South Johnston freshman Jacob Gonzalez didn’t have any apologizing to do after his effort in the 3A eastern cross country regionals at Red Oak Middle School on Saturday, Oct. 26. That’s the thing about winning, it usually comes apology-free.
And that’s exactly what Gonzalez did, topping the field with a run of 16 minutes, 13 seconds and following up a disappointing effort at the Two Rivers 3A Conference Championships two weeks ago.
Gonzalez, who hadn’t lost a meet all season, finished second. He felt so bad he apologized to South coach Joe Loia the next day at practice.
“Running can be a funny deal, just like things happen in a baseball game, things happen in running,” said Loia. “Jacob hung tough and was upbeat. Sometimes its good to lose.”
Based on Saturday’s result, that time was two weeks ago for Gonzalez who topped the runner he lost to – Western Harnett’s Matthew Calvelo.
Calvelo was second at 16:17 on Saturday but didn’t threaten Gonzalez’s lead over the final mile of the race.
“I had everything I wanted to do planned out,” Gonzalez said. “I just wanted to speed up in the second mile. I was able to do that and take the lead.”
Loia didn’t want Gonzalez to run his first mile any faster than 5:10.
“I just didn’t want him to get too excited,” Loia said. “You’ve always got a few guys in these big races who go out too hard. You have to run smart, and he ran smart. He took the lead at the mile and a half mark and stayed in front.”
Gonzalez hopes to break the 16-minute mark at Saturday’s state championships in Kernersville. He had the same goal at the regional meet but missed it by just 13 seconds.
“I know I’m probably not a threat to run in the top 10, so I just want to break that 16-minute mark,” Gonzalez said.
The Corinth Holders girls’ team notched two runner-up finishes. The Pirates were second in the team standings, behind only West Carteret, which swept the team titles. Arden Vessie ran second individually in 18:48.
West Carteret’s Blake Dodge led throughout the race, winning in 18:28, maintaining a steady lead on Vessie, who knew she’d find it tough to match Dodge’s pace.
“I just tried to run a few seconds faster,” Vessie said. “I knew it would be really hard to match Blake’s pace, so I just looked to pick up a few seconds on my previous pace here and there. I didn’t want to try to really push at one point or another.”
Vessie was joined in the top 10 by teammate Cameron Rutherford, who took 10th in 20:39. Taylor Stevens was 23rd (21:42) for Corinth Holders.
“Cameron really did a good job of pacing herself,” said Corinth Holders coach Joe Johnson. “Taylor was as high as 21st, then fell back to 27th but found the will to come back strong and ended up 23rd.
“Arden’s really helped a lot of the girls, talking about pacing and setting goals. She’s really taken on a real leadership role as a captain.”
Corinth Holders’ boys’ team just missed a state bid with a fifth-place finish. The top four teams in each regional advance to the state finals this coming weekend in Kernersville. The Pirates finished 16 points behind fourth place Northern Nash.
Bailey Blackwell (28th at 17:52), Patrick Meyers (29th at 17:53), Chandler Condie (31st in 17:56), Jake Lewis (34th in 18:01) and Gabe Patton (37th in 18:07) ran in a tight pack most of the race for Corinth Holders.
“The boys have put in a lot of work, and they’ve run against a lot of stiff competition with Western Harnett and South Johnston,” Johnson said. “That will push us for years to come.”
The Trojans were seventh in the boys’ team standings. Evan Raynor finished 21st (17:42), while John Cuppett was 37th and Cody Morrison finished 51st.
Cleveland’s boys were 17th in the regional out of 22 teams. Steven May finished 54th to lead the Rams.
Smithfield-Selma fielded individual runners in both races. Norma Rodriguez led the Smithfield-Selma girls, finishing in 25 minutes flat. John Hess and Tristan Silver ran matching 18:56 for the Spartan boys’ team.
South Johnston’s Dava McLamb finished 64th (23:01) and Caroline Dorman took 69th (23:21).