A day full of expectations went somewhat unfilled for Johnston County squads in the NCHSAA 3A east regional cross country meets at Red Oak Middle School.
South Johnston’s Jacob Gonzalez entered the boys meet as the odds-on individual favorite, but a virus contracted in the middle of the week, and a record-setting effort by Northern Nash’s Stephen Whitehead spoiled those hopes.
Corinth Holders and Cleveland also saw their dreams dashed in the overall team scoring, just missing out on a top-four finish, settling for fifth and sixth-place finishes, respectively. And Corinth Holders’ girls team was dealt more than its share of adversity, settling for a seventh place team showing.
There were positives as Gonzalez lead a quartet of individual area qualifiers to the state meet, which will be contested this Saturday in Kernersville, while Corinth Holders’ Kayla Ste. Marie will represent the area in the girls meet. Joining Gonzalez will be brothers Gable and Wyatt Dresham of Cleveland, and Patrick Myers of Corinth Holders.
Gable Dresham placed third overall, just behind Gonzalez, who finished in a personal best time of 16 minutes, 14 seconds, six seconds off Whitehead’s winning effort.
Wyatt Dresham placed sixth in 16:22 while Myers was eighth overall in 16:25.
The top four teams in both the boys and girls meets qualified for the state meet, as did the top five individual finishers not associated with a qualifying team.
Host Northern Nash raced to the team title, amassing 64 points, well ahead of runner-up Topsail, which tallied 118.
Coastal teams dominated both events, with White Oak (119 points) and West Carteret (149) completing the top four teams.
Corinth Holders fell six points short in the team race, with a tally of 155 points while Cleveland posted a team score of 167. South Johnston was 10th with 250 points, missing a ninth-place finish via the sixth runner tiebreaker rule with Rocky Mount. The Trojans fielded only five runners.
Once again, the coastal area dominated the girls team scoring, with West Carteret placing four runners among the top five finishers and five in the top 13 to run away with the team title, scoring 33 points. Swansboro placed second with 57 points, followed by Jacksonville (104) and White Oak (154). Corinth Holders, with 193 points, was seventh. West Carteret’s Emme Fisher ran away from the field, winning in a course record 18:23.
In the boys’ meet, Gonzalez broke to the lead at the gun, and held his advantage until the final half mile, when Whitehead made his push.
The combatants jockeyed for the lead until Whitehead made his final surge 250 yards from the finish and pulled away.
“I knew he (Gonzalez) didn’t have a finishing kick,” Whitehead said. “I had seen him in the 800 at the state track meet, so I knew I could pull away.”
Gonzalez didn’t use his illness as an excuse, but admitted that he was congested in the final stages of the race. “I guess my throat was full of saliva,” he said. “I’m sick, and have been sick since Wednesday. I was in bed yesterday (Friday).”
Gonzalez said he expected to win, even though he was under the weather: “I set the pace fast, and I thought I had him, but I guess he got me. Every dog has his day.”
Trojans coach Joe Loia was unaware of Gonzalez’ condition until just before the race.
“He didn’t tell me that until this morning,” Loia said. “He didn’t run his best race, but he is as tough as they come.
“He ran a good race. He isn’t ever going to play it safe. He is always going to try to win.”
Other runners for South Johnston were Evan Raynor, who posted a time of 17:23; Danny Perez, 18:20; John Cuppett, 18:51 and Nicholas Aumiller, 20:08.
Corinth Holders coach Joe Thomas felt the Pirates did as well as they could.
“They ran well, I’m proud of them,” Thomas said.”Patrick Myers ran with the front pack and finished eighth. He’s peaking at the right time.
“The team ran really well. They didn’t make the state last year, which I think motivated them to run as well as they could today, having some runners to qualify today is something to be proud of.”
In addition to Myers, times by the Pirate contingent consisted of Austin Carroll, 17:13; Andre Hichue, 18:00; Bailey Blackwell, 18:03; Nick Lacerda, 18:33 and Bobby Beare, 18:59.
The Dershams were joined by Rams’ teammates Austin Blumenberg 18:14; Jose Sampson, 18:29; Steven May, 18:40 ; Thomas Tew, 18:54 and Tyler Fowler, 19:28.
Smithfield-Selma was represented by Tristan Silver in 19:46 and Tymothy Jones, 23:49.
Fisher roared away from the pack in the girls’ meet and was never challenged, racing to a 49-second victory over Swansboro’s Paige Horvath.
But the Pirates, who were already facing adversity when top runner Arden Vessie was advised not to compete, lost another performer in Cameron Rutherford, who was forced to drop out midway through the event with asthma problems.
“With (Rutherford) in the lineup, we were projected to finish fourth in the team standings,” Thomas said. “I’m just glad she is OK.”
Registering times for the Pirates, along with Ste. Marie, were Kayla Alznauer, 21:53; Brianna Everett, 21:12; Rachel Strickland, 23:18; Abby Pittman, 23:37 and Stella Blackwell, 24:03.
South Johnston was paced by Caroline Dorman in time of 22:34; Noemi Hernandez, 26:50; and Devon Eltz, 28:44.
Leading the way for Cleveland was Jessica Cullens, 21:56; Jasmine Cullens, 23:01; Kendra Ebach, 24:45 and Sara Banks, 27:40.
Smithfield-Selma received a time of 21:46 from Gywn Reese.