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High school cross country: Redemption race for South Rowan boys

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — South Rowan’s cross country team-bonding sessions always include dinner and a movie.

Spaghetti is the meal of choice. This week’s cinema offering was “Secretariat,” the film about the 1973 Triple Crown-winning horse.

“The guys loved it,” South coach Scott Julian reported. “Maybe they were inspired by it.”

Julian’s son, Noah, doesn’t eat hay or grass, but he’s a human version of Secretariat, a tireless strider who joyfully runs with efficient purpose, grace and power.

The junior galloped to his second straight individual Central Carolina Conference Championship on a comfortable Thursday with a clocking of 17:03.85.

More importantly to both Julians, South ended a 39-year drought since its last conference championship. The one in 1980 came when the Raiders were competing in the 3A South Piedmont Conference.

South (43) won against Oak Grove (49), Central Davidson (56), East Davidson (69), North Davidson (145), Salisbury (169), West Davidson (212) and Thomasville (255). Ledford had only four runners and couldn’t compile a team score. Lexington did not have any competitors.

“I’m crazy excited right now,” Noah Julian said. “We should’ve done this last year, but we didn’t. I hate that Ari (Moya) didn’t get to experience this.”

Moya, who graduated last spring, has moved on, but he was still part of the championship in spirit.

Julian crossed the line nine seconds in front of runner-up Zach Garmon of Central Davidson, who placed eighth last season. Oak Grove Grizzlies Trey Benson and Will Todd came next. They also were top-five finishers a year ago.

Julian turned to watch as a small river of red and black came streaming out of the woods toward the final straightaway. But were they Raiders or Central Davidson Spartans?

Three of the runners in that red and black pack turned out to be Julian’s teammates — Ian Waugh (sixth), Landon Cromer (eighth) and Nolan Miller (ninth).

“We’re almost always running together like that,” Waugh said. “Landon and Nolan are my motivation.”

With four in the fold, South waited and hoped. No cross country team is any stronger than its fifth person, the last scorer, and Trent Rivers fills that role for the Raiders.

You couldn’t blame the Raiders for being on edge. In 2018, the CCC was a photo finish. South’s 68 wasn’t good enough because both Central Davidson and Oak Grove scored 66.

“Last year, we won Rowan County, but then we kind of flat-lined,” Miller said. “We didn’t want the county to be our peak this year.”

It wasn’t. Rivers was in sight now, still running smoothly, and South people were screaming for him. When Rivers reached the line in 18:59, good for 19th place, South owned the title with a little room to spare. Rivers keeps improving. He was 33rd in 2018.

“I remember last year when our fifth guy (Cromer) finished, we knew it was going to be really close and I didn’t have a good feeling about how it would turn out,” Noah Julian said. “This year was a completely different feeling. As soon as I saw Trent, I knew we had it.”

It’s appropriate that a guy named Rivers was the drought-breaker.

“I felt strong all the way,” Rivers said. “I was kind of running all by myself out there, but I kept telling myself how important this was.”

South’s disappointing third place in the CCC last year, when it was the clear favorite, when it had won the pre-conference meet, is now in the rear-view mirror.

“I think we took winning the conference for granted last year,” Cromer said. “There was a different mindset this year. We ran a very strong race.”

This fall, South was only third in the pre-conference meet, but the Raiders were still building. Still getting better. They showed that on Thursday.

“This was a redemption race, no doubt about it,” Coach Julian said. “Super-proud of them all. I don’t think we showed up for the CCC as a team last year. This time, we did.”

Next for all the CCC runners is the 2A Midwest Regional at Surry Central.

Noah Julian offered an interesting perspective on that meet. He obviously has been deeply impacted by that “Secretariat” film.

“I told the guys that the Rowan County Meet was the Kentucky Derby, and the CCC was the Preakness,” he said.  “The regional is the Belmont Stakes.”

If South qualifies for the state meet, Noah will have to figure out what race comes after the Belmont Stakes, but that will be a nice problem to have.

Coach Julian has done the research and is certain the Raiders never have qualified for the state as a team.

This time they may have the horses.

•••

NOTES: The top 15 finishers make All-CCC. They were South’s Julian, Waugh, Cromer and Miller; Central Davidson’s Zach Garmon, Logan Garmon and Blake Semonco; Oak Grove’s Benson, Todd, Dylan Scott and Cooper Bodford, and East Davidson’s Balmir Rene, Brandon Rowe, Garrett Smith and Gavin Comer. … Salisbury’s top runner was Michael Lowry (24th).

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