Two new winners grabbed first-time region cross-country individual glory on Thursday, Oct. 21 in the Class AAA Region 3 championship meet at Beckley.
Meanwhile, in the team competition, the old dependables stepped to the forefront yet again.
Competing on the Coach Willie Barbera Memorial Cross-Country Course adjacent to Beckley-Stratton Middle School, Greenbrier East junior Abigail Londeree and Woodrow Wilson freshman Aiden Kneeland showed their heels to their competitors to claim individual titles on the 5-kilometer course.
Londeree won the day's first race by overcoming leader Colette Lindley, of Woodrow Wilson, in the closing yards of the girls race. The Spartan finished the 3.1-mile test with a clocking of 21 minutes, 23.2 seconds, while Lindley faded and was runner-up in 21:29.2. Woodrow's Lauren Curtis was third in 21:37.1.
Londeree's effort was a far different outcome from the first time she competed on the Beckley course this year, in late August in the Chick-fil-A Beckley Invitational. Then, she suffered from dehydration and collapsed and failed to finish. That, Londeree said, was a motivational tool coming into the championship meet. "I actually used that last race back in August ... to motivate me," she said. ("On Thursday) I was mostly nervous. I wasn't as ready as I thought I was going to be. Once I got started, I was good to go, I was excited.
"Woodrow has always been one of our biggest competitions, especially in regionals, and those girls are so talented, I was so nervous about where I'd be this race. But I've definitely seen some improvement in myself individually and my team over the season."
As the race's final stretch unfolded, Londeree injected some drama into the finish. "At the very top of the stretch, I didn't even think I was going to get her, to be honest," she said. "Right there when I started hitting that 100 meters left, I knew I could possibly get her if I just put everything in it I had." As she threw up her arms in victory at the finish, "I was on top of the world; it was the best feeling ever."
In the boys race, Kneeland put a stranglehold on the rest of the field early and never let up. His winning time, 16:14.6, was his best clocking on the Beckley course by nearly 25 seconds, and he was more than a minute ahead of the runner-up, teammate Christian Saffouri (17:33.8), and third-place Chris Huffman (17:45.9), also of Woodrow.
Kneeland, who has been regaining his rhythm since being affected by strep halfway through the season, said working the downhills helped get him rolling Thursday. "That's my PR," he said of his time. His previous personal record was 16:32. "I wanted to win, but I also wanted to PR," said Kneeland. "And that was a pretty good time." Winning region bragging rights "feels really good," he said.
Riverside sophomore Skylar Hudnall placed seventh in 18:01.1 to qualify for the state meet as an individual. Other Warrior scorers on the day were: Nick Selbe, 14th, 19:28.0; Charles Melvin, 19th, 19:47.4; Matthew Miller, 27th, 20:37.9; and Zion Hamm, 35th, 21:06.4. Ethan Chambers (21:54.5) and Danny Diaz (23:19.5) also competed.
For the Riverside girls, competitors were Kenna Abshire (28th, 27:14.6) and Kyra Duffield (38th, 31:13.5).
The host Flying Eagles took home the team hardware in both divisions. The Region 3 win marked the seventh straight for the Beckley girls, while the boys have won six of the past seven trophies.
On this day, it was the Woodrow boys who were the more dominant by scoring 20 points to cruise by second-place St. Albans (80) and the rest of the field. Joining Kneeland, Saffouri and Huffman in the scoring pack (and in the top 10) were Beckley's Connor Cormack (6th in 17:57.6) and Josh Cormack (8th in 18:16.8). The Flying Eagles' two non-scoring runners placed ninth (Robert Shirey) and 11th (Jonah Morgan). Beckley's usual second runner, Brandon Canaday, sat out the race nursing shin problems.
The Woodrow Wilson girls had a tougher go of it, scoring 27 points to squeeze by runner-up Greenbrier East (44). Scorers for the Flying Eagles besides Lindley and Curtis were Kyndall Ince (4th, 22:00.1), Cecilia Lindley (8th, 23:03.2) and Hannah Keiling (10th, 23:08.2).
Woodrow head coach George Barbera was happy with both squads. "I couldn't be more proud of these kids," he said. "The girls knew they weren't favored, but they have a lot of drive to them.
"And the boys (rated fourth in the runwv.com team power rankings) have been that way all season."
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Class AAA Region 3 cross-country results (courtesy of www.tristateracer.com)
Girls team scores (top 3 teams advance)
1. Woodrow Wilson 27, 2. Greenbrier East 44, 3. Princeton 89, 4. George Washington 102, 5. Oak Hill 117, 6. South Charleston 142, 7. Capital 183
Boys team scores (top 3 teams advance)
1. Woodrow Wilson 20, 2. St. Albans 80, 3. George Washington 84, 4. Oak Hill 98, 5. Riverside 98, 6. Greenbrier East 144, 7. South Charleston 193, 8. Capital 219
Girls top 20 finishers (first 11 qualify for states)
1. Abigail Londeree (GE) 21:23.2, 2. Colette Lindley (WW) 21:29.2, 3. Lauren Curtis (WW) 21:37.1, 4. Kyndall Ince (WW) 22:00.1, 5. Emma Toler (GE) 22:19.0, 6. Asia Collins (P) 22:30.6, 7. Alexis Graham (GW) 23:00.0, 8. Cecilia Lindley (WW) 23:03.2, 9. Abby Dixon (GE) 23:04.4, 10. Hannah Keiling (WW) 23:08.2, 11. Jessica West (SC) 23:14.9, 12. Jaycee Pritchett (P) 23:19.1, 13. Makayla Carter (SA) 23:25.4, 14. Luella Mansheim (GE) 23:47.1, 15. Hayley Collins (P) 24:08.7, 16. Olivia Honaker (OH) 24:16.1, 17. Emma Kesterson (GE) 24:19.8, 18. Tianna Duncan (OH) 24:36.1, 19. Madison Farrish (WW) 24:41.0, 20. Jordyn Floyd (OH) 25:03.6
Boys top 20 finishers (first 11 qualify for states)
1. Aiden Kneeland (WW) 16:14.6, 2. Christian Saffouri (WW) 17:33.8, 3. Chris Huffman (WW) 17:45.9, 4. Ryan Bazzle (GW) 17:50.6, 5. Austin Bias (OH) 17:55.6, 6. Connor Cormack (WW) 17:57.6, 7. Skylar Hudnall (R) 18:01.1, 8. Josh Cormack (WW) 18:16.8, 9. Robert Shirey (WW) 18:20.5, 10. Zachary Neal (P) 18:30.3, 11. Jonah Morgan (WW) 18:40.3, 12. Noah Endres (SA) 18:58.1, 13. Luke Graham (GW) 19:08.5, 14. Nick Selbe (R) 19:28.0, 15. Chase Crosier (OH) 19:32.0, 16. Josiah Lavender (SA) 19:37.1, 17. John Payne (SA) 19:41.1, 18. Ryan Vanbibber (SA) 19:42.4, 19. Charles Melvin (R) 19:47.4, 20. Harrison Wallace (GW) 19:55.6.