KERNERSVILLE — The Buckin’ Elks shined at the 1A Midwest Regional Saturday morning at Ivey M. Redmon Park in Kernersville.
Both Elkin squads raced to top-three finishes at regionals to punch their respective tickets to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A Cross Country Championships slated for Saturday.
“I am proud of how all the kids performed today. It was a total team effort,” Coach Dan Merritt explained. “Qualifying for the state meet was a goal we had set since the first day of practice and the hard work paid off. Not many teams qualify both boys and girls teams, so I am extremely proud of their accomplishment.”
The duo of Jacob Parker (16:52) and Brandon Welborn (17:06) once again powered the Elks in the boys’ race, crossing in third and fifth, respectively, to earn All-Region honors.
Blake Poplin (15th - 17:54), Jonah Christian (16th - 17:54) and Said Javier (18th - 17:57) gave Elkin five top-18 runners to challenge top-ranked Bishop McGuinness in the final standings.
But in the end, Bishop held off the Elks by 11 points to capture the Regional title. Gray Stone Day finished a distant third with 107 points as Elkin was the top public school to finish.
Jeremy Pierce crossed in 34th place in a time of 18:43, while Eli Brown rounded out Elkin’s finishers in 36th place in 18:45.
“While Bishop is ranked number one in the state, we gave them a challenge and came to the closest to beating them as anyone has come so far this year. We get another chance at them next week and we will give our best shot,” Merritt added.
Recently crowned Mountain Valley Conference champion Will Jolly (East Wilkes) dominated the course, winning by 11 seconds with a new personal-best time of 16:39.
Cardinal teammate Kyle Rhodes finished ninth in 17:18 to garner All-Region honors and qualify for the state meet as East finished 10th as team overall.
In the girls’ race, conference champ and track state medalist Shakai Ward continued her strong season finishing fifth in a personal-record time of 20:17 to lead the Lady Elks and make the All-Region team.
Madeline Carter (21:22) and Payton Nicholson (21:35) crossed in 12th- and 13th-place, respectively, to have three top-13 finishers. Whitney Sprinkle (24:09.7) and Courtney Beals (24:09.9) finished back-to-back in 34th place to round out Elkin’s qualifiers.
Like the boys, the Lady Elks were the top public school, finishing third overall with 90 points. Top-ranked Bishop McGuinness dominated the field with 23 points after crossing the line 2-3-4, while Gray Stone Day finished second with 63 points.
“Every one of the boys ran a personal best time today. As for the girls every girl either ran a personal best or a season best time. All the Elkin runners raised their racing to another level today,” Merritt said. “Next week at the state meet they will have to once again their racing to another level, and I have no doubt they will.
“There are no words I could ever say that could express what a honor and a privilege it is to coach these wonderful young people.”
Mount Airy’s Kirsten Parries edged the swarm of Bishop runners to capture the regional title in a time of 19:21.
East Wilkes’ Taylor Tharpe secured All-Region honors with a 10th-place finish in 21:05.
The qualifiers will return to Kernersville Saturday for the 1A State Championship race.
“Both Elkin boys and girls teams will line up and see what happens. We are excited to have the opportunity to race against the sixteen best teams in the state and we promise to give our best,” Merritt added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.