PITTSBORO — It’s an old cliché.
Practice makes perfect.
And while last Saturday’s NCRunners XC Elite Invitational was much more than a practice run, for Northwood it was a chance to size …
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PITTSBORO — It’s an old cliché.
Practice makes perfect.
And while last Saturday’s NCRunners XC Elite Invitational was much more than a practice run, for Northwood it was a chance to size up both the competition and the course that stands in its way of a state title.
The Chargers competed in four races — the Boys Championship, the Girls Championship, the Boys Frosh/Soph race and the Girls Frosh/Soph race — during the event at Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville, which featured 68 schools and programs from across the state participating in eight races throughout the day.
Out of the four races, Northwood only scored as a team in one of them, the Boys Championship, where it placed 12th (328 points) out of 24 teams.
Heading into the event, the Chargers’ men’s team had a target on its back, being ranked second (180 points) in the state’s 3A classification by Milesplit NC. (Northwood was previously ranked first, but was recently jumped by the South Central Falcons, who have 175 points).
Going in, one of the goals for Northwood Head Cross Country Coach Cameron Isenhour was to finish ahead of the other top-five 3A teams competing in Kernersville: the North Lincoln Knights (third in the state, 190 points), the Croatan Cougars (fourth, 242 points) and the Orange Panthers (fifth, 244 points).
They almost did just that.
The Chargers’ 12th-place finish in the Boys Championship race was better than both Croatan (13th, 329 points) and North Lincoln (14th, 349 points), but not quite strong enough to overtake Central 3A conference-mate Orange, which finished in ninth place with a score of 284.
“Beating Croatan and North Lincoln was a big thing for us with them being the third and fourth teams (in the state),” Isenhour said when asked about the men’s team after the meet. “Orange did surprise us. They beat us pretty bad, by 44 points, so that’s kind of my focus now is to focus on those orange and white jerseys ahead of the conference, regional and state meets.”
Northwood’s top runner on Saturday was senior Colin Henry, who placed 25th (16:51.43) in the Boys Championship in a come-from-behind finish during his second race at Ivey M. Redmon this season.
“I did find myself a bit behind coming through the first mile,” Henry said after the race. “Usually how I run this course is I pass a ton of people who started out faster than me and I catch back up. Then, at about (the 1.5-mile mark), as we’re going alongside the road, I kind of find an actual place to stay in. One thing that helped was just seeing other guys that were getting really tired or guys that were feasible for me to catch, so I went after them.”
However, Henry’s top-30 finish (out of 215 runners) paled in comparison to his performance at the Great American XC Festival at WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary on Oct. 2, where the Chargers’ senior became the all-time Northwood Men’s 5K record-holder with a time of 16:08.60 — breaking former Charger Eric Williams’ record set 10 years ago — en route to a third-place finish in the Boys Red Race.
It wasn’t the first time he’d made Northwood history … sort of.
“The thing is, I actually broke it last year, as well, during our ‘unofficial season,’ since our season didn’t start until late October/early November, so I didn’t officially break it but I did break it by about five seconds,” Henry said with a smile. “When I broke it again last weekend, it was cool because it was official, but the other great thing was that I hadn’t run a time like that in so long … so it was great to see that I could get back to that speed.”
Henry is just one member of a Northwood men’s team for which Isenhour had set high expectations before the season began in August.
In the first meet of the season, on Aug. 27, the Chargers watched as Seaforth freshman Jack Anstrom won the men’s race by nearly 68 seconds — besting the Chargers’ top-four runners, who rounded out the top five.
Yet, as the regular season winds down, that same men’s team has grown into the group that Isenhour has said he believes can win Northwood’s first-ever team state championship.
“We just have to try to get ready mentally,” Isenhour said. “We can win the state title, we just have to have five that can put it together on race day. … We have a lot of work to do and we’re not there yet, but we definitely are going to get there before Nov. 6th.”
Some of the other top finishers for the Chargers in the Boys Championship last Saturday were junior Christian Glick (55th, 17:20.81), junior Jackson Adams (79th, 17:42.90), senior Andrew Kimbrel (118th, 18:24.19), junior Matthew Sullivan (119th, 18:26.46) and sophomore Noah Nielson (144th, 19:09.73).
“I thought we did OK, we could have done better,” Isenhour said, “but Jackson (Adams) really stepped up with a course best, Andrew (Kimbrel) had a course best, Noah (Nielson) (had a personal record) and Mason (Erman) had a breakthrough, so that was big.”
In addition to the men’s team, Northwood also had runners from its women’s team compete in the Girls Championship, along with some of its freshman/sophomore runners in the junior varsity races.
On the women’s side, the Chargers were shorthanded as their top four runners — senior Caroline Murrell, senior Emma Serrano, senior Emma Iacono and senior Ella Hennessey — didn’t make the trip to Kernersville, some due to illness and others for school-related activities.
All three of the Chargers’ runners in the Girls Championship placed within the top 175, with freshman Avery Adams (148th, 24:39.74) and sophomore Rokia Sissoko (149th, 24:46.05) leading the way and sophomore Marissa Clouse (171st) clocking in a few minutes later at 27:56.20.
“For the women, we were without No. 1 through No. 4, but our girls did the best they could,” Isenhour said. “I thought their times were pretty good.”
A month from last Saturday, on Nov. 6th, Ivey M. Redmon will again play host to the NCHSAA Cross Country State Championships.
It may not be as rainy and muddy as it was this past weekend — or as cold as it was last January during the 2020 state meet — but the course is the same.
And its one that the Chargers are familiar with, having ran there three times so far this calendar year.
They’ll just have to get there, qualifying by fairing well in both the Central 3A conference championship meet and 3A Mideast Regionals, both of which are taking place in Pittsboro on Northwood’s home course.
“(Winning a state championship) will mean a lot because we’ve been working at this for four years because coming in freshman year, three of my teammates were freshman and three were sophomores, so for a couple of us, we’ve been through this all four years,” Henry said. “Just to be able to win it would be awesome because I’ve put a lot of effort and time into this and I don’t want it to go to waste.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.