For the past eight years, the middle school and elementary school cross-country teams have had someone in the state race.
With a much more competitive field this season, they didn’t disappoint again as 16 total runners ran in the middle school and elementary school races on Saturday.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” head coach Anne Browning said. “Ever since we started the program about eight years ago, we’ve had somebody qualify for state every year. We have not skipped a meet at the state level. That says a lot about the kids and the level of talent we have here in the county.”
With the middle school squads having to qualify, the races saw 250 runners for the women, while 253 ran in the men’s.
With that many runners competing for top spot in the state, the times were very competitive.
“The level of competition has gotten tougher, and our kids have stepped up to meet that,” Browning said.
During the women’s race, less than nine minutes separated first and last place. According to Browning, past years saw margins go as high as 13 to 15 minutes.
The men saw much the same, as the 253-runner pack finished with less than eight minutes separating first and last places.
“I’m incredibly proud of them,” Browning said. “They ended the season in a great way.
“They just did a great job.”
Gavin Cooper had a good race for the men, as he roped in a 21st place finish in the state competition. His time of 12:15 fell only 1:20 behind the first place finisher in Central Magnet’s Nathan Delk.
“Gavin Cooper finished 21st, and he ran around a 12:14; a great job,” Browning said. “Tristen Gillum also had a good race, but unfortunately, he’s an eighth grader and gets to go to Mrs. (Billie Anne) Evans next year. He’s a great kid and both of those boys work incredibly hard. They both just like running.”
For Gillum, he finished with a 13:20, which was good enough for 104th place.
Through the middle school women’s race, the girls had three runners in the 250-runner pack. Gracie Faulkner finished 30th, while racing in at a 13:53 pace.
However, Faulkner wasn’t at her top physically.
“I think the middle school girls were really proud of themselves,” Browning said. “Gracie finished 30th, which is not where she wanted to finish, but she’s really had a hard time bouncing back from strep. I told her she’s still the top 30 in the state.”
Brynn Griffith finished an impressive 146th with a 15:24, while Kasi Phillips paced a 15:59, which was good enough for 185th.
As for the elementary school girls, Macy Caldwell finished in her usual fashion. The third grade runner took the fifth spot in the state race, coming in at a 6:23 in the mile course.
Caldwell has been consistent all season, finishing in the top five in her races all season.
“It’s been a really great year,” Browning said. “Little Macy Caldwell finished fifth in the state, which is great.”
Riley Faulkner, who finished first in all six of his other races this season came in at an impressive second place.
“Riley finished second in the state and only got beat by a pretty tall, lanky fifth grader,” Browning said. “He had his personal best time of the season.”
Faulkner finished with a time of 5:39, as only Siler Winders of Henry County Elementary School topped him with a time of 5:30.
However, Faulkner did have some taunting to do after the race had finished.
“He’s so competitive,” Browning said. “After he crossed the finish line, he asked the guy in front of him, ‘Hey, what grade are you in?’ The boy said, ‘I’m a fifth grader.’ Riley told him, ‘Well, I’m just a third grader.’ He already knows that he’s going to be back for a couple more years at that level. He seemed very pleased with what he done.”
Following Caldwell in the race was Daley Griffith at 42nd with a time of 8:01. Sophia Fritz (45, 8:12), Maggie Faulkner (57, 8:43), Kayla Davis (63, 9:01), Faith Franklin (64, 9:02) and Marley Caldwell (67, 9:13) all finished in top fashion in the elementary school girl’s race.
For the boys, Patrick Moore followed in Riley Faulkner with an 18th place time of 6:22. Tyler Thomas (44, 7:05) and Tad Thomas (64, 8:09) also ran well in the race.