.
Abushouk crossed the two-mile mark at roughly 9:35, still setting an amazing pace and clearly challenging the course record. He looked relaxed and strong, and had an enormous lead at that point. A three-man chase pack had formed behind him, containing Roberson, Wyatt Maxey (Providence, #456 above right), and Dalton Nickel (Mount Tabor, #403 left, photo by Rodney Cain). Ian Milder (Mount Tabor) led the second group, with Hall, Sheehan, Ryan Brady (East Chapel Hill), and Collin Loy (Southern Alamance) right on his heels. Then came a succession of four Broughton runners over the next seven places, showing that they were in firm command of the team race. Mount Tabor was the next team to have their third runner cross the two-mile mark, followed by the close-running packs of Cary, Millbrook, and Pinecrest, meaning that the team race for second place was still very much up in the air.
Abushouk (right) pushed himself hard all the way to the finish, destroying the previous course record of 15:27 with his 15:13 mark. Nickel was able to pull away from Roberson over the final 500 to take second, while Roberson was able to hold off fast-rising Milder for third place. Maxey finished fifth, with Sheehan and Brady not far behind, and then came the Broughton boys (8th, 9th, and 12th). The battle for second in the team scoring was still close at the end, but it was a strong race from Josh Barrett that lifted Cary into the runner-up position, with Pinecrest 11 points behind in third (the Patriots' top 5 runners were separated by only 16 seconds).
This giant pack continued to stay together through the midpoint of the race, and at the two-mile mark there were still 10 girls in close contact with the leader (which was Greengrass at that point). The team battle was starting to take shape at this point, and it was Providence up front (3 girls in the top 15) versus the depth of Green Hope (6 runners in front of the Providence 4 and 5). The normally tight Providence trio of Bianca Bishop, Grace Sullivan, and Kayla Glova had separated quite a bit by this point in the race, and that was a bad omen for the Panthers.
Over the final mile the cohesion of the front pack finally broke down, and with 800 to go it was Kamrani in front with Sullivan on her shoulder and McDonnell trailing by about 5 meters. Sullivan took the lead shortly thereafter, and was able to use her closing speed to pull away for a 17:48 win, the fastest girls' time of the day. Kamrani held on for second in 17:51 with McDonnell 5 seconds behind, both of them breaking 18 for the first time. Bishop did everything in her power to lift her teammates up, finishing fourth, but it was not to be: Green Hope earned their fourth straight title 83-101. Vess and Wood both finished very well, which foretells excellent things coming next year as A.C. Reynolds moves down to 3A. Finally, the performance of the day might have gone unnoticed by many, but Kayla Montgomery (Mount Tabor, left) ran a PR and finished in the top 10 after falling twice during the race (both times due to contact with her back foot while running in the sometimes-chaotic lead pack).