CARY — The coaches and runners of Chatham Charter and Woods Charter cross country alike had the same overarching thought about Wednesday’s conference meet: it was a …
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CARY — The coaches and runners of Chatham Charter and Woods Charter cross country alike had the same overarching thought about Wednesday’s conference meet: it was a tune-up.
That’s not to discount their scores. Both the Knights and the Wolves want and need to get faster after a decisive loss to first-place finisher Research Triangle and runner-up Cornerstone Charter. But the Central Tar Heel 1A Conference opponents are staying realistic. They understand Rome wasn’t built in day.
“For a race typically about getting the rust off, I was really impressed,” Woods Charter head coach Karen Hawkins said.
When the first air horn sounded around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at WakeMed Soccer Park, starting the men’s five-kilometer race, it marked the season opener for the Wolves and just the second meet for the Knights since the NCHSAA cross country regular season began Nov. 16.
And by the time the women’s five-kilometer race wrapped up an hour and change later, Chatham Charter and Woods Charter had plenty to work on going forward — plus a few bright spots.
In the men’s race, it was Brandon McKoy, the Chatham Charter junior who qualified for last fall’s NCHSAA 1A state meet. He glided in for a second-place 17:34.84 finish — a full minute ahead of third place — to log the best score of any Chatham County runner, men’s or women’s, at the meet.
That’s a positive. The negative? For the second consecutive race, McKoy couldn’t beat out Research Triangle’s Liam Johnston, a junior newcomer to the sport who outpaced him in a dual meet two weeks ago on Chatham Charter’s campus and on Wednesday, too. Johnston finished in 17:25.88.
“I couldn’t close it quite as well as I wanted to, and I really think that’s what caused the outcome of this race,” McKoy said, adding he wasn’t “going to beat myself up about it.”
Woods Charter was without its top men’s runner, sophomore Wiley Sikes, but got a solid showing from senior Primo Costa, who paced the group with an eighth-place 19:38.26 finish. Chatham Charter’s best runner behind McKoy was junior Caleb Kolb, who placed tenth (20:12.46) and lost a shoe in the process.
Still, the Knights (third place, 74 points) beat the Wolves (fourth place, 82 points) in the men’s race. That had Chatham Charter head coach Gary Oakley cautiously optimistic — “a win’s a win,” he said, but he took it with a grain of salt considering the absence of Sikes and a few top Cornerstone runners.
In the subsequent women’s race, Woods Charter sophomore Maddie Sparrow was the standout, finishing in third place (22:08.87) behind two Research Triangle runners.
Sparrow — who, like Sikes, qualified for the 1A state meet as freshman last season — is a “really competitive person,” she said. So logging her first official cross country result in over a year was a relief.
“I usually do triathlons in the spring, and that was all gone” because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sparrow said. “It felt really good to be out there again — I really love going out and racing.”
Freshman Ellie Poitras (seventh place, 23:03.08) was another top finisher for the Wolves, who didn’t place as a team in the meet since they were one runner short of the five-person threshold (usually, that won’t be the case). Chatham Charter has two women’s runners this year who will compete individually.
“I was very impressed with her run,” Hawkins said of Sparrow. “She (started out) top three and went out strong. She didn’t fall off. And some other girls picked up spots.”
That played into Hawkins’ main takeaway from Wednesday: all of her runners either set personal bests or logged faster times than they did in last fall’s season-opening meet. She said that’s a nod to the Wolves for being “very consistent” in attending offseason workouts and keeping in shape.
And, as McKoy noted, WakeMed Soccer Park is planning to host the NCHSAA 1A Mideast Regional later in the season. If he qualifies, he’ll have another shot at a unique course that snakes around the complex’s myriad soccer fields and features a daunting hill runners must tackle twice to finish.
That’s why he left Cary on Wednesday still confident in the Knight’s season-long outlook.
“We have to remember: cross country leading up into conference and regionals, that's a training period,” McKoy said. “And this race was kind of a training race.”