Three of the area high schools, plus Forestview from Gastonia, competed at Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill in a cross country meet. Fort Mill won both the girls and the boys meets on their home course, but all three schools had outstanding individual performances.
The Greenway provides one of the most challenging courses in the high school circuit, complete with quick turns through the woods, hills, and even a horseback rider to help guide the runners.
A large crowd turned out to encourage the runners, and used red "thunder sticks" to show their support to aid the runners. The athletes turned back to the competition, lending a cheer to both their teammates and competition when they completed their race.
The five kilometer (approximately 3.2 miles) race began at the Nature Center and looped around Lake Hagler back to the starting point. Despite the obstacles, most runners were excited for the opportunity to compete on the difficult terrain.
Northwestern's Mary Kate DuBard dominated the girls meet, finishing nearly two minutes ahead of former teammate and current Yellow Jacket Tiayonne Blackmon.
"This was not one of my better times," said DuBard, "but my coach told me to expect my time to be around two minutes slower than my typical race. In cross country, you just have to push yourself the whole way to get your fastest time."
For the boys, Fort Mill finished with three of the top five runners, including Mark Blackmon's meet-best 19:06 finish. As soon as Blackmon finished the race, he turned around to encourage his teammates.
"This is our home course," said Blackmon, "but we generally run a different route. We normally do not have the hills that we had on this race, but I enjoyed running something different. It is very important to encourage the other runners when you are finished to help them run faster and achieve their best possible time."
Kevin Coleman finished in second place for the boys. He was the only Nation Ford runner to score in the top five, and reiterated Blackmon's comments. Coleman had the best time for the Falcons, who are challenging the other area schools despite being a first year school.
"Most people think that cross country is strictly an individual sport," said Coleman. "But you have to have at least five runners to compete as a team. One runner will not win a meet. All of the runners are equally important."
One of the top stories of the evening was Nation Ford's Mariah Emenhiser, a seventh grader at Fort Mill's Springfield Middle School. Emenhiser was one of the smallest athletes on the course, but more than held her own against competition four and five years her senior.
Emenhiser is in her first year in the Fort Mill school district after moving from Indiana this summer. She was on her cross country team in her previous middle school, but had not competed against a varsity team since moving south.
"I love running with the older girls," said Emenhiser, who finished 12th in the girls meet with a 25:45 mark. "They have taught me a lot and been very supportive. We have a lot of girls who are great leaders, and I am really looking forward to getting better over the next five years."
Nation Ford coach Scott Barefield is excited to have such a youthful runner on his team, and feels like she will have a bright future.
"Mariah ran very hard today, but it was probably not one of her better times of the season," said Barefield. "She is very talented and we love having her on the team. We call her the beast, I am beauty. She has a very bright future ahead of her."
Northwestern coach Calvin Hudgins was pleased with how his squad finished in the meet. The Trojan's boys are currently sixth in the state while the girls are ranked tenth.
"We competed well this afternoon," said Hudgins who is in his seventh year as cross country coach. "This is a brutal course, but our kids responded well and I think they enjoy running here. Northwestern is a little spoiled with our home course. It is very flat, but the kids love running here because it is something different.
"Cross country is sport at it simplest form, and I think that the sport is one of the areas best kept secrets. With the runners facing the clock, there are no excuses. We have a ton of good runners in the area. Fort Mill has a great program with some of the fastest runners, and Nation Ford will be great competition once they get a little older."