The Assumption (Louisville, Ky.) girls and Brentwood (Tenn.) boys claimed team titles, while Hannah Long (Eureka, Mo.) and Ben Huffman (Providence Day, Charlotte, N.C.) won individual crowns in Saturday’s 15th Annual Great American Cross Country Festival two New Balance Race of Champions events.
The ROCs were the prep highlights of the Festival, among eight varsity and five J.V. races at Wake-Med Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. But the 5th Annual Robert Shumake HBCU Challenge was also featured as the North Carolina A&T State U. men and the Hampton U. women earned top team honors, and Elisha Metto and Nichelle Harris were triumphant individually.
The Festival, which started Saturday morning in cool conditions but finished in early afternoon with temps in the high 80s, also saw a guest appearance in the HBCU women’s 5k by legend Zola Budd Pieterse, the former 5,000-meter track world record-holder, whose daughter Lisa was 8th in the Girls ROC. The older (46 y.o.) Pieterse made eyes pop by showing she still “had it” with a sterling 17:47.0, second only to ROC champ Long among females all day.
New Balance ROC Girls 5K Teams – Assumption repeats, nips Blacksburg: Still missing one of their top two to injury and with another just coming back and running varsity for the first time, Coach Haworth didn’t know if his available athletes would be able to do what it took to defend their title. But led by Emily Bean in 12th (scoring 7th, 18:34.2), the Rockets had just enough to nip SE#1 Blacksburg in the 19-team field, 95-96. Green Hope NC was 4th with 139, 9-time champion Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) was fourth with 144, and Barrington RI 146 rounded out the top 5.
New Balance ROC Girls 5K Individuals – Once Eureka (Mo.) junior Hannah Long discovered early last week that her lack of energy was due to iron levels that were “too high,” she could get treatment and get back to being her old, blazing self. Admittedly not yet 100 percent, the 2012 ROC runner-up and top returnee was still in much better form she was in two recent losses and had more than enough to win with a 17:38.0 – 19 seconds up on Bowling Green KY frosh Madisyn Peeples 17:57.6. Rounding out the top five were La Salle RI soph Eliza Rego 18:02.0, Ravenscroft NC jr Ryen Frazier 18:02.9 and Barrington RI soph Emma McMillan 18:07.0.
New Balance ROC Boys 5K Teams – A battle that was breathtakingly close through the first half of the race become a very decisive victory for Brentwood (Tenn.) in the final mile. As they did in the Trinity/Valkyrie Invite three weeks ago, the Bruins had three “very low sticks” with the 2-3-5 finish of Taylor Caldwell (15:00.1), Alec Thomas (15:00.2) and Aaron Thomas (15:07.4). But better than the T/V meet, they were able to close it out on the back end with a 20th and 86th (scoring 13th and 77th from their 4th and 5th which was enough to score 99 points and win by 71 over St. Xavier (Louisville, Ky.). St. X scored 170, followed by Tatnall DE 185, Cardinal O’Hara PA 205 and Saratoga Springs NY 233. US#10 and local favorite Broughton (Raleigh) was off form and struggled to 7th.
New Balance ROC Boys 5K Individuals – In a very tight race where several still had a chance to win in the final half mile, Providence Day School (Charlotte, N.C.) senior Ben Huffman had the power on the final hill, kicking in for a 14:59.4 victory. The aforementioned Brentwood trio was 2-3-5 with Edison VA sr Louis Colson splitting them in 4th (15:00.9). Touted as a slight favorite in a very closely matched field, Terry Sanford (Fayetteville, N.C.) jr Philip Hall – who won the big Adidas race here two weeks earlier in cooler conditions – faded slightly to 6th in 15:11.8.
Robert Shumake HBCU Challenge Women 5K Teams – Led by a 1-2 finish (see below), Hampton displayed their usual firepower as the school claimed their fourth straight Challenge with 46 points. They were followed by St. Augustine's with 72 pts and Winston-Salem State with 106. Among D1 schools only, Hampton scored 28, followed by Howard 73 and North Carolina Central with 85. In the Non-D1 scoring, it was St. Aug 36, Winston-Salem 56, and Virginia State 62.
Robert Shumake HBCU Challenge Women's 5k Individuals – Senior Nichelle Harris finally made it to the victory stand here as Hampton featured an individual champ for the first time. Harris was actually second across the line in the race behind “guest” Zola Budd Pieterse, the 80s running legend who showed how fit she still is with a 17:47.0 at age 46. But Harris dominated her fellow Challenge entrants with her 18:38.1. Ericka Charles of Speed Factor was next at 18:59.3, followed by Harris's teammate Devyn Thompson 19:07.3 and North Carolina Central jr Amber Brooks 19:12.6. Harris, Thompson, Brooks and South Carolina State's Sarai Walters 19:40.6 were the top D1 finishers, while the Non-D1 runners were led by Budd, Charles, Virginia State's Taylor Ashley-Bean at 19:25.7 and the Winston-Salem duo of Fanta Fofana and Skylar Waylan at 19:39.2 and 19:39.8.
Robert Shumake HBCU Challenge Men 8K Teams – For four years, Norfolk State had claimed team and individual titles here with their Kenyan standouts. But with the Virginia school not attending this year, both crowns were up for grabs. North Carolina A&T State, touting a revived program under new coaches Duane Ross and Perry Cabean, used a dominant pack attack to roll to the overall (D1 and D2 combined) victory with 25 points. Howard started fast, but faded and took 2nd with 48 and St. Augustine's was 3rd with 110 points. In the by-division scoring, it was NC A&T St. 20, Howard 36 and Hampton 91 in D1, and in non-D1 it was St. Aug. 42, Virginia State 87 and Virginia Union 88.
Robert Shumake HBCU Challenge Men 8K Individuals – Howard’s talented Kenyan junior Elisha Metto took the lead early and could not be caught. He prevailed in 25:53.2 for 8k. NC A&T runners went 2-5-6-7-9, led by Saeed Jones 26:18.6, Darren White 26:34.8 and Christian Harrison 26:36.8. Splitting them was St. Augustine's senior Torion Bailey 26:25.9 and unattached Nicholas Summers 26:34.4. Bailey, Summers, and Bowie State's Ndjami Rheme 26:52.6 were the top 3 Non-D1.