High school cross country: Carson girls still on top

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 9, 2022

By Mike London


SALISBURY — Last fall, Carson girls cross country coach Les-Lee Ihme wasn’t sure that the Cougars could be competitive in 2022.

Three all-county seniors, including 2020 county champion Camden Corley, were in their final season.

Who was going to replace Corley, Kendall Barbee and Brynn Sokolowski in the blue and orange was a major mystery.

“It’s getting harder — not as many kids want to compete in high school sports now, and it’s not just cross country, it’s everything,” Ihme said.  “You talk to kids about running cross country and you don’t get a lot of yeses. You get some maybes, and you hope that they’ll come out next year. So I didn’t know how good we could be this season, but I knew everyone in the county was fighting that same battle.”

Carson’s girls have made it a habit of winning the county. When Ihme looked at the times for every runner prior to the Rowan County Championships, no team looked dominant.

“I knew we had a chance, based on PRs,” Ihme said. “But I knew that everything would have to line up right and I wasn’t sure where that winning kick was coming from. Some years you know you’ve got it, but this definitely wasn’t one of those years.”

Everything went right for the Cougars at Dan Nicholas Park on Thursday. That’s four in a row. That’s seven championships in the last nine years. Carson was second the other two years in that stretch, once to South Rowan and once (by one point) to Salisbury.

Carson’s Makayla Borst was the individual champion on Thursday. This is her first individual championship, but she’s always there for the Cougars. This was the senior’s fourth all-county season and she’s obviously been part of four team champions.

She placed ninth as a freshman. She was second by less than a second to teammate Corley in the 2020 COVID season that was run late in the year in colder weather. In 2021, she placed third behind Salisbury’s Sutton Webb and Corley.

“Makayla is one of those girls that is picky about what she goes after,” Ihme said. “She’ll set one big goal rather than a lot of little ones. She told me last year she was going to be county champion as a senior, and now she’s accomplished that goal. She’s a soccer player in the spring when a lot of the other good runners are doing track, so that puts her at somewhat of a disadvantage, but she was determined to win this. West’s Katie Roberts is an excellent runner and she was right there. I didn’t know if Makayla could hold her off, but she did. Makayla can be pretty fierce, really competitive, and she was tough in that last stretch. She’s come a long way. She’s a quiet girl, but she’s become a very good leader for us as a senior.”

Borst clocked 21:06, Roberts, a sophomore with a big future, crossed the line in 21:17.

Carson pieced another championship together from there. Emily Landaverde was third in 21:26. Julia Burleson placed 11th. Mackenzie Todd was 13th. Hayley Borst, Makayla’s twin sister, also provides some leadership and was the fifth runner for the Cougars. She finished 15th. It was enough.

Carson’s total of 43 beat South Rowan (52), West Rowan (53) and East Rowan (65).

Landaverde was 14th in the county as a freshman last season, but she’s running almost two minutes faster now.

Burleson is a new name and a new face. She’s a freshman.

“Landaverde is a soccer player, a very good athlete, and she’s improved a lot,” Ihme said. “Burleson gave us some very huge and unexpected help. She was going to play volleyball, but changed her mind and decided to run. She’s an athlete, a basketball player and a softball player. If you can get the athletes to come out for cross country, you’ve got a chance to develop them as runners.”

Todd, a sophomore, and Hayley Borst were Carson’s sixth and seventh runners in 2021, finishing 20th and 17th in the county meet.

They’ve moved up enough for Carson to stay on top.

“We’ve tried hard to make it a fun program and we work closely with our boys program and we take some fun trips,” Ihme said. “We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of very good runners over the years and we’ve been blessed with a nice run of championships.”

South placed three runners in the top 10, with returners Madison Beaver (5th) and Blythe Elliott (6th) and freshman Madalyn Gulledge (9th).

Roberts got some support from West teammates Anna Harrison (8th) and Marion Blake (10th).

Sadie Featherstone (4th), Iyanna Lynch Berry (7th) and Savannah Wise (12th) were the top runners for the Mustangs.

The next meet for Carson, South, East and West is the South Piedmont Conference Championships on Oct. 20 at Concord’s Frank Liske Park.


All-county: Makayla Borst, Carson (21:06), Katie Roberts, WR (21:17), Emily Landaverde, Carson (21:26), Sadie Featherstone, ER (22:25), Madison Beaver, SR (22:52), Blythe Elliott, SR (22:58), Iyanna Lynch Berry, ER (23:05), Anna Harrison, WR (23:13), Madalyn Gulledge, SR (23:32), Marion Blake, WR (23:39), Julia Burleson, Carson (23:39), Savannah Wise, ER (23:39).