It was a day of sweeps for Corinth Holders’ teams and Cleveland individual runners Thursday at the Two Rivers 3A Conference Cross Country Championships in Smithfield.
The Pirates edged Cleveland by a combined nine points (37-43 in boys and 27-30 in girls) to take the team titles.
The Rams’ Gable Dershem and Jasmine Cullins were the individual champions in a pair of very tight races over the course that covers both the Smithfield-Selma High School campus and Smithfield Community Park.
“They have been training since June 18 to earn these championships,” said Corinth Holders coach Joe Johnston. “We have some great competition to be on the varsity squad on both the boys and girls teams. At different points of the season, we have had different people run our varsity races at invitationals. Our strategy for the race to was to pace well. Cleveland gave us a scare in both races and was ahead early on. However, our athletes felt comfortable and trusted their training. I am so very proud of who they are and what they have accomplished.”
The Pirates — who hit their goal of not losing a conference team meet at any point this season with Thursday’s wins — dominated the girls race with all seven of their runners finishing in the top 13.
Kaelin Sanderford (21:39), Kayla Alznauer (22:16) and Callie Blandford (22:25) ran third, fourth and fifth for Corinth Holders. McKenzie Pollard (eighth), Eliza Richie (ninth), Leslie Neal (10th) and Olivia Hime (13th) rounded out the the Pirate contingent.
“Last year, we lost our top 3 girls runners to D1 and D2 universities,” Johnston said. “We knew that was a big hit for us, but I had confidence our girls could be conference champs because of their commitment and hard work. Kayla Alznauer went out too fast with the Cullins twins. Kaelin Sanderford passed her in mile 2 and kept the lead for our team. Our third girl, Callie Blandford, was trailing a Cleveland girl with 100 meters to go. She sprinted to pass her, but gave me quite the scare. Two first-year runners — McKenzie Poland and Eliza Ritchie — have been crucial in recovering from losing our top 3 girls.”
Girls individual winner Jasmine Cullins ran with her sister, Jessica, for most of the race, finishing just a second ahead of her sibling (21:03 to 21:04) in the girls individual rundown.
Cleveland’s Kacy Willey, a freshman, took sixth and Gwyn Reece of Smithfield-Selma ran seventh.
The Pirate boys team had all five of their top runners finish in the top 12. Austin Carroll was third behind Gable Dershem (16 minutes, 8 seconds) and South Johnston standout Jacob Gonzalez (16:22) in 16:41. Patrick Myers and Andre Hichue were sixth and seventh, respectively, for Corinth Holders.
“We have 3 strong seniors as our front runners: Austin, Patrick and Andre,” Johnston said. “They have towed the line for us four years. Their contribution has been crucial to our success.”
Chad Driscoll took ninth for the Pirates and Dylan West grabbed 12th.
“This year we have been helped a great deal by Dylan,” Johnston said. “His best time last year was 21:17. This year he has improved (his personal best run) to 18:29. He was our fifth runner at conference and came through in a big way.”
Wyatt Dershem of Cleveland (17:12) and Smithfield-Selma’s Caleb Silver (17:24) took fourth and fifth place individually. Triton’s Omar Mejia (eighth) and Smithfield-Selma’s Drew Topoly (10th) rounded out the top 10 finishers.
SSS was a distant third with 96 points, followed by Triton (102), Western Harnett (111) and South Johnston (123).
Panther girls finish third: North Johnston’s girls cross country team finished third in the Eastern Plains 2A Conference Cross Country Championships at Washington High School. The Panthers totaled 61 points, 27 behind conference champ Washington.
Tayanna Jones finished a solid third place for the Panthers in 24 minutes, 54 seconds. Sydney Swartz was 11th for North (27:17).
The North boys finished fifth in the conference. Trace Shirley was the highest finishing Panther boy in 11th place (21:33).