McCroy first Cam­bridge-SD boy to win Bay­side ti­tle

KI stand­out Con­nelly pro­gram’s first girl to win back-to-back crowns

Times-Record - - SPORTS - By WIL­LIAM HAUFE bhaufe@star­dem.com

CAM­BRIDGE — Per­haps Con­nor McCroy just needed more time to di­gest.

Cam­bridge-South Dorch­ester High’s se­nior stand­out had just be­come the first in school his­tory to win the boys’ ti­tle at the Bay­side Con­fer­ence cross coun­try cham­pi­onships Wed­nes­day while end­ing Kent Is­land’s six-year string of in­di­vid­ual cham­pi­ons.

But his­tory wasn’t what McCroy was re­ally after on this cool, sunny af­ter­noon.

“I re­ally wanted to break 16 (min­utes),” McCroy said.

Kent Is­land’s Molly Con­nelly needed hardly any time to sa­vor per­haps her finest per­for­mance in a season filled with strug­gles.

“Ev­ery race was ei­ther an asthma at­tack or I fell; I was doubt­ing my­self,” Con­nelly said. “I felt calmer to­day, and I was just ready to PR (per­sonal record) and just push through any­thing and run a good time.”

The se­nior did just that, win­ning in 19 min­utes, 00.50 sec­onds to be­come the Buc­ca­neers’ first back-to-back girls’ con­fer­ence cham­pion, while pac­ing Kent Is­land to a third straight team crown, and its seventh in eight years.

“Molly may not have had the dream se­nior season,” Kent Is­land first-year head coach Kris­ten Park said. “But we all knew she still had th­ese times in her and th­ese races in her. And so I think for her to come back and to see she still can do it, be­cause she can, (was im­por­tant). She’s a great run­ner. She’s a great ath­lete. She’s a great worker.”

rsBut Con­nelly ad­mit­ted it hasn’t been a great season. She fell dur­ing a Septem­ber meet, and looked strong while hold­ing an early lead at the an­nual Tide­wa­ter Fall Clas­sic ear­lier this month be­fore fad­ing and not fin­ish­ing.

That would not be the case yes­ter­day as she looked strong from start to fin­ish on Cam­bridge-SD’s 3-mile course.

“I usu­ally don’t run with race plans, but to­day I wanted to stay with some­one for at least the first mile,” Con­nelly said. “And so I did. I stayed with (Cam­bridge-SD’s) Sarah (Con­don) up un­til al­most two miles and then I felt like she was slow­ing down, and I felt great so I started to kick around mile two. And I only felt tired un­til the fi­nal straight­away. I felt re­ally good.”

Con­nelly and Con­don were side by side as they nav­i­gated a wooded stretch on the open­ing mile. They re­mained close as they emerged from the woods a sec­ond time, then re­turned to the trees on mile two. By the time Con­nelly broke into the clear for the sec­ond-to-last fi­nal stretch, she had a com­mand­ing lead, fin­ish­ing well ahead of Con­don, who fin­ished sec­ond in 19:24.

“I’m just glad I’m back,” a beam­ing Con­nelly said. “I’m still kind of sur­prised. I didn’t think I’d run 19-flat. I’m gen­uinely happy. I haven’t felt this happy about running in a while.”

Con­nelly was even hap­pier as team­mates Fiona Mul­li­gan (19:59.70), Kyra Schul­ties (20:07.50) and Jules Biggam (20:23.30) crossed the fin­ish line in third, fourth and fifth place, re­spec­tively. Kent Is­land’s fifth run­ner, Han­nah Claggett, was 12th, help­ing the Bucs fin­ish with 24 points — 47 ahead of run­ner-up Queen Anne’s County, which was led by Julia Red­path (seventh), Maisie Mee­han (14th), Grace Swee­tak (16th), Made­lyn Toth (18th) and Grace Suther­land (21st).

“We’ve had some lit­tle in­juries here and there,” Lions head coach Mark Wil­helm said. “Back at the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle we

nfin­ished sec­ond. Our places weren’t kind of what we thought they would be to­day, but our times were ex­cel­lent. I’m re­ally proud of the girls. Hope­fully next week we do well at the re­gions, and I think it will be our 10th straight year if we qual­ify for states”

Wil­helm, who promised his team he would jump into a nearby pond his last year of coach­ing, made good on that pledge yes­ter­day when he took the plunge and swam across the chilly wa­ter, punc­tu­at­ing his 19th season.

After fin­ish­ing third to Kent Is­land’s onetwo punch of Bran­don Ni­chols (in 2016)

and Erick Sanchez (2017), McCroy dove into the Vik­ing record book. Start­ing at a steady pace, McCroy watched a string of about eight run­ners get ahead of him over the first half mile, then slowly started over­tak­ing the lead­ers, which in­cluded the Buc­ca­neers’ one-two sopho­more com­bi­na­tion of Isa­iah Schul­ties and Finn Walsh.

“I knew (they) were go­ing to get out quick,” McCroy said of Schul­ties and Walsh. “In the past month I’ve been prac­tic­ing go­ing out slower, just know­ing that I would catch who­ever was in front of me.”

McCroy moved in front near the 1¼-mile mark, im­me­di­ately be­gan build­ing a lead on Schul­ties, Walsh and Snow Hill’s Kee­gan Gould, and was in con­trol over the fi­nal mile en route to match­ing his season-best time of 16:08.40.

“I was happy that they did go out fast be­cause it did give me some­thing to chase after,” said McCroy, who ad­mit­ted be­ing the front-run­ner at the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship was “weird. It’s not the same (as chas­ing the lead­ers). It’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

“The past three years, I’ve been think­ing about this,” McCroy said of win­ning the con­fer­ence ti­tle. “I knew it was my year. It’s noth­ing against Finn and Isa­iah. They’re great run­ners. But I knew I could (win).”

Still, McCroy, who fin­ished 8 sec­onds ahead of run­ner-up Gould, couldn’t stop think­ing about fall­ing short of running un­der 16 min­utes.

“That re­ally hasn’t sank in,” McCroy said of be­com­ing the first boys’ cross coun­try cham­pion in school his­tory. “It’s never enough with me; still fo­cus­ing on not break­ing 16.”

That focus came as no sur­prise to Cam­bridge-SD head coach Sean Reincke.

“Kind of funny to win the Bay­side and not be happy,” Reincke said. “But that’s Con­nor for you. He had one goal in mind and that was it. He feels like he came up short.

“But he’s such a good fighter,” Reincke added. “And I think the prob­lem is he likes to bat­tle. Some peo­ple like to be out in front and not be chal­lenged. He’d rather have some­one right there just duk­ing it out for three miles. So that plays well into re­gion­als and states.”

While McCroy ended one Buc­ca­neer streak, he couldn’t stop a sec­ond, as Kent Is­land won its ninth straight boys’ team ti­tle, led Schul­ties (16:17.10), Walsh (16:28.50) and Cade Don­nelly (16:40.40), whose 3-4-5 fin­ish pro­vided Park with some re­lief.

“Any time you in­herit a win­ning pro­gram like this there is pres­sure,” said Park, who was an as­sis­tant for two years be­fore suc­ceed­ing Rick Unger this season. “A lot of it was prob­a­bly put on my­self by my­self. But who wants to take such a win­ning, in­cred­i­ble pro­gram and ruin them in one year.

“But when I saw how hard the kids were work­ing, how much ef­fort they were putting in, I knew we still had it, and it was still there,” Park added.

Round­ing out the Bucs’ top five were Jack Pearse (11th) and Paul Rayner (20th).

“We knew it was ours to lose,” said Park, whose boys fin­ished with 43 points to run­ner-up Cam­bridgeSD’s 75. “We went in with the at­ti­tude it was ours to lose, and we could throw it away and we didn’t want to. We came here to win and get down to busi­ness. And this is the best we’ve run all year. We def­i­nitely picked the right mo­ment.”

Help­ing the Vik­ings to their sec­ond-place fin­ish were John Con­don (eighth), Bryce Jones (12th), Sam Slacum (15th) and Faizen Ahmed.

“Ec­static,” Reincke said of his team. “Of the seven var­sity (boys), five ran a PR (per­sonal record) and one missed his PR by two sec­onds. I told the boys, ‘You all run a PR and we’ll just take what­ever hap­pens as the re­sult.”

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

North Caro­line’s Zoe Durner (95) runs with Queen Anne’s Julia Red­path (159) in the Bay­side Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships Wed­nes­day, Oct. 24.

PHOTO BY WIL­LIAM HAUFE

North Caro­line’s Wil­liam Christophel placed ninth at last Wed­nes­day’s Bay­side Con­fer­ence cross coun­try cham­pi­onships.

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