Franklin Academy scored its first girls’ state championship when the Patriots cross country team stormed to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A championship on Saturday at Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex.
Sophomore Caitlyn Burkett finished second to Lincoln Charter’s Michaela Gammon, with Patriots finishing 17th, 25th and 30th to secure the team title.
Franklin Academy won the boys’ 1A soccer title a year ago, but the girls’ teams had been shut out on the state level – until now.
“That just means the world to me,” Burkett said. “Cross country isn’t really talked about at our school, so this proved everybody wrong. We are a pretty decent sport at our school. It’ll show the school that we can win. I’m very excited about it.”
Merytt Haney chased race winner Michaela Gammon of Lincoln Charter for the first part of the race, giving Haney a quick start before she ended up 17th. Hannah Franklin was 25th and Leah Given 30th as the Franklin Academy pack mentality worked.
“I told them, ‘If you can do that and run it like it’s make-or-break, then we’ll have a really good shot,’” Patriots coach Beth Martin said. “That’s what they did today. They ran with their hearts. It’s been a great season, and these girls have worked so hard. I can’t even express how great this feels right now.”
Burkett, who finished 11th as a freshman last year, went out fast but admitted to being tired late in the race. But she pushed through to finish second.
“We’re all really excited,” Burkett said. “We’ve worked really hard and we’ve done a lot of pack running and have been a lot closer this year than last year. It’s been a really good team experience this year.”
It was a great experience for Voyager Academy’s Luke Bennett. The senior finished second a year ago, but moments after that race, he made it his goal to win in 2016.
Bennett fulfilled that goal Saturday, winning the boys individual title with a time of 16 minutes, 22 seconds.
“I set a goal to come out here Nov. 5 and win the state championship,” Bennett said. “I trained all summer, some of the spring, all season to win here today. To do that feels amazing.”
Every time Bennett trained, he focused on this meet, this course.
“I was picturing it over and over in my head,” Bennett said. “I was going through the race – I love this course. I’d be on long runs by myself, just going through the course, saying, ‘This is what I’m training for, this is why I’m out here.’ A lot of times I was by myself with all the miles.”
Kyle Rhodes of East Wilkes pushed Bennett, but the Voyager runner’s strategy played out exactly how he wanted. He got the lead and pulled ahead so it wouldn’t be an all-out sprint to the finish.
“It was good to have someone behind the whole time pushing me up those hills,” Bennett said. “It was a good, competitive race.”
Raleigh Charter’s Timmy O’Neill finished fourth in the boys’ race, with Princeton’s Austin Sullivan seventh.