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The outcomes in the first of six 3-A Big East Conference regular-season cross-country meets at J. Burt Gillette Athletic Complex on a hot Wednesday afternoon indicate the conference championship tradition will continue for the Northern Nash boys and girls.
But beware Fike! The Golden Demons squads of first-year head coach Cheryl Gardner served notice they are poised to rebound in 2018.
In the opener, Northern Nash squads boasted the top four finishers.
Placing seven runners in the top 10, the Knights boys, fifth in the 3-A East Region last season, began their quest for a seventh consecutive conference title with 17 points (perfect score is 15), followed by Fike with 58, Southern Nash (95), Rocky Mount (95), Franklinton (12) and Hunt (146).
With five runners in the top 10, the Lady Knights, fourth in last year’s regional, dominated with 18 points, followed by Fike (70), Rocky Mount (76), Hunt (81), Southern Nash (142) and Franklinton (146). Northern Nash girls are eyeing their third consecutive Big East crown.
Some 100 runners traversed a slightly revamped 3.1-mile course and the conference-opening meet started an hour later than scheduled because of a conflict with a meet of charter schools at Gillette Complex. Cheryl Gardner, first-year head coach at host Fike, explained she delayed the meet an hour because she was uncertain as to which course the charter schools were going to utilize.
But the runner-up performances from Fike’s boys and girls left Gardner much encouraged. The Fike teams were opening their respective seasons.
“I am absolutely thrilled with the girls,” Gardner commented. “I hope this motivates them to do a little bit more. The boys also did well, but that was about what I expected from them.”
A cluster of four runners claiming the No. 11 through No. 14 positions triggered the Fike boys. Junior Amando Robles paced Fike with an eighth-place time of 18 minutes, 53 seconds. Senior Chibby Uwakwe finished 11th, junior Ugo Uwakwe 12th, senior Samuel Stevens 13th and junior Ryo Nakaya 14th.
“A little rough,” Robles described his race, “but my teammates helped me along. They encouraged me to keep going and run faster and, luckily, I was able to finish pretty good.”
Of Fike’s team showing, Robles responded: “We are going to chase (Northern Nash), catch them, beat them and we are going to be first. We have a lot of returners and a lot of strong new runners. I am very confident in our team.”
A tall task looms as Northern Nash senior Jordan Richardson, the league’s 2017 runner of the year, paced the field in 17:02. Then came teammates Joseph Dees, a senior; junior Matt Wright and sophomore Justin Marshall.
“I felt good about it and felt comfortable,” Richardson assessed his performance. “I am focused on our invitational Saturday, but I was making sure I won today. It was more a team thing. It was a pretty good start to the season. We were trying to get at least seven of the top 10.”
Preventing a top-five sweep was Southern Nash junior Shamir Small with a fifth-place time of 18:36. Sophomore Brandon Dunston paced Rocky Mount with a sixth-place effort. Hunt’s top finisher was sophomore David Cardenas in 15th.
Senior Olivia Pearce keyed the Lady Demons with a seventh-place showing of 23:13. Providing the spark was a complementing cast of four freshmen and a sophomore. Freshman Blair Boyette debuted with a 13th-place finish, while classmate Raegan Fulghum wound up 14th. Sophomore Jessica Avery took 16th.
Northern Nash freshman Elana Griffin prevailed in 21:52, winning her third meet of the season. For the Lady Knights, senior Kelsey Hutchison placed second, senior Mackenzie Proctor third and freshman Pheobe Atkins fourth.
“It feels good,” Griffin evaluated her race. “It went faster than I expected; my strides were really long. I wanted to go out strong and stay strong.”
As did Richardson in the boys race, Griffin ran out front from start to finish.
Also as in the boys race, a Southern Nash runner prevented a top-five showing from the Northern Nash girls. Southern Nash freshman Jadiza Jimenez claimed fifth. Northern Nash landed five of the top eight.
Jimenez said she expected to finish fourth or fifth and her strategy was “to stay ahead of the group and not get caught in a group.”
Leading the way for Hunt were senior Isabel Reed in ninth and senior Emma Fatzaun in 10th. Hunt coach Rusty Boyette hopes the finish will be Reed’s poorest of 2018.
“Not great,” Reed admitted. “But I started getting a little bit of chest pain and I had to take rests.. I’ll see what’s going on there (Thursday). I didn’t want to not finish the race.
“But I was very proud of the team. This is their time to showcase what we’ve been doing. We came in strong as a team. Definitely not one of my best races, but maybe I get to redeem myself the next time.”
Boyette revealed both Hunt squads are hampered by nagging injuries and the boys were without their top runner.
“It’s the first meet of the season,” he reasoned. “We have room and time to improve.”
Conference meet No. 2 is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Hunt High.