CARY — It was déjà vu entering Wednesday’s Tri-9 Conference cross country championships as Maura McDonnell and Bakri Abushouk were favored to win and defend their titles. But to them, things felt different.
Green Hope’s McDonnell had little reason to doubt herself, but winning the conference for the second straight season came as a relief as she helped give the Falcons their fifth straight league title.
Abushouk, on the other hand, could’ve had plenty to worry about. Injuries suffered during and after this stage of the year have derailed state championship hopes in previous seasons. But he was carefree while crushing the field at WakeMed Park, winning by 46 seconds en route to his third straight conference championship and his school’s first team title in more than a decade.
As a senior who’s been hampered by injuries in each of the last two state championships, Abushouk knows anything can happen in the next few weeks.
Because he’s seen that play out in person, he’s at peace with what the future holds.
“I’m glad to enjoy this one a little bit,” he said. “I feel good ... I want to win (states) and training is going well.”
Abushouk (15:17.62), who recently ran the seventh-fastest time in the nation this year and committed to N.C. State, wasn’t even breathing heavy as he crossed the finish line.
He broke away from everyone at the midpoint and, in another déjà vu moment, his shoe came untied as he surged ahead. That happened in 2010, but neither time did loose laces cause him to lose the race.
Cary placed five runners in the top eight to secure the Imps’ conference title with 32 points. The Imps’ Abel Tecle, Dean Abushouk and Josh Barrett were in the top eight.
Apex (52) – led by runner-up Mihret Coulter and sixth-place Tyler Sink – and Green Hope (93) – led by fifth-place Tom Nobles – were second and third, respectively.
As the only runner returning from the three-time state champion Falcons’ top five, McDonnell felt pressure.
Last year’s group stuck together until the race’s latter stages, and didn’t care who won.
This year’s Falcons can’t stay as compact that long, and it’s up to McDonnell to go and get the team’s best finish.
And you can’t do any better than first.
“It’s like a big weight is lifted off my chest,” McDonnell (18:30.55) said.
She edged Panther Creek sophomore Rebekah Greengrass (18:34.71).
The two have only raced against each other once this year due to Greengrass’ ankle injury at the beginning of the season.
McDonnell said she was able to control the race by keeping Greengrass in front of her, then deciding to press forward around the two-mile mark. The two traded leads back-and-forth until the bottom of the two-mile hill.
“I was a couple steps ahead of her, and then after that I never saw her in front of me,” McDonnell said. “Coming up the hill I kept hearing people yell ‘five yards,’ ‘seven yards,’ but I was trying to focus and keep my eyes up, and make sure she didn’t catch me.”
Green Hope took eight of the conference’s top 10 spots, with Kristen Lospinoso, Katie Tomasi, Allie Worsdale and Kayla Hall counting towards the Falcons’ team total of 22.
Apex (80) and Cary (91) were second and third despite not placing a runner in the top 10.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps