By Lee Noles
WEDDINGTON – Several athletes for the Weddington boys cross country team pull triple duty in a school year by also running for the Warriors’ indoor and outdoor track programs.
Will Mazur is one of them. And while he recognizes there are some subtle differences among each of the teams, he said they share the common goal of wanting to sweep all three of the state titles.
The achievement has happened once since indoor track began awarding state championships in 1987.
Mazur said they call it the triple crown of running. It’s a feat the Warriors barely missed out on last year when the track teams won state championships, but cross country finished as runner-ups at the state 3A meet in Winston-Salem. Salt was added to the proverbial wound last May when Green Hope became the first school to complete the sweep by winning the boys outdoor track title.
The near miss has Weddington’s cross country team knowing if they don’t get the job done in the fall, there’s no chance for the track team to finish off the trifecta. The Warriors are looking toward a talented group of upperclassmen, and a record-setting freshman, to be the right mix needed to bring the program their first state title since 2015.
“Getting the most difficult down and out of the way would be awesome,” said Mazur of winning a state title in cross country. “And legacy for us is a huge thing … And winning all three is something we want the younger runners to look up to and aspire to as runners.”
Mazur is part of a veteran-laden group that returns five of its top runners from a Warrior team who last year captured the Union County championship and finished second at the 3A Midwest Regional and in the state meet.
Another key contributor is senior Kyle Durham, who turned in the Warriors’ top finish at the state championship a year ago by placing seventh. Durham continued with last year’s late success with a third-place run this season at the prestigious Friday Night Light Festival on Sept. 7 in Kernersville. The event was dominated by the Warriors as they used a pack-running style to place four scorers in the top 15. The commanding race propelled the Warriors into winning the 86-team meet by nearly 100 points over second-place Chapel Hill.
In addition to Durham, Weddington had freshman Nate Jaster come in fourth, Mazur was 12th and junior Jake Toomey was 13th. Running in a pack allows the Warriors to maintain a consistent pace throughout to maximize the points needed to win, but it is also used as a psychological tool.
“It makes (other runners) worry,” Durham said. “It can get to a point where it can have a hopeless effect (on other teams). And it gives us confidence.”
The race was somewhat of a debut for Jaster, who ran the fastest time in the United States for a freshman this season when he completed the 3.1 mile course in 15 minutes, 57.81 seconds. Jaster was described by Weddington coach Rick Spencer as a runner who has no fear despite lacking high school experience. Jaster sees his early success as a direct correlation to the guidance he gets from the strong group of veterans like Mazur and Durham.
“I support them and they support me,” Jaster said of the upperclassmen. “I think that is really important… Yeah we have our own race, but if someone is having a hard race, we know someone is there to pick things up.”
Spencer said a lot of Weddington’s impressive showings in meets stem from practices. The runners are not only very competitive with each other, but also give some good-natured ribbing.
“We have six guys who can be No.1 at any point,” Spencer said. “Sure they tease each other. They might say ‘I beat you by this many seconds’ but we have never had a problem with someone worrying about themselves. They always work together to achieve their goals.”
On the season, the Warriors boast five runners within the top 20 fastest times run in the state this season regardless of classification.
Toomey has the sixth-fastest time in the state (15:55) and he’s followed by Durham (ninth, 15:56), Jaster (11th, 15:57), Jackson O’Hara (18th, 16:05), Mazur (20th, 16:05). In addition, Stephen Larson (34th, 16:20) would likely be the top runner on on many other teams in the state, but provides depth to the Warriors unbelievably successful pack.
But the Warriors know they need to put all of that talent together when it matters.
Mazur was a freshman when the Warriors won their last state championship in cross country in 2015. He shrugs off talking about it because, by his own admission, he doesn’t count it for himself since he wasn’t one of the top six to run at the meet that year. The absence that season puts a premium on being an integral part of this year’s team for Mazur. Not just in the sense of trying to capture a state title in cross country, but the journey to all three.
“We are hoping to get that triple crown,” Mazur said. “And (cross country) is the first leg of that journey for us.”