Once again, a Dershem delivered for the Cleveland Rams in the boys championship at the seventh annual Early Bird Invitational cross country meet.
Cleveland senior Wyatt Dershem outstaged his twin brother — and defending title holder — Gable in the boys race, while North Duplin’s Haley Thurston won the girls crown and the Corinth Holders boys and Heritage girls claimed team titles Saturday morning in challenging heat at Wendell Park.
Wyatt Dershem, who defeated his brother only once in 2015, now has two victories in a row this fall over Gable, who has been trying to recover from a calf injury.
Princeton’s Austin Sullivan led for the first half of the run, but Wyatt Dershem took charge in the second pass through the woods and eventually pulled away with a time of 16:20.34.
Corinth Holders’ Austin Carroll was second at 16:43.27, followed by Gable Dershem (16:55.15), St. David’s Sam Markoff (17:03.31) and Sullivan (17:07.02).
“It definitely means something for me to be able to beat (Gable),” Wyatt Dershem said. “But it is not that big of an accomplishment yet because he has been slowed for awhile because of his calf. He is almost there. I’m looking forward to when he is in full shape and we can race.”
Gable Dershem was the most acclaimed running member of his family during the 2015 campaign as he finished second behind South Johnston’s Jacob Gonzalez in both the Two Rivers Conference and N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A East Regional events. Wyatt was third overall in each championship.
At the 3A state meet in Kernersville, Gable was a 22nd-place finisher, while Wyatt’s 44th-place effort was hardly to his liking.
But the Dershems have been training hard together in the offseason, preparing for a dominant senior season — if Gable can get back to 100 percent.
“In a lot of the workouts we do, we are always right there with each other,” Wyatt Dershem said. “But last year, it seemed like maybe (Gable) had more determination than me. I have really worked hard on trying to focus through the pain (of a grueling race).”
North Duplin’s Thurston, a senior, was the lone entrant from her school at Saturday’s annual showcase.
Thurston made a strong move over the latter portion of the race and finished at 21:28.77 – over nine seconds better than runner-up Christa Dutton from North Raleigh Christian Academy. Cleveland’s Jessica Cullen was third at 21:39.58, followed by Corinth Holders’ Kayla Alznauer (21:53.45) and Heritage’s Danielle Lugo (21:55.54).
“Considering how many girls were here, this means a lot to me,” Thurston said. “I wasn’t expecting to win. This was my first year running (at the Early Bird), so I’m proud of myself for winning. I just tried my best.”
Thurston doesn’t come from a school with an extreme cross country background, so she has been driving 40 minutes from her home each day to work with the runners at Princeton at 7 a.m. She traveled to Saturday’s meet on the Princeton team bus and was greeted at the finish line with hugs and high-fives from her unofficial teammates.
“My brother is one year older than me, and he started running when he was a freshman (at North Duplin),” Thurston said. “I just started running with him and liked it. It just kind of developed for me.”
Thurston is the defending Carolina 1A Conference champion in addition to earning seventh at the Mideast Regional and 17th at the 1A state meet last year.
“My goals this season are to finish first in the conference again and do better in the states and regionals this time around,” Thurston said.
In the boys team standings, Corinth Holders defended its crown in the Championship Division with 39 points — a number that easily outdistanced second-place Rolesville (75). Rounding out the boys finishers were Cleveland (third at 81), Clayton (fourth at 97), West Johnston (fifth at 107), Heritage (sixth at 143), Harnett Central (seventh at 154) and Southeast Raleigh (eighth at 219).
The Pirates, coached by Joe Johnston, are a senior-laden group that was narrowly edged by Cleveland for the Two Rivers crown in 2015.
“None of our top seven guys graduated from last year,” Johnston said. “We have a lot of experience this year. We will be rebuilding a bit after this year, and with our school moving up to 4A, it will be a little bit of a test.
“Our boys team is pretty strong this season. The guys have great leadership abilities and are hard workers. I have never had the privilege of coaching a group that has worked so hard and is so dedicated to their teammates.”
Carroll led the way Saturday for the Pirates with his second-place effort. Andre Hichue (eighth), Chad Driscoll (ninth) and Patrick Myers (11th) also picked up top performances for Corinth Holders.
Heritage was the girls champion as the Huskies racked up 52 points to slide past second-place Corinth Holders (60). Jordan (97), North Raleigh Christian (102) and Cleveland (125) rounded out the top five team scores.
The Huskies picked up a trio of top-10 efforts, led by Lugo’s fifth-place finish. Teammate Christina Bourne wasn’t far behind in sixth place at 22:06.21, while Melissa Bourne was eighth at 22:06.92.
Riverside’s boys and Corinth Holders’ girls were the big winners in the Open Division races. Riverside, however, went 1-2 in the girls behind Jordan Landis (21:12.15) and Kaia Spero (21:18.54) and 1-2-3 in the boys thanks to Javier Aguilar (18:28.74), Alex Gerondelis (19:53.62) and Michael Guilmette (19:55.81).