Fine, Nichols lead KI’s sweep of Bayside championships
CAMBRIDGE — Three weeks ago, after a solid finish at the Tidewater Classic, Kent Island High’s Mandy Fine told her mother on the phone, “I’m going to win Baysides.”
Brandon Nichols wasn’t exactly brimming with that same confidence on Wednesday, Oct. 26, as he fell off the pace half a mile away from the finish line, and was beginning to let the idea of third place settle in when the unexplainable happened.
“I don’t know what came upon (me),” Nichols said.
Not long after watching Fine finish with a flourish to become Kent Island’s first girls’ cross country champion in 16 years, Nichols rallied over the final 400 meters to become the school’s fifth consecutive boys’ champ, capping a Buccaneers’ sweep of the boys’ and girls’ team crowns at the Bayside Conference championships at Cambridge-South Dorchester High.
“I was third most of the race,” said Nichols, who had a backseat view as teammate Erick Sanchez and Cambridge-South Dorchester’s Connor McCroy traded leads with an occasional bump over the better part of the 3-mile course. “I started to lose them with about half a mile to go. I was a good five seconds behind the lead with Connor and Erick, and I was on the verge of not getting back up.
“But I just caught back up, and I knew if I kept with Erick, I knew I’d be able to catch him at the end because I’ve been using that the entire season,” Nichols added of his kick.
Whether they were navigating the narrow paths that snaked through the course’s wooded sections, or were out in the open sunshine, Sanchez and McCroy swapped surges, and at times made contact.
“It got physical, but it wasn’t like on purpose,” Sanchez said.
Nichols wasn’t sure if the two-way duel took a toll on the two leaders, but he did admit, “They definitely wore me out.”
Sidelined early this season because of shin issues, Nichols figured he was destined for third. But when McCroy fell back and Sanchez started opening a lead, Nichols made his move.
“I really wanted to take the lead with about 1,000 meters to go,” Sanchez said. “That’s where I really want to kick it in. But I got him (McCroy) at the end. And then Brandon came in and got a good kick.”
Nichols slipped past McCroy, closed on his teammate, and with 400 meters remaining, forged to the front and never relinquished the lead, crossing the finish line in 16 minutes, 8.50 seconds.
“Overall this was a really hard race,” Nichols said. “I’ve never been this tired at the end of a race before. This is the best feeling I’ve had racing since (outdoor) track season at Baysides when I ran (and won) the two-mile. It feels really good.
“I don’t know. I really don’t,” Nichols said when asked a second time what happened the final 800 meters. “But I’m rather happy it happened.”
Sanchez finished second in 16:12.80, followed by McCroy (16:21.30), North Caroline’s Troy Smith (16:39.70) and Kent Island’s Cade Stanfield (16:51.50).
Despite the Buccaneers placing three in the top five, and having Shane Peters and Curtis Perez finish seventh and 33rd, respectively, they only edged runner-up Cambridge-SD by three points (48-51), to win their seventh consecutive team title — a conference record.
The Vikings’ top five consisted of McCroy, Trevor Goodwin (8th), Matt Koletsky (9th), Anthony Thomas (14th) and Ben Cornwell (17th).
“God, that would have been nice to get,” Vikings head coach Sean Reincke said of the boys’ title. “Honestly I didn’t even know if we had a shot at KI. Coming into this we had really not come together as a team. That was
best day we’ve had all season. So hats off to my guys for showing up when it matters. But then to miss it by three.”
Though finishing behind teammate Molly Connelly at this year’s Spike Shoe Invitational and Tidewater Classic may have spurred Fine’s
Bayside-winning prediction, constantly finishing behind Easton’s Kathryn Gearhart, Kent Island teammate Emma Tvelia, and North Caroline’s Christine Sturm a year ago provided her motivation entering her senior season.
“Last year there were three girls ahead of me every race and I was like, ‘This is my year. I’m determined this year,’” Fine said. “And it worked.”
But Fine also admitted it took a more concerted effort on her part when it came to practice. Once satisfied with turning in a few sub-3-minute 800s during speed work, Fine focused on getting under 3 minutes in all of her 800s after Tidewater.
“I would be like, ‘Yeah, I ran really fast in the beginning, like 2:55,’” she said. “And then I would be like, ‘Oh, the last two I can run a 3:05. There’s no problem with that. Now, I’m like I have to get under three (minutes) every 800. I set my goals and I make sure I achieve them.
“It’s always been a goal to do something like this,” Fine added of winning a Bayside title. “But I had no idea what I was going into this year. I didn’t know my competition. And then Molly, she’s been killing it this season. So I knew she would be a threat here.”
Fine and Connelly rushed right to the lead off the starting line, but as the pair emerged from the woods for the first time, Fine held a lead with Connelly and Snow Hill’s Emily McAllister in tow. As Connelly and
McAllister splashed through puddles and rustled leaves behind her, Fine maintained her lead heading into the final mile, then took a peek behind her.
“I glanced over once we hit the trees and I noticed there was Molly and the Snow Hill girl, and they were like only five seconds behind me,” Fine said. “And I was like, ‘Now is my time to go. Once I got out of the woods I knew I only had 800 (meters). I can pick it up now.
“At the end I screamed because I was dead,” Fine continued. “But by her being on me the whole time, at the end it pushed me so much in the straightaway. Once I got to the 800 I knew I had to push it because I heard my coach saying, ‘She’s right behind you. You’ve got to go.’” And I glanced back quickly and I noticed she was right behind
me. And I was like, ‘I got to go now. I can’t give it up.”
She didn’t, crossing the finish line in a personal-record 19:14, to become Kent Island’s first girls’ Bayside cross country champion since Brittany Umberger in 2000.
Kent Island finished with 56 points — 13 ahead of defending champion North Caroline. The Bucs, who have been without the injured Tvelia all season, and then learned Monday they wouldn’t have No. 4 runner Kimmie Palace because of an injury, had Connelly finish third in 19:34.80, followed by Hannah Claggett (13th), Carly Turner (19th) and Claire Mack (24th).
The title was the fifth in the last six years for Kent Island’s girls.
McAllister finished second in 19:19.90.
Second-place North Car- oline was led by Megan Hannegan (8th), Sierra Reynolds (11th), Emily Lewis (15th), Hannia Josselyn (16th) and Natalie Calloway (23rd). Queen Anne’s, which finished third, was led by Emily Gates (4th, 19:45.90) and Madeline Wilson (7th, 20:34), while Easton’s Claire Dowd (20:29.40) and Annie Ray (20:34) finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Cambridge-SD’s Connor McCroy nears the finish line to take third place at Wednesday’s Bayside Conference championships.
Cambridge-SD’s Trevor Goodwin (132) and Connor McCroy (134) break away from the starting line during Wednesday’s Bayside Conference championships.