Boys cross country: Raiders dominate CCC boys meet

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2020

By Mike London

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Community Park cross country course is usually described as hills and thrills, more ups and downs than a roller coaster.

But there were only ups for the South Rowan boys in Tuesday’s Central Carolina Conference Championship Meet, even on a muddy course and on a windy day.

“This day could not have gone any better,” South coach Scott Julian said.

South competed in the first of the two boys waves, blessed with pleasant temperatures and sunshine, and did what it came to do. The Raiders posted a dominating score of 1-2-6-8-9 — 26 and claimed their second straight title in the 10-team CCC. That hardware will reside in a trophy case next to  three straight Rowan County championships.

“Today was a day we’ve been working toward for eight months,” said South senior Noah Julian, who led the field with a 16:54 clocking and three-peated as invidual champion.

Paced by 3-4-5 finishers Will Todd, Trey Benson and Lex Reid, all of whom broke 18 minutes, Oak Grove (45) took second place. East Davidson (92) and Central Davidson (97) were the other regional qualifiers. Other team scores were North Davidson (123), West Davidson (176), Ledford (182) and Salisbury (188). Thomasville and Lexington participated, but didn’t have the minimum five runners required to post a team score.

With Eli Julian, the best freshman runner in the state in 2A, joining his big brother this season, the Raiders looked super when they stormed to the Rowan County Championship two weeks ago.

There was more of the same on Tuesday, including Eli Julian’s 17:12 clocking for second place. Senior Landon Cromer placed sixth. His little brother, Grayson Cromer, was eighth. Steady senior Nolan Miller was ninth.

But Coach Julian, Noah and Eli’s father, reported that very little has been routine for the Raiders since their county success.

“Three positive COVID tests and quarantines,” he said. “We were holding practices with three runners. These guys haven’t all been together since the county meet — until today. Our fear was that all the work we’ve been putting in since June might not be recognized.”

South got healthy just in time to defend its title and was thankful it had the opportunity to defend that crown.

“We started working in June, and the season kept getting pushed back,” Noah Julian said. “Even after the county meet, we kept hearing that everything might be shut down at any time. My prayer all along was, please just let us get to conference. Well, today we got to conference and we got a championship that we really wanted. I’m very proud of Eli and all my teammates.”

The toughest portions of the course, everyone agreed, was the soggy grass at the start and finish, areas that were gradually transforming into mud.

“Pretty mushy,” is how Eli Julian described the footing.

“And if it’s mushy at the start that can really get in your head,” Noah Julian said.  “This course isn’t like the state meet where you know you’re going to have a smooth start.”

Still, even with the mush, Noah ran his PR at Salisbury Community Park.

Eli hasn’t finished ahead of Noah yet this season, but there’s not much doubt Eli has the higher ceiling and probably will beat his big brother’s times on every course in the years to come.

“I stayed with Noah for the first mile today, but then he started to pull away from me,” Eli said. “I realize there are a lot of high expectations for me, and I don’t mind that.”

There were high expectations for all the Raiders on Tuesday. They answered the bell.

Now they’ll get a little break. They’ll get a week off before they start retooling for the regional and probably the state.

“Our guys have kept working and running for eight months, through everything that’s happened,” Coach Julian said. “When you think about it, that’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Freshman Aaron Jones was South’s sixth runner but placed 12th overall.  The top 15 finishers made all-conference.

East Davidson’s Brandon Rowe (7th) and Gavin Comer (15th), Ledford’s Isaac Reyna (10th), North Davidson’s Grayson Byrd (11th) and Levi Jackson (14th) and Central Davidson’s Ethan Edwards (13th) rounded out the all-conference squad.

The top runner for Salisbury was Michael Lowry. He was 21st in 19:25.