Weddington senior Kyle Durham and Cuthbertson sophomore Madeline Hill are the runners to beat at McAlpine Park on Oct. 27, when the NCHSAA will host its regional cross country meets.
Hill will enter the regional meet with a region-best time of 18:21 and is coming in fresh off her win at the SCC meet with an 18:26, which was 20 seconds faster than second-place finisher Leah Helms of Cuthbertson. Weddington, however, took the next five spots to claim the team title by a 34-25 margin over the Cavaliers.
“What is different about our team is that we have our two frontrunners and then we have a pack that so far this season has been just behind their (Weddington) pack,” said Cuthbertson cross country coach Kirk Walsh. “Our next step is for our pack to keep progressing.”
Hill finished third at the state meet last fall and she has won four races this cross country season. Helms, a sophomore, missed last season with an injury, but Walsh said she is getting stronger with each race.
“Madeline is a natural cross country athlete, the longer she goes the better she feels,” Walsh said. “She is a strong kid and she is surging with confidence. Leah is also very talented in cross country and it is showing this year. Back in middle school, she was always in Madeline’s pocket. I expect both of them to keep moving forward and I expect Leah to close the gap from where she is right now.”
Mount Tabor junior Francis Whitworth has the second-best time entering the regional with a 18:22. Weddington freshman Emma Jones has the third-best time this season in the region with a 18:40 while Helms has the fourth-best time with a 18:45. Weddington juniors Anna Davis and Anna Brown have the next best times with 18:55 and 19:00, respectively.
“We know that Cuthbertson is right there with us and we know that we have to work hard the next two weeks and see what we can do at the regional and at the state meet,” Spencer said.
In the Class 3A West Regional, Marvin Ridge freshman Caroline Blanton has the fourth-best time with a 19:41, and she finished in 11th place at the SCC meet.
In the 4A girls meet, Porter Ridge junior Caroline Fagan has the sixth-best time in the Class 4A Midwest region with a 19:15.
Weddington cross country coach Rick Spencer said he expects another close race at the regional.
Durham, who ran a personal best of 15:30 earlier this month, finished second at the SCC meet (16:20) behind teammate Jackson O’Hara (16:18) as the Warriors won the team championship in impressive fashion. Weddington took five of the top seven spots to easily defeat Cuthbertson 64-17.
Weddington runners Stephen Larson (15:43), Nate Jaster (15:47) and O’Hara (15:49) have the next three fastest times in the region behind Durham.
“We have done a decent job so far this season. We are headed in the right direction and I think we are ready to go,” Spencer said. “We have a group of six guys that I feel that on any day anyone of them could win. We pride ourselves on having a strong, tight pack of runners at the top.”
In the 3A Midwest, Marvin Ridge’s Cole Jackson finished in fifth place (16:30.6) at the SCC meet and the junior has the eighth best-time in the region this year.