DOBSON — In an all-star effort from Wilkes County runners Saturday at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Midwest 2A regional, nobody shined brighter than the stars from Wilkes Central.
But all three county schools — the Eagles, North Wilkes and West Wilkes — had reason to celebrate at Fisher River Park.
Wilkes Central sophomore Maddie Beard took second overall in the 2A girls’ race, coming in just after Ashe County’s Mahaley Cronk, a senior, while Anthony Perales finished fourth in the boys’ race.
Beard, with a time of 20:48, was officially ten seconds behind Cronk (20:38) at the finish line. But the two competitors, who have battled each other in several Mountain Valley Athletic Conference events over the past two seasons, were neck-and-neck for much of the 3.1-mile course.
Cronk took off in the race’s last mile, however, to claim the regional title and help her Huskies qualify as a team for next week’s state meet in Kernersville with a fifth-place finish, a mere one-point ahead of sixth place Central Academy of Technology (164-165).
Beard’s performance means she qualified as an individual for the state meet and she’ll be joined by teammate Kaylin Bang. Bang finished 12th overall with a time of 22:03. Beard was also recognized as a member of the All-Region team as one of the meet’s top ten runners.
Perales, fresh off an individual title as champion of the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference, took fourth with a time of 16:55 in the boys’ event. Perales battled Noah Julian of South Rowan for third, but Julian pulled just ahead at the finish line to hold off Perales by a mere second.
“I always come into a race wanting to do my best, but I knew this would be tough,” said Perales, a senior. “This was a big race, with a lot of great runners. But my mindset is always to come out and try for first.”
Perales enjoyed the large crowd that cheered for the runners on the course, which wound through the woods at Fisher River on a loop that passed by the spectators twice.
“I was pretty surprised to hear people out there cheering for me and the other runners,” said Perales. “It made me happy to be able to run in front of that kind of crowd.”
Perales was joined as a member of the All-Region team by Austin Triplette of West Wilkes, who finished 10th. Both runners will compete next Saturday at the Ivey M. Redmond Sports Complex in the state meet.
The boys’ race started in the chilly temperatures of the mid-30s (the morning warmed up slightly by the time the 2A girls’ started at 10:30) and those conditions were new this season for the runners.
“It was a challenge staying ready at the start line,” said Triplette, who had a time of 17:18. “My hands and feet were freezing. We were jogging around to try and stay warm, but it wasn’t working.
“But once the gun goes off, and the race starts, you forget all of that. Once you get out you don’t worry about anything but the race.”
North Wilkes was also well-represented on the boys’ side, with Braeden Foster and Keaton Hincher both qualifying for state with Perales and Triplette. Foster was 11th at 17:24 and Hincher was 13th with a time of 17:44.
Hincher, a senior, has been the face of the North Wilkes cross country team for four years. He took pride Saturday not only in his performance but in the effort of Foster, a sophomore who has benefited from training with Hincher over the past two seasons.
“Braeden is going to be very good for North Wilkes over the next couple of years,” said Hincher. “And it feels good to know I’ve had a hand in helping him along the way.”
Other athletes participated in their last cross country race, including West’s Tessa Foster. Foster, a senior, was 22nd, finishing at 22:41, and just missed out on being a state qualifier. But Foster enjoyed her three years in the Hawks’ program despite falling just short of state.
“I’ve always like running. I like the runner’s high you get from competing long distances,” said Foster. “Plus, I like to challenge myself and this sport is definitely a challenge. It feels like an accomplishment every time you cross the finish line.”
East Wilkes was the only Wilkes County team not to compete in Dobson. The Cardinals instead raced at the 1A West Regional at Southside Park in Newton.
The Cardinals were well represented, with Preston Dowell finishing 10th with a time of 17:53 to qualify for the 1A state championship this Saturday. Freshman Chance Mastin finished 92nd, at 25:43. On the girls’ side, Annika Bell, another East freshman who was the school’s lone female, came in 15th with a time of 21:47.
The Eagles’ girls finished seventh with 166 points at Dobson, just two points out of fifth. North Wilkes came in 19th and East Davidson, with 102 points, took home the team title.
Ben Armentrout of Atkins was the boys’ individual winner, and his time of 16:26 was 11 seconds better than second place Walter Sellers, his teammate. Atkins also claimed the team title with 56 points. West Wilkes (283) finished 10th while North Wilkes and Wilkes Central came in 14th and 15th, respectively.
Notes: Other Wilkes runners also performed well on Saturday. Grant Stone was 39th for Central, followed by teammates Matt Call (128), Adolpho Gaspar (130), Drake Redmon (146), Andrew Neiland (150), and Toni Neiland (151)…Hunter Wayne came in 27th for the Blackhawks and Brantley Duncan (76), Nathan Hall (89), Ben Flora (92), Dylan Blackburn (102), and Wesley Furr (107) rounded out the West contingent on the boys’ side…The Vikings’ boys’ squad also featured Ariel Lagunas (113), Chase Richardson (133), Corbin McLean (135), and McQue Cjeka (145)…On the girls’ side, West’s Carly Parsons (32) and Katelyn Cothren (112), North’s Reagan Jenkins (93), Morgan Tribble (95), Haili Shumate (117), Anna Phillips (118), and Allison Shumate (121), and Central’s Emily Pontzer (42), Kylee Cheek (56), Kaelyn Twiggs (60), Maddison Frazier (72), and Rhiannon Reidel (74) also participated in the event.