First-year runners lead the way for Bucs
Rookies catalysts behind Kent Island boys finishing second, girls third at Tidewater Classic
— Call it consistency, or maybe even tradition.
It just seems whenever Kent Island High’s cross country team loses a key runner to graduation or injury, someone emerges to keep the Buccaneers near the front of the pack.
That was evident under Wednesday’s overcast skies at Winter Place Park, as a pair of first-year cross country runners — Erick Sanchez and Molly Connelly — helped Kent Island take second in the boys’ competition after a third-place finish from the girls at the 44th annual Tidewater Classic.
“They’re running hard and they’ve got a goal in mind,” Kent Island head coach Rick Unger said of his boys, who in three weeks will bid for an unprecedented seventh consecutive Bayside Conference championship.
The Bucs figured to be among the conference favorites again on the boys’ side this season, despite the graduation of last year’s Bayside champion, Jose Crosby. Sanchez, who had run track prior to this year, moved into a lead role during the first half of the season, especially with junior Brandon Nichols working his way back from injury.
“It’s been quite a surprise, him coming out of nowhere and really pushing himself,” Nichols said of Sanchez. “But it’s been a really nice addition and it’s made us regional contenders again.”
Though Northwest of Montgomery County won the boys’ race by a 38-point margin, the combination of Nichols and Sanchez led Kent Island’s runner-up finish by nine points over Delaware’s Sussex Tech.
“Today was an all right day,” Sanchez said. “Usually I go out fast, and get like a sub-5 (minute) first mile. But the front pack today, they literally bunched up and wouldn’t let me pass them.
“Second mile I dropped off,” Sanchez said of the pace. “Third mile I finally picked it up and was feeling good. Eventually he (Nichols) caught up and I was happy for him.”
Nichols, who had only beaten Sanchez once this season, closed strong on the 3.1mile course, clocking a fourth-place time of 16 minutes, 42.96 seconds — 10 seconds faster than his previous best this season. Sanchez was sixth in 16:50.25 and Cade Stanfield was 13th in 17:18.57. Cade Donnelly (21st) and Shane Peters (28th) rounded out Kent Island’s top five.
“This was definitely my best race so far,” Nichols said.
Though Cambridge-South Dorchester finished well behind Kent Island in fourth, head coach Sean Reincke was encouraged by a number of personal records logged by both his teams.
“We needed a day where across the board times were improving, instead of a just few happy spots,” said Reincke, who had 13 of his 14 girls post personal-records. “On the guys’ side, I don’t think we had quite as many, but we had some kids that ran a PR today for 3.1 compared to what they have run for three. Forty-five second PR. Minute-and-a-half PR. And to add to that, we’ve historically not as a team put it all together here. So it was nice to see that happen today.”
The Vikings’ top five featured sophomore Connor McCroy finishing 15th in 17:23.33, followed by Trevor Goodwin (25th), Gus Thomas (26th), Matt Koletsky (39th) and Ben Cornwell (42nd).
Though Kent Island’s girls have been buoyed by senior Mandy Fine’s strong performances while Emma Tvelia recovers from an injured foot, Connelly has helped provide the Bucs a nice one-two punch up top.
“During indoor and outdoor track I always looked up to Mandy,” Connelly said. “But now we’re starting to run together. And then sometimes I get in front of her. Sometimes she gets in front of me.”
Tenth at last Saturday’s Spike Shoe Invitational at Stevenson University, Connelly finished in front yesterday, placing fourth in 19:51.73, while Fine, who has shown steady progress from a year ago, finished fifth in 20:03.34.
“I’m really satisfied with where I am because last year at this time I could not run at any of these times. I just wasn’t strong enough,” said Fine, who placed 14th at the Spiked Shoe.
Completing Kent Island’s top five were Claire Mack (30th, personal-record 22:13.83), Carly Turner (59th) and Hannah Claggett (61st).
Easton’s Annie Ray was 11th (21:03.21) and teammate Claire Dowd finished 14th in 21:18.14. Queen Anne’s Madeline Wilson was 15th (21:22.20) and North Caroline’s Sierra Reynolds was 16th in 21:23.60.
Notes: Northwest won the girls’ race with 47 points followed by runner-up Milford (62) and Kent Island (135). … CambridgeSD, Queen Anne’s and North Caroline finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively on the girls’ side. … The girls’ race had 193 runners. … North Caroline was eighth in the boys’ event, with Queen Anne’s finishing 10th and Easton 12th . ... The boys’ race had 246 finishers.
Cambridge-SD’s Connor McCroy (86) and Kent Island’s Erick Sanchez (181) lead the boys’ pack off the starting line during Wednesday’s 44th annual Tidewater Classic.
Kent Island’s Molly Connelly approaches the finish line during Wednesday’s Tidewater Classic. Connelly finished fourth in 19:51.73.