The Early Bird Invitational provided an early-season dilemma for some of the area’s top high school cross country runners.
Established times and long-crafted rivalries are important preparation aspects for most distance performers, especially as a season progresses toward its finish.
But Saturday’s meet at Wendell Park offered none of those luxuries, as the new pecking order in the Triangle running scene is still being determined.
“Except for some of the guys in my (conference), I didn’t know anybody here,’’ said Cleveland junior Gable Dershem. “So you don’t really know what to expect.’’
Dersham didn’t finish in the top 10 at last year’s Early Bird, but he cruised to a title in the boys’ championship division with a time of 15:48.25 – more than 16 seconds ahead of Research Triangle’s Madison Daniel. Dershem’s brother, Wyatt, was third overall at 16:24.86.
Daniel set the early pace, along with teammate Jack Puryear. The Raptors tandem was running 1-2 before Gable Dershem made his move during the second pass through the woods at Wendell Park.
“We got to the woods again, and my goal was to catch (Puryear),’’ Gable Dershem said. “Then I got up there and saw that I could catch (Daniel), too. I started out with a conservative pace and was waiting for my chance to make a move.’’
That same strategy was used in the girls race by Riverside sophomore Ceara Gannon, who wasn’t even in the top 20 in the 2014 race – but rolled to a victory Saturday with a personal-best time of 19:58.20, which was more than 49 seconds better than her previous top mark.
Gannon trailed Corinth Holders’ Kayla Ste. Marie before surging ahead in the second pass through the woods – just like Dershem.
Gannon was 21.18 seconds ahead of Ste. Marie at the finish, while Knightdale’s tandem of Aleena Cruz (20.38.08) and Rebecca Davis (20:43.92) claimed the third and fourth spots, respectively.
“I was kind of waiting early to see how it was going to go,’’ Gannon said. “(In the woods), I felt like I had gotten to where now was the time to pass (Ste. Marie). I started hearing her breathing a little harder.’’
Thanks to its five top-8 individual finishers, Corinth Holders was the girls team champion with 28 points – a number that easily outdistanced second-place Clayton (72). Knightdale was third at 93, followed by Garner in fourth at 130.
The boys team race was much tighter, but Corinth Holders prevailed again, picking up 88 points to edge Cleveland (99). Rolesville (100) was third and Clayton took home fourth place (115).
Research Triangle’s Alyssa Donaldson was the girls’ open winner at 25:11.50, while Corinth Holders’ Stella Blackwell was second at 25:32.94.
Donaldson’s heroics helped Research Triangle earn the girls’ open team crown with 42 points. Rolesville (79) slid past Garner (81) for the runner-up position.
The day’s tightest race came in the boys’ open division as Clayton’s Logan Salter (19:57.72) outlasted Cleveland’s Dyson Ahola (19:59.31) at the finish.
Ahola’s Rams, however, were the team champions at 64, with Clayton taking second at 80.