Nothing, it seems, can stop the Cardinal Gibbons girls’ cross country team.
Not the rain and mud at a swamped Ivey Redmon Sports Complex. Not Green Hope, the six-time defending state champion. Not even a move up in classification, to 4A.
Placing five runners in the top 24, the Crusaders rolled to their first N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state cross country title on Saturday. In doing so, Gibbons snapped Green Hope’s six-year stranglehold on the 4A title.
“I think we had something to prove out here,” senior Sophie Ebihara said. “We worked extremely hard for it, and I’m incredibly proud of my team and my girls. They worked hard and fought out there. We stepped up to the challenge, and I’m so thankful we got this opportunity.”
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The Crusaders had won five consecutive titles in 3A before moving up to 4A this year. But after individual runners, who weren’t counted in the team battle, Marissa Bishop finished third, Ebihara sixth, Sloan Walter 11th, Annie Pierce 19th and freshman Katherine Priu 24th as Gibbons scored 63 points to edge the Falcons by four points.
“Over the years, there’s been a culture that’s been created,” Crusaders coach Nick Mangum said. “They want to work hard. We meet over the summer; it’s not mandatory and no one forces them to come, but we have 50 or more kids a day. They want to be there, they want to be the best they can. It’s just a culture. It’s taken time to get there, but this thing is going to continue to go on. These kids are going to keep doing it. They deserve all the credit.”
Leesville Road’s Nevada Mareno deserves lots of credit, too, as she rolled to the individual title with a 44-second victory over the field. Her time of 17 minutes, 46.50 seconds was one in the top 10 all time in a state championship meet, and she easily beat defending state champ Elly Henes of Green Hope.
“I have to be happy with the time,” Mareno said. “It’s tough because of the conditions. I wasn’t really going for time today, (but) I am satisfied with it.”
Mareno, a junior, rose to stardom this season in cross country just this season.
“I never had the intensity, like my mindset, that I had going into this cross country season,” Mareno said. “I kinda was just (using) cross country to stay in shape for soccer. But I guess my breakout would be during winter track last season, and that gave me a lot of confidence that maybe I could do something big in cross country.”
Mareno powered Leesville to third in the team race, and with Apex fourth, Triangle-area schools swept the top four.
Jeremy Brown of Broughton won his second consecutive boys title, beating Gibbons’ Connor Lane by nearly six seconds.
“I’m really excited to be a part of very few people in the state to win two straight 4A state championships,” Brown said. “This isn’t the end of the season for me; I have big goals in postseason.”
Those include qualifying for the Nike Cross Nationals as an individual and with Broughton as a team.
The Capitals’ run of four consecutive boys’ titles came to an end, as Winston-Salem’s Mount Tabor locked down the championship with three runners in the top six. Broughton finished second, with Gibbons third, Green Hope fourth and Apex fifth.
“I honestly think Mount Tabor had the better day,” Caps coach David Christian said. “Congratulations to them.”