All-County boys cross country: Great year for Burgess, Falcons
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The big story of the boys cross country season was the re-emergence of the West Rowan program directed by coach Scott Foster.
West grabbed its first Rowan County championship since 1997 at Dan Nicholas Park and produced its first individual champion since Craig Schmidt in 1996. That new champion is junior Andrew Burgess.
Burgess followed up his county success with a runner-up finish in the South Piedmont Conference Championships to Cox Mill’s Jack Trabucco, leading another triumph by the West team on a smoldering mid-October day at Salisbury Community Park.
“Andrew always runs big in the most important races and his performances played a huge role in us winning county and conference championships,” Foster said.
Burgess is the Post’s Rowan County Runner of the Year despite a late-season injury in the 2A Midwest Regional that derailed his — and West’s — hopes to qualify for the 3A State Championships.
The title of Rowan champ was wide open heading into the season after back-to-back years when phenoms ruled the county, raised the bar for all runners and lowered the marks for them to shoot at. East Rowan’s Conor Honeycutt ran a meet-record 15:53 in the 2014 Rowan County Championships, only to see Carson’s Zach Marchinko slice nine more seconds off that mark with his 15:44 effort in the 2015 county meet.
Burgess didn’t lay claim to the throne right away.
He got a tardy cross country start after a busy AAU track and field summer that included winning the 2000 meter steeplechase for ages 15-16 in the Junior Olympics held in Texas. And track shape and cross country shape aren’t the same thing.
“It really was a late start for me as far as cross country,” Burgess said. “That’s probably why I didn’t achieve all my goals for the season. I achieved some, but not all.”
Burgess got off to such a slow start that he was temporarily discouraged, but his teammates kept pushing him and his times began dropping.
It was East Rowan junior Sean Incardona, not Burgess, who took the Pre-County Meet at Dan Nicholas in late August. That’s a gauge for individuals and teams to figure out how far along they are and to size up the competition.
When the official county meet arrived along with ideal weather conditions on Oct. 3, Cardona, a tireless competitor, led most of the race. But Burgess has more pure speed. He eventually sprinted past Cardona and won by four seconds.
“I was starting to get into cross country shape by then,” Burgess said. “And I was feeling pretty good that day.”
Burgess’ winning time of 16:52 was about a minute off the awesome clockings turned in by Honeycutt and Marchinko, but it was in line with most previous county winners. Burgess’ PR is 16:40.
Burgess has such good wheels that he sees himself as a track man first.
“I’m just kind of a track guy who also runs cross country,” Burgess said with a smile.
But he’s put in the miles and shown steady cross country gains.
As a freshman, he was 15th in the county and 18th in the SPC, running in the high 17s in both events.
As a sophomore, Burgess ran 17:15 for sixth in the county and moved up to 10th in the SPC.
So it’s a safe bet that his best times are yet to come.
There was unfortunate ending to this season for Burgess. He didn’t feel right in the days leading up the 3A Midwest Regional at Charlotte’s McAlpine Greenway Park.
“I was feeling very bad that day, but it was the regional, we all had a chance to go to state (with a top-four finish) and I wasn’t going to miss it,” Burgess said. “I had to try. But with about half-mile to go, I hurt my knee.”
Burgess hobbled to the finish line in 18:56 and finished 90th. If he’d run his usual 16:50, and that’s conservative as McAlpine is a course conducive to fast times, he would’ve finished in the top 12 to 15 runners.
Even without a score from Burgess, West was strong enough to place seventh in a regional loaded with exceptional Union County teams, but the Falcons’ dreams of competing on the state stage came to an end.
“The good news is we’ve got Andrew for one more cross country season,” Foster said. “I expect even bigger accomplishments.”
Burgess isn’t competing in indoor track as he will need some recovery time to get healthy. But he plans to return to competition with outdoor track. In the Rowan County Championships last spring, he placed second in the 1600 and took third in the 800.
Seven of the 12 members of the all-county team are Falcons. Besides Burgess, there’s senior Cameron Butler, senior Nathan Zauner, senior Cade Harrill, junior Oscar Bautista, junior Luke Hager and sophomore Thomas Waldo.
West had half of the top 12 runners in the SPC meet.
“Talent comes in waves, I guess,” Foster said.
Butler is very quick for a cross country runner and is the county’s reigning champ at 800 meters. Zauner led the Falcons in the 3A Midwest Regional (27th in 17:18) when Burgess was injured, placed fourth in the county and took fifth in the SPC. Bautista placed third in the county meet in 17:16. Waldo and Harrill were top-10 finishers in the county and conference meets. Hager placed 11th in the county meet.
• County runner-up East’s all-county contingent includes Incardona, senior Jonathan Brindle and junior Ross Alexander.
Besides winning the Pre-County Meet and placing second in the Rowan County Championships, Incardona ran a strong third — six seconds behind Burgess and 15 seconds back of Trabucco — in the SPC Championships.
Incardona was 19th in the 3A Midwest Regional, leading Rowan runners, and qualified to compete in the state event as an individual. He ran 17:12 for 46th in the 3A Championships.
Alexander placed fifth in the county meet, while Brindle took eighth.
• Junior Keegan Dillon represents Salisbury on the all-county team. He finished ninth in the county meet. He led Salisbury to the Central Carolina Conference championship and qualified for the 2A State Championships as an individual. He ran 18:19 in the state event.
• Carson’s is represented by Jonah Evans. The junior finished eighth in the SPC meet and 12th in the Rowan County Championships.
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