West Johnston continued its dominance in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference cross country championships, sweeping the team titles for the sixth time in seven years and winning both individual titles.
West Johnston junior Kyle Christ won the boys’ individual race, finishing 23 seconds ahead of rival Justin Burkey of Garner in what was a two-man race from the start of the 5,000-meter event.
In the girls’ race, West Johnston senior Becky Meshaw repeated as individual champion, taking the lead from the beginning and running alone at the front before finishing a minute ahead of runner-up Carmen Tormey of Clayton.
In the boys’ team competition, West Johnston had three runners in the top 10 (Adam Greco finishing fourth and Johnathan Byrd eighth) to total 44 points in the eight-team field. Southeast Raleigh, which was paced by sixth-place Jason Putnam and seventh-place Jayquan Williams, was second with 51 points.
Garner was third with 71 points, followed by Knightdale (84), Harnett Central (129) and Clayton (134). East Wake and Rolesville tied for seventh with 221 points.
The West Johnston girls placed two runners in the top five (Robin Pollard was third) and four in the top 10 (Lauren Hermane was seventh and Patricia Patterson ninth) to total 32 points. Clayton, also getting top-five finishes from fourth-place Ginny Tormey and fifth-place Kaelin Amaya, was second with 42.
Harnett Central was third with 90 points, followed by Southeast Raleigh (106), Knightdale (138), Garner (146), Rolesville (192) and East Wake (239).
While West Johnston had history on its side, coach Patrick Shaw didn’t view the sweep as a foregone conclusion. Anything but.
“It’s been a long year,” Shaw said. “We’ve had some injuries and some people missing and it was really one of those things where you can put it together enough to give yourself a chance to win. … Not everybody had their greatest day and not everybody felt their best, but everybody sucked it up. And that is what a team is.
“I think we did a good job, both the girls and the guys. I know a month ago the boys’ team was not the best team in this conference, I didn’t think we were, anyway, and I didn’t know about the girls. But we really ran good as a team today.”
The West Johnston girls won their seventh straight team title. The boys have won the title in every season since 2004 except 2011.
The boys’ race quickly developed into a two-man duel between Christ and Burkey, who each improved one spot from last season, when Christ was second and Burkey third.
Christ’s strategy going into the race was to try and pull away at about the two-mile mark in the 3.1-mile event, and it was a winning one. The two runners were step-for-step as they entered a wooded area on the course, and when they emerged, Christ was about 25 yards ahead.
“I figured if I tried to run faster through the woods and open a gap, I could maintain it to the finish,” said Christ, who finished in 16:00.11, one second off his personal best. “I sensed that he was starting to get tired, so I pushed the pace for a half-mile and see if he could hang on.
“I noticed he was dropping so I tried to push the pace and then relax so I could maintain it to the finish line. It felt great to win.”
Burkey said Christ’s spurt as they hit a climbing stretch coming out of the woods was the decider.
“Right at the hill, I started falling back,” said Burkey, who finished in 16:23.51. “I thought I could slow down going up the hill and then catch back up, but when I got to the top of the hill, I couldn’t do it.
“I tried pushing it, but it was too far away and the end was too close.”
Knightdale’s Ian Mbogo was third in 17:05.95, followed by Greco (17:06.50) and Clayton’s Alex Roy (17:20.56).
In the girls’ race, Meshaw was the favorite. She took the lead quickly, and after the first mile, she had a 30-yard lead that was never threatened. She said running alone, without another runner nearby to push her along, was more difficult.
“I just wanted to stay at my own pace and kind of run how I felt,” Meshaw said. “It’s a little different mindset. I think I had a pretty good pace.
“It’s exciting (to win two straight).”
Clayton coach Thomas Coughlin, whose boys’ team won the title in 2011, applauded the string of success by Shaw at West Johnston. The Comets have been one of the main challengers for West Johnston in recent seasons.
“He’s a class act,” Coughlin said. “It’s a privilege (to compete against them). We train hard and race them hard and clean, and the kids are all friends afterward.
“It’s all about the kids. It was a good day for us. We had a lot of personal bests.”
And, in the end, West Johnston was on top. Again.