Developing a top-flight cross country program at N.C. School of Science and Mathematics is unlike doing it at any other high school in the state.
Juniors and seniors come from across the state to attend the residential school, and the athletic program basically remakes itself every year.
Yet, here are the Unicorns, boys’ state 2A champions for the third year in a row. c, too, and NCSSM placed five runners in the top 23 of the team competition to edge rival Durham School of the Arts by four points.
“Every year we have a new team,” Unicorns coach Charlie Payne said. “Being a two-year school, you can’t really establish a tradition in a normal manner. These kids have put in the time and the effort, and they’ve kept that alive.”
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As if to prove the competitiveness of his runners, Payne noted that this was the second year in a row NCSSM had a state champion win by less than a second.
Second year in a row with state champion that won by less than a second. Kenny out-kicked Noah Graham of Brevard to win by a half-second.
“That’s on them,” Payne said. “They’ve got good courage at the end of their races. You can’t coach that piece.”
Payne said Kenny’s strength is his rush to the finish line, and it was on display Saturday.
“I decided I wasn’t going to let him win,” Kenny said. “I really didn’t want him to win. This was my last race as a high schooler.
“It’s pretty cool. I had no idea I was going to win at the beginning of the season, obviously. I ran really well two weeks ago, and then I decided I could probably do it to win.”
Carrboro finished third in the boys’ race and second in the girls’ event, losing by a scant two points to Brevard.
Carrboro’s Amanda Hickey was a surprise champion – to her – in the girls’ race after favorite and race leader Brittany Stanley of Mount Pleasant fell in the final 400 meters. Hickey then surged past Kaitlyn Stone of West Stokes to claim the title.
“I was in a huge group of girls, all fabulous runners,” Hickey said. “I was really unsure what was going to happen. I got into third place, and I thought that was it. I thought, ‘If I can hold this, I’m satisfied, I’m good.’
“I still can’t believe it. It was a huge shock. I was hoping for a solid third place – and I don’t really remember what happened.”
DSA finished fourth and NCSSM fifth.
“We haven’t raced a lot this season,” Carrboro coach Mimi O’Grady said. “We were untested. We’ve been training and training and training, hoping we were headed for a good outcome, but we didn’t’ have the proof. A week ago at the regional championship, they ran beautifully, and I knew we were going to have a good day today.”