BATTLEBORO – After falling just short of the state meet in each of the past two seasons, Rocky Mount High’s girls’ cross country team waited in anticipation inside the Red Oak Middle School gym.
When the fifth-place team was announced, the Gryphons erupted in elation and excitement.
It wasn’t them.
Rocky Mount came up one point shy of the state meet last year and just a handful of points the year before, but this year, the Gryphons joined Northern Nash’s boys’ team by finishing third at the NCHSAA 3-A East Regional meet Saturday.
“I think they were just kind of holding their breath,” Rocky Mount coach Dee Anna Davis said. “They weren’t sure. ... It’s exciting.”
Rocky Mount made the four-team field by 40 points, led by Barkley Browder and Mary McCall Leland, who finished 12th and 13th, respectively.
Northern Nash finished fourth by 16 points to advance to the state meet for the second straight year, just two years after placing 15th. Stephen Whitehead, who took the early lead in the race, finished eighth.
“The team did what they were supposed to do,” Whitehead said. “As far as the team goes, we did well. We’re going to states.”
West Carteret won both the boys’ and the girls’ meets. Led by Blake Dodge, who set a new course record, West Carteret won the girls’ race with just 26 points – 97 points ahead of second-place Wendell Corinth Holders and 111 points ahead of Rocky Mount.
Nash Central’s Michaela Williams and Southern Nash’s Kevin Bryant, both of whom finished in the top-three at the Big East Conference meet, qualified for the state meet as individuals. Williams finished eighth, and Bryant secured the final individual spot by finishing 17th.
Only seniors Stephanie Morales and Kaitlyn Jacob were on the team the last time Rocky Mount made a state championship meet. But this year, the goal from the very beginning was to make it to the final event of the season.
“I always stood strong with that,” said Alexis Bryant, who told the team at the beginning of the year that they would make states. “I took advantage of it after I found out we had a strong team. It’s awesome. ... I was just so excited. I felt accomplished. I felt so accomplished.”
Bryant finished 30th and Schuyler Moss finished 33rd for the Gryphons. Jacob rounded out Rocky Mount’s top five with a 49th-place finish.
Davis told her team last year before the official results were released that she thought they would make the state meet.
When they didn’t make it, Davis said the team was heartbroken.
This year, she didn’t take the risk of telling her team, even if she did think they safely were in the field.
“When you race well, that’s all you can do,” Davis said.
Northern Nash coach Jeff Dodrill felt the same way after he had two of his runners – Jermaine Jones and Trey Watson – hit personal bests.
The Knights’ three other runners that made up Northern Nash’s top five came up just a few seconds from PRs.
“I can’t ask any more than that,” Dodrill said. “... We’re going to the state meet, and that’s the main concern.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com