McCroy first Cambridge-SD boy to win Bayside title
KI standout Connelly program’s first girl to win back-to-back crowns
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.”
North Caroline’s Zoe Durner (95) runs with Queen Anne’s Julia Redpath (159) in the Bayside Cross Country Championships Wednesday, Oct. 24.
North Caroline’s William Christophel placed ninth at last Wednesday’s Bayside Conference cross country championships.