For Sara Stephenson, the Carolina 1A Conference country conference championship meet Tuesday, Oct. 15, was a breeze. But for Princeton’s girls, it was a test not only of their talent, but their intestinal fortitude and the ability to overcome adversity.
As things turned out, both were able to claim championships in the 3.2-mile race through Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.
Stevenson, as she has done all season, dominated the girls’ race for Neuse Charter, winning in 22 minutes 39 seconds while the Bulldogs survived a multitude of medical problems to take the team crown, holding off Rosewood, 38-48.
North Duplin tallied 50 points and Hobbton tallied 75.
On the boys’ side of the ledger, Princeton capitalized on its top three performers to claim third place in the team standings.
The Bulldogs scored 64 points, trailing team champion Rosewood, which posted a score of 38, with Spring Creek claiming runner-up honors with 53. North Duplin with 98 points and Hobbton with 101 rounded out the scoring.
Spring Creek’s Allen Core (18:35) was the overall champion for the boys.
Princeton battled through injury, with No. 2 runner Megan Evans out with a recent ankle injury, while Chelsea Hawley and Courtney Brewer ran despite being in less than top shape. Hawley entered the race recovering from a knee injury, while Brewer recently was stricken with bronchitis. Both persevered, with Hawley posting a ninth place overall (24:08).
That showing was good for third place among Bulldogs runners, while Brewer (28:00) placed her 17th.
Amber Johnson placed sixth overall and fourth scoring-wise with a time of 23:44 to pace the Bulldogs, with Althea Balagio right behind in 23:45.
Abby Rubio was the fourth scorer for the Bulldogs, completing the race in 25:17, good for 10th overall and eighth in scoring.
“Hopefully, Courtney get better with her bronchitis,” said Princeton coach Mike McLamb. “And Chelsea’s knees get better and Megan’s ankle gets better before the regionals (at Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park) in two weeks.
“We’ve got the bare minimum number of kids to compete as a team. If we had a larger team, that could make all the difference in the world with the boys on how we would finish.”
Stephenson bolted away from her competitors on the starting gun, never looking back as she eased over the finish line with her triumph.
Starting quickly is the norm for Stephenson, who says she likes running alone, instead on the shoulder of a competitor.
“I like being alone,” Stephenson said. “That way I can hear the footsteps of the other runners – and I can tell how far ahead I am and if I need to go faster.”
Stephenson didn’t have to worry about the competition, and was joined among top-four finishers by teammate Marieka Sammuelson (23:34). That tandem, along with Taylor Davis, comprise Neuse Charter’s inaugural girls’ cross-country team, having transitioned from track, on which they will compete in the spring.
Davis fell on the rocks in one section of the course but recovered and finished with a 29:18 clocking.
“I just have a couple of girls who ran track,” said Neuse Charter coach Joe Pepka. “They, along with Taylor Davis have worked hard all season.”
Princeton runner Hunter Mitchell, who finished fourth overall in 19:18, was a step ahead of Jose Moreno, who matched that time in fifth place.
Matt Edwards was 20 seconds back in sixth place, giving the Bulldogs a mere 15 points at that point.
Neuse Charter fielded two competitors, with Maurice Watson finishing in 20:06.