However, on Wednesday morning at the Region 2D cross country championships, the Union boys team achieved a rare feat of putting its first five runners in the first five finishing positions, thus resulting in a perfect tally of 15 points and a guaranteed second consecutive team title.
Bears head coach Mark Castle doesn’t look at his team’s achievement as a statement, but rather just being who they have been all season.
“For us, this was more about being who we are,” Castle said. “Our focus the last two weeks has been don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, but worry about what we can control. We’ve been working on the team plan for a while and keeping our mindset on ourselves rather than everybody else.”
Junior and California transplant Tanner Cusano won the individual title in 16:45.9, nearly 45 seconds ahead of second place Jacob Mullins (17:32.9).
“This was really special. We knew it was possible, and we’ve been working towards this goal all year,” Cusano said. “When we come out and execute, it’s always a great feeling. We want revenge from last year. Coach Castle likes to say don’t hold anything back because we know what we’re capable of. When we get can get over some mental barriers, we can do some great things.”
Next was Nathaniel Hersel (17:35.1), followed by Caiden Bartee (17:38.8) and Asher Whitt (17:53.4) to round out the scoring.
The top three teams and first five individuals not on qualifying teams advance to next week’s VHSL Class 2 state meet in Roanoke at Green Hill Park.
Runner-up was Tazewell with 95 points, followed closely by Virginia High with 99 points.
The individual qualifiers were John Battle’s Andrew Smith (sixth in 18:01), Wise Central’s Tyler Stapleton (ninth in 19:01) and Hunter Austin (11th in 19:06), Graham’s Daniel Pearce (10th in 19:04) and Lebanon’s Jaxon Hess (12th in 19:15).
“We’ve tried hard not to think about last year,” Castle said. “We’ve tried to stay in the here and now. We’ve got some new kids this year. This is a fantastic group of kids to work with.
“Having Tanner on this team has been awesome. He came in and they immediately embraced him. These kids — both the boys and girls — are a big, tight family. They’ve made him a part of the group.”
HARRINGTON BLASTS ANOTHER COURSE RECORD
Virginia High senior Kelsey Harrington kept her unbeaten season alive with another easy win, taking off from the gun and crossing the line in 17:15.6. Her time would have safely placed second in the boys race.
It was the third time this fall that she has broken the course record at Lebanon, and she nearly hit the mark that put her on the map at the beginning of the season with a 17:13 at Knight’s Crossing.
She also chipped in to the team scoring as the Lady Bearcats were runner-up to Union by just four points (68-72). Graham was the third and final team qualifier with 100 points.
“We knew it was going to be close,” Castle said. “My girls are a resilient bunch. They’re in the same category as the boys being that they run a lot and don’t miss a whole lot.”
“This is a lot tougher than Knight’s Crossing. There are more hills and it kind of winds,” Harrington said. “With the new coach this year, he’s helped us out with a lot of speed work and getting us prepared. Getting to state as a team is a big part of it. Going as an individual is good, but having a team there with more support makes it better.”
Union’s first scorer was Sydney Hall (fourth in 21:49), followed by freshman Diamond Hanson (eighth in 22:21). Next was Hannah Houston (16th in 23:41) then a pack consisting of Alyssa Dupree (21st in 24:17.9), Hannah Dorton (22nd in 24:30) and Maggie Davidson (23rd in 24:31) came across to finish.
The individual qualifiers for the girls were Lebanon’s Jessey Ball (second in 20:37) and Averie Price (fifth in 21:53), John Battle’s Jules Lemmon (sixth in 22:04), Wise Central’s Lydia Slemp (seventh in 22:08) and Gate City’s Julia Bocanegra (ninth in 23:01).