KERNERSVILLE — The Elkin cross country teams made history Saturday at the 1A North Carolina High School Athletic Association Cross Country State Championship in Kernersville.
The Elks finished as the top public school in both final team standings as the boys captured the bronze medal and the girls raced to a sixth-place overall finish. The sixth-place finish for the Lady Elks was the highest in program history.
Pacing Elkin in the boys’ race was sophomore Jacob Parker, who crossed the line in ninth place in a time of 17:03 to earn All-State honors, which is reserved for top-10 finishers.
Senior Brandon Welborn finished just behind his teammate in 13th place in his final high school race with a time of 17:17, while Blake Poplin finished 32nd in a time of 17:54. Said Javier crossed the finish line with a time of 17:58, while Jonah Christian rounded out Elkin’s top five with a 44th-place finish in 18:03.
The Elks ended the day with 98 team points, coming up eight points shy of knocking off favorite Bishop McGuinness in the final standings (90-98). Research Triangle finished second with 95 team points in a tight finish at the top.
“It was a bittersweet day,” Head Coach Dan Merritt explained. “The boys finished third overall, only eight points from winning state. It was a great three-team battle. It was one of the closest state meets I have ever been involved in. Only three teams had a legitimate chance to win: Bishop, Research Triangle and Elkin. The Elkin kids gave their all, battling right to the end.
“We ran our best but fell eight points short to a team that ran just a tad better today,” he continued. “I am proud of the season we had and what they accomplished this year. We were undefeated in conference action, conference champions, had five all-conference selections, were Midwest Regional runners-up, had two regional selections and finished third in the state with one earning all-state honors. We have had an outstanding season.”
In the girls’ race, junior Shakai Ward once again powered the Lady Elks with a seventh-place finish in a personal-best time of 20:12 to earn All-State recognition.
“Shakai had a great year,” Merritt said. “Her seventh-place finish earned her All-State honors to go along with her all-region and all-conference honors, conference championship and being named Mountain Valley Conference Runner of the Year.”
Payton (21:32) and Kelsey Nicholson (21:47) finished 24th and 31st, respectively, while Madeline Carter crossed in 45th place in a time of 22:09. Whitney Sprinkle rounded out Elkin’s qualifiers with a 93rd-place run in 24:42.
The Elks finished with 151 team points to secure a sixth-place team ranking. Bishop McGuinness (60), Lincoln Charter (98), Community School of Davidson (109), Gray Stone Day (127) and Franklin Academy (146) rounded out the top five.
“The girls ran well, claiming sixth place overall. It was the highest an Elkin girls cross country team has ever finished. I am proud of how they ran,” Merritt added,” The girls have a bright future ahead of them.”
The future looks bright for both Elkin teams as each graduates just one senior, Welborn and Courtney Beals.
“The good thing is that we only lose Brandon [from the boys’ team],” Merritt explained. “All the other members are sophomores, which gives us two more years to claim the top prize. They have already made a vow to work hard and come back next year to give it another shot.
“Like the boys, [the girls’ team] will only lose Courtney to graduation,” he continued. “The team will be tough to reckon with next year.”
Merritt and the team already have their sights set on next season.
“I am proud of how both teams have run all year. They have been a joy and pleasure to coach this year. I am already looking forward to next year.”
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.