High school cross country: Corley, Borst lead girls all-county
Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2021
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson girls cross country coach Les-Lee Ihme recruits the school hallways around the clock.
She has to.
Cross country isn’t high-profile. Cross country means hours of sacrifice. Cross country means lots of miles and sore legs.
Ihme’s selling point is endurance. Cross country benefits stamina no matter what sport an athlete sees as his or her priority.
“It amazes me how female athletes want to be better at their sport, but don’t want to do anything in the off-season to improve endurance,” Ihme said. “That’s how I originally approached Camden Corley and Makayla Borst. Makayla for soccer and Camden for basketball.”
Corley, a junior, and Borst, a sophomore, are cross-training recruits who blossomed into a success story.
They share the Post’s Rowan County Runner of the Year accolade for the 2020-21 COVID season.
Corley nipped Borst by less than a second for the individual county championship. Borst’s PR of 20:52 led Carson to the North Piedmont Conference championship. Borst placed second, while Corley was third.
Both girls ran well in a chilly 3A West Regional, with Borst pacing the Cougars.
Corley took up running as a freshman for the 2018 fall season.
“I remember them asking if any of the basketball players wanted to run, and I tried it and I was surprised by how much I liked it,” Corley said. “After that, I just ran with it.”
Corley’s modest freshman season offered few hints that she’d become an an individual county champion. She was 16th in the county meet at Dan Nicholas Park that year, the seventh of Carson’s seven runners. She was clocked in 23:45.
She was 18th in the 2018 North Piedmont Conference championships, and again she was the last Carson runner. But she learned that it was a barrel of fun to be part of a championship team.
Corley progressed in 2019. Part of her progress was due to the addition to the team of Borst. Borst is a pretty terrific soccer player, and Ihme had convinced her cross country would enhance her soccer ability.
“That’s how cross country started for me,” Borst said. “Cross country was a way to keep in shape for soccer and also for track. My twin sister (Haley) was going to run. She and Coach Ihme talked me into trying it.”
Corley and Borst were of identical natural ability and possessed equal drive to get better. Corley is bubbly, while Borst is quiet, but they were kindred spirits. They always ran together. They were instrumental in Carson’s 2019 Rowan County championship. They were the third and fourth runners for the Cougars. Corley placed eighth in 22:42, while Borst was ninth in 22:51.
Taylor Conrad led Carson’s team for years. Her graduation left a void, and there was some uncertainty entering this shortened COVID season. Normally, a large team, Carson’s numbers dwindled as the season was pushed back and summer and fall activities were curtailed by pandemic restrictions.
Corley and Borst emerged as the new leaders for the Cougars.
“Both girls are hard workers, obviously, but I can’t tell you which one is more competitive,” Ihme said. “There were times we had to strongly encourage them not to run side by side. One of them needed to take the lead. I think they felt a sense of comfort with each other at first. You couldn’t get a photo of one without the other. But that changed when we actually started running for a championship.”
At the Rowan County Championships contested on a new layout at Dan Nicholas Park, the Carson girls finished 1-2-3-4-6 for a repeat county championship. Corley built what looked like a safe lead, but Borst was closing fast at the end. Corley’s winning time was 21:29.23. Borst clocked 21:29.93.
“Winning makes me happy,” Corley said. “Whether it’s an individual win or the team winning. The county was the best day of the season for me because I was excited about me winning and the team winning.”
As cross country and basketball seasons began to overlap, there was more strain on Corley. Ihme said that was a factor in Borst moving past her in the conference and regional meets.
If Corley had basketball and cross country practices “right on top of each other,” she would go to her cross county session.
“I remember a 24-hour period where our cross country girls had two basketball practices and ran 12 miles,” Ihme said. “So it was tough for Camden. Camden and Makayla are pretty much best friends before and after a race, but when that gun goes off that is over and they are trying to beat each other. In the end though, no matter who wins, I do believe the other looks at losing as a chance to improve. The friendship is back and they get right back to pushing each other.”
The North Piedmont Conference championship meet was run on Jan. 6 at the Statesville soccer complex. Borst finished second. Corley was third, 17 seconds behind Borst. Carson’s team won the championship.
It was an unusual course, with concrete for the first mile or so and lots of turns, zig-zagging through soccer fields.
“It was a different kind of course, but it was my best meet of the year,” Borst said. “That’s the meet where I broke 21 minutes (20:52) for the first time.”
That was the fastest time by a female Rowan runner this season.
In the regional meet, run at elevation in Hendersonville, 2,150 feet above sea level, Borst and Corley performed well. Borst was 21st in 21:05, while Corley was 30th in 21:51.
That was their last meet. Under normal circumstances, Borst would have qualified for the 3A state meet, but fewer runners qualified this year
“It was a hard day in the regional, really cold and snowy,” Borst said.
“We never, ever got warm,” added Corley. “But I wore an undershirt and once you were out there running, it wasn’t so bad.”
Carson has won two straight Rowan County titles and three consecutive NPC championships.
Ihme will count on Borst and Corley to lead another charge next season, as Carson moves into a new, expanded league.
Coaches of the year are Ihme, for leading Carson to county and conference titles, and South’s Rebekah Frick Julian, for leading the Raiders to a conference championship and their first team appearance in the state meet.