KERNERSVILLE — Watauga senior Avery Cannon thought the pace at the start of the 3-A state championship cross-country race was a bit slow.
So, Cannon took matters into his own hands by shooting out to a big early lead and pulling away from the rest of the field. The pack could never catch Cannon, and he brought a state 3-A championship back to Watauga after finishing first in the meet held in Kernersville.
Cannon finished with a time of 15 minutes, 39 seconds. He easily beat second place Jake Toomey, a senior from Weddington who finished with a time of 15:51.98.
Mount Tabor’s Jacob Gallant, another senior, was third with a time of 16:04.22.
“It was an amazing race,” Watauga coach Randy McDonough said. “He went out with them for the first quarter mile and sort of figured out they were going too slow for what he needed to do. He feels like he doesn’t want a sprint to the finish, so he took off.”
McDonough said the pack that was following Cannon were surprised at his move to separate himself from everybody else.
“I think they thought that as fast as he went, he was going to come back to them, and he never did,” McDonough said. “It looked like he was breaking down at one point, but then he went out of sight for 20 seconds and when he came back in sight, he picked it back up big-time and then basically sprinted to the finish.”
Cannon became the first Watauga boys’ cross-country runner to win a state championship since Ricky Brookshire did it in 1999. He is the first Watauga cross-country runner of either gender to win a state title since Darby Middlebrooks won the girls’ championship in 2010.
Cannon was helped by a track that was packed down by a steamroller by race officials. McDonough said the track was in excellent shape, saying it was in the best shape he’s seen it since Watauga has been running there. McDonough said the track favored a sprinter-type runner such as Cannon, and the Watauga senior took advantage.
“He knew what he needed to do and the race just played right into his hands,” McDonough said.
Watauga sophomore Gavin Sweeney was the next Pioneer to cross the finish line. He finished 36th overall with a time of 16:45.55. Korben Anderson was 42nd with a time of 16:52.20. Caleb Cox gave the Pioneers four runners in the top 50 with a time of 16:57.24 and Ethan Turner gave the Pioneers a fifth when he finished 50th with a time of 17:03.45.
“We did very well despite not having our best race that day,” McDonough said. “Korben Anderson had a personal record and moved himself up to third on the team. Caleb Cox took another second off his time from last week, but overall I’m not sure what was happening. They did not have their best race but was still good enough to finish fourth as a team.”
Having five runners in the top 50 left the Pioneers with a fourth-place finish in the team totals. The Pioneers finished with 128 points, while Chapel Hill won the team competition with 61 points. Weddington was second with 77 and Cuthbertson was third with 99 points.
Watauga’s girls’ team finished eighth overall with 227 points. Cuthbertson won the meet with 67 points, Chapel Hill was second with 84 points and Weddington was third with 92 points.
Watauga senior Sophia Ritter finished 31st with a time of 19:26.04. Lena Miller, another Watauga senior, finished 52nd with 20:08.77 and Olivia McAnulty, a junior, was 54th with a time of 20:09.76 despite fighting a cramp during the race.
“You could see the pain on her face and she still got through and finished around 20 minutes,” McDonough said of McAnulty.
Watauga sophomore Sidra Miller was 55th overall and the fourth Pioneer to cross the finish line with a time of 20:11.31, which was a personal record. Gwendolyn Anderson, a freshman, finished 57th with a time of 20:13.45.
McDonough said Ritter is still dealing with an illness that kept her out of the 3-A state regional. He said Ritter’s time was not what she was looking to post, but McDonough admired her competitive nature.
“She is still battling back from the illness,” McDonough said. “She ran what we would hope would be her mid-season form. She’s battled so much this season it’s been hard for her to get into any consistency with training, racing and all that. I thought she battled, which is not what she usually has to do. She showed some toughness and went after it.”
Sophie Beach, a sophomore, was 71st overall with a time of 20:32.65 and Watauga senior Riley Fowler was 82nd with a time of 20:41.81.
North Iredell senior Jonna Strange won the girls’ race with a time of 17:57.55. She was the only runner to finish under 18 minutes. Cuthbertson’s Gabirella Castro was second and West Johnston’s Hayley Whoolery was third.