NORWOOD — After falling short to Bishop McGuinness in last year’s state championship, South Stanly men’s cross-country team now has the first state title in school history.
“I’m extremely excited — our goal was to win it this year,” South Stanly coach Michael Curlee told SCJ.
On Nov. 5, the Rowdy Rebel Bulls claimed their NCHSAA 1A men’s title at the Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville after racing their way through the 1A Midwest Region in October.
There was a three-way tie between South, Cherokee and Christ The King, which all tied with 77 team points after scoring each team’s top five runners.
The tiebreaker, each team’s sixth runner, decided the championship. South’s Eli Thompson placed 60th overall with a time of 19:39.53, besting Cherokee’s Ayden Thompson’s 63rd-place finish (19:45.41) by just six seconds.
“A lot of times it’s your five runners who win it, but this time it came down to a sixth guy and that sixth guy knew he was every bit as important as those other five,” Curlee said. “He made it a point to get in as quick as he could too, so they won it as a team. They’ve accomplished something that nobody else can take away from them, and that’s something they can say they’ve earned.”
South was led by junior Joshawa Huneycutt, who placed fifth in the individual race with a time of 17:22.81 and earned All-State honors.
Seniors Ranfere Garcia and Davis Wright finished 12th and 13th, respectively, while sophomore Gayvyn Miller (31st place) and Jayden Oliver (42nd place) rounded out South’s top five runners.
Freshman runner O’Malley Salinas, of Andrews High School, was the 1A individual champion with a finish of 16:43.83.
Curlee mentioned that last year’s second-place finish in Kernersville motivated both his team and coaching staff to put in the extra practice needed in order to shoot for the gold — and not just the silver — this time around. Additionally, six of the seven runners from last year’s roster returned for another crack at the state title.
With the thrill of victory setting in, South will now shift its focus to the goal of a state title repeat (and a fifth consecutive Yadkin Valley Conference championship) next fall. Unfortunately for the Bulls, next season’s roster will be without some of its top graduating runners.
“Because the guys have a good work ethic, I still think they’ll be a solid program next year,” Curlee said. “The ones that are still on the team are a very, very close group, so they care about each other and hold each other accountable. Towards the end of the year, I didn’t have to coach a whole lot because they actually held each other accountable. They knew what they needed to do.”