1-2 Punch: Lovejoy, McKinney North trade district titles
MCKINNEY - The Lovejoy cross country team entered Thursday's District 13-4A Meet having won four consecutive girls district titles and five boys district titles in a row at Class 3A.
Only one of those streaks lasted through the day.
While the Leopards cruised to a victory on the boys side, it was North that won a nip-and-tuck battle with the Lovejoy girls.
"This is a pretty good feeling," said Jessica Partin, first-year North head coach. "I came into the program knowing the talent and expectations here, so we set several goals and this was one of them."
The Lady Bulldogs displayed the team concept throughout the hill-heavy course with five runners in the top 10.
"That's one of our strong points," Partin said. "We always say, 'close the gaps, close the gaps,' because we expect our girls to be close together and felt they could all finish in the top 10."
Those runs gave North 31 points, just ahead of Lovejoy (33), with both squads far in front of third-place Wylie East (99).
"North jumped us at the start and we just couldn't make up as much ground as I hoped," said Greg Christensen, Lovejoy head coach.
Elise Schraer (third place, 20:05.90) led North as she moved up a spot late after spending the majority of the race in fourth. She was followed by teammates Leslie Davis (fifth, 20:24.26), Keirsyn McDaniel (sixth, 20:34.62), Sadie Decker (ninth, 20:58.71) and Annie D'Annibale (10th, 21:03.39). While those five comprised the team district champions, no one could catch Lovejoy's Katie Ruhala, the individual district champ.
This was Ruhala's third district title.
"It feels really good to win this race," she said, "especially on such a tough course."
It was a two-person race from the opening gun as Ruhala and East's Sarah Scott were far in front by the end of the first mile. Those two finished 68 seconds ahead of the field as Ruhala (18:57.72) was nearly 29 seconds better than Smith (19:26.52), who was more than 39 seconds in front of Schraer.
"I was a little surprised at the big early lead," Ruhala said. "But you can't really focus on that while you're running, you have to stick to running your race."
The Lady Leopards had another top 5 finish from Abby Tedford (fourth, 20:14.89). Rounding out the second-place slate was Chloe Tedder (eighth, 20:52.98), Lindsey Cox (11th, 21:35.96) and Marisa Lizana (12th, 21:36.56).
Lovejoy and North went 1-2 with the boys as well, but this race was won by Lovejoy with the Leopards capturing their sixth straight district championship.
"The boys responded very well," Christensen said. "They were ready and I think this kind of reinforces what we've been doing since May."
Lovejoy (33) finished ahead of fellow regional qualifiers North (66) and East (73).
It took a while to determine that though as four results sheets had to be posted thanks to scoring errors or omissions regarding Lovejoy, East and Wylie. That wasn't the only unique occurrence regarding the race as keen observers saw Lovejoy's Evan Hartter cross after jumping a barrier just a few yards from the finish line.
"There was a photographer at the last turn, so I went around them," Hartter said. "By the time I realized I was on the wrong side of the barrier I figured it probably wasn't smart to go back and come up the right way."
So Hartter stayed on his route until he had to jump the barrier.
"I didn't even clear it," he said. "I had to use my hands when I was jumping get over it."
Though Hartter didn't gain an advantage or impede anyone on his alternate route, he was concerned about being disqualified.
"I was at the time," he said after the race. "I still am."
No concern was necessary as Hartter (ninth, 17:40.52) was one of five Leopards to finish in the top 11. The rest of the district-winning team featured Mike Jones (third, 17:06.61), Kendall Joiner (fourth, 17:10), Noah Landguth (eighth) and Grant Ballard (11th, 17:57). Most of those runners progressed during the 5K as Jones moved from sixth at the midway point to third and the team as a whole only had three runners in the top 11 at that juncture.
"That's the way we train," Christensen said. "This isn't a one- or two-mile race, so we tell the guys to run smart, go all three and pick people off in that last mile."
No one was able to pick off East's top runners as the Raiders registered the top two finishers. But as was the case with the girls, the consistency of North (which was paced by a 10th-place run of 17:41.55 from Dominick Fabian) pushed the boys onto regionals as well.
"We finished fourth in both races last year," Partin said. "So overall, I'd say it was a good day."
That said, the second-place finishes of the North boys and Lovejoy girls gave both something to focus on heading into the Region II Meet, which is Nov. 3 at Vandergriff Park in Arlington.
"I was very pleased with how the girls ran," Partin said. "For the boys, they need to figure out that missing piece and how to put the race together."
"I think this kind of opened our eyes," Ruhala added. "We're used to 3A and maybe had an attitude like, 'oh, this is going to be easy or oh, we got this,'" so we are going to have to step it up. But it's more a mindset than anything; physically, we're ready."