High school cross country: Waldo leads West boys to NPC title

Published 11:28 pm Tuesday, October 16, 2018

By Mike London

SALISBURY— West Rowan senior Thomas Waldo, beaming like an 8-year-old on Christmas morning, felt the thrill of elusive victory and flung both arms in the air as he reached the finish line at Dan Nicholas Park.

Waldo has been a contender a long time, and now he’s an individual champion. He ran 17:28 to take Tuesday’s North Piedmont Conference cross country meet. He edged Carson junior Zac Barbee by three seconds.

“It’s about time,” Waldo said with a laugh. “It was finally my time, but it still wasn’t easy. Barbee and I were duking it out just about the whole race.”

West coach Scott Foster saw it coming. Waldo was sensational early this season and ran 16:52 in the Jungle Run in Fayetteville.

“Then at Friday Night Lights (in Kernersville on Sept. 7),” he hurt his back and that slowed him down for several weeks,” Foster said. “But at the Wendy’s Invitational last week, he ran very well and earned a medal and I could see he had almost battled back to where he was. This was a breakthrough win for him today. I’m happy for him.”

Waldo’s individual triumph had a whole lot to do with a team title for the Falcons. West (40) topped Carson (48), East Rowan (77), South Iredell (86), defending champion North Iredell (113) and Statesville (141).

“The team did great today, and that’s the biggest thing,” Waldo said. “It’s been a rocky season for us, but this makes up for a lot.”

Carson had won the pre-conference meet in September, with Barbee finishing first, but the “real thing” on Tuesday went to the Falcons.

West also benefited from a massive performance from Devon Pena, a senior who ran a PR 17:56 and placed fifth.

“I went out with Waldo and Barbee and kept the fast pace they set for as long as I could,” Pena said. “We only had six runners today, so I knew I had to go. Everyone had to go.”

West sophomore Damian Ackman ran 18:28 for eighth place. Eight make all-conference in the NPC.

“Just really happy for him that he made all-conference,” Foster said. “At the Rowan County meet, he fell right at the gun. He made it all the way back up to 13th place, but he missed all-county (top 12) by one second.”

Luke Harrison (11th) and Matthew Ramsay (15th) rounded out the scorers for West.

“This means a lot because I can’t remember a year where we’ve had to overcome more injuries or more adversity,” Foster said. “Hamstrings, knees, ankles, backs, hips, we’ve had everything go wrong that you can imagine. But October is when it really counts. These guys never quit, and now they’re conference champions.

South Iredell’s Adam Weber took third in 17:46, while North Iredell’s Patrick Mahaffey was fourth in 17:56.

In addition to Barbee’s effort, Carson’s runner-up finish was fueled by John Sokolowski (6th, 18:14) and TJ Jones (7th, 18:23). Jimmy Sentilles was ninth for the Cougars. The fifth scorer was Jackson Price (24th).

Barbee gave a gigantic effort. He was swifter Tuesday than when he won the pre-conference meet in 18:11.

The lead see-sawed between Barbee and Waldo several times in the woods.

“Thomas would move ahead, and then I’d catch up to him,” Barbee said. “Finally, coming out of the woods, he pushed to a little bit of a lead,  but I almost caught him again on the bridge. But I just couldn’t quite get him. He was able to out-kick me.”

In the Rowan County Championships in early October, Barbee and Waldo finished second and third, respectively, behind South Rowan sophomore Noah Julian.

But on Tuesday Waldo finally broke through after paying years of dues in one of the most demanding sports.

“There are no substitutes in cross country and there are no timeouts,” said Rick Roseman, who has been running meets for 34 years. “Every single one of those kids competing today ran the same distance. No matter what his or her time was, I commend them all.”