High school cross country: East’s Featherstone is individual girls champ

Published 10:25 am Friday, October 13, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — East Rowan cross country coach Cris Leckonby remembers the exact date when she informed junior Sadie Featherstone she had what it took to be a county champion.

That prediction came true on Thursday evening.

Featherstone, who was 21st in the county as a freshman and barely breaking 25 minutes on the clock, is now the queen of the county. She moved up to fourth in the county as a sophomore, clocking 22:25. Her winning time in Thursday’s victory was 21:28.

“I’m still kind of in shock right now,” Featherstone said.

On Sept. 27 Leckonby texted a photo of former East Rowan runner Adalie Harrison to Featherstone. Harrison had been Rowan County champion in 2019, but no Mustang had accomplished the feat since Harrison.

“The message was a direct challenge — this can be you,” Leckonby said. “I told Sadie this could be her year, but she needed to be prepared mentally. She needed to start visualizing herself crossing that finish line at Dan Nicholas Park first. Sadie was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.'”

Featherstone is a tough girl — she hurdles, she hoops, she even hunts deer with a bow — but she’d never won something as important as the county meet, so it wasn’t easy to put that triumphant mental image in her head. It wasn’t easy for her to imagine herself celebrating and throwing both fists in the air as she crossed the line.

But on Saturday, Oct. 7, Featherstone competed in the Wendy’s Invitational in Charlotte. She ran 21:56. That’s a course conducive to fast times, but getting under 22 minutes was a significant. moment Rowan girls championships can be won with times in the 21s. Carson junior Emily Landaverde also was in the Wendy’s meet and ran 21:39. That was 17 seconds faster than Featherstone, but Featherstone was closer to Landaverde than she expected to be, and everyone knew that Landavarde, who had won the pre-Rowan County Meet at Dan Nicholas, was the runner to beat.

“It was after the Wendy’s Invitational that I started believing I could win,” Featherstone said. “Coach kept telling me, it’s there for you, the county is there for you, but you’ve got to want it.”

Coaches usually know what they’re talking about.

“Yes, I knew it was doable, but first Sadie had to believe it was doable, and then she had to go out there and execute,” Leckonby said. “She had to think of the county meet as running on her home course. This is where we train. This course is ours. I told her she would need a PR to win, but she was very capable of getting that PR run.”

Featherstone did PR.

She came from behind.

Landaverde opened up a lead but couldn’t quite put Featherstone away.

“The first time I could see them Sadie was behind, but the second time I saw them, coming past the volleyball courts, Sadie was catching up, and I knew that if she caught up, she was going to win,” Leckonby said. “Sadie dug down deep and she did catch her. Sadie is a hurdler and sprinter in track. Sadie was going to be faster at the end.”

Featherstone, who has started basketball workouts in addition to her cross country efforts, estimates she caught up Landaverde with 300 meters left in the race.

“I almost gave up trying to catch her a couple of times,” Featherstone  said. “But I didn’t give up. I always would tell myself that it’s not that much further'”

Cross county season peaks over the next few weeks — the South Piedmont Conference Meet, then regionals, and then the state. While she qualified for the state track meet in hurdles, Featherstone missed qualifying for the state meet in cross county last fall by the slimmest of margins, by one place. So there’s plenty of motivation.

And now there’s plenty of confidence. Now she’s a champion.

“It’s all pretty amazing,” Leckonby said. “Sadie didn’t do as much work as I hoped she would do in the off-season, but she’s been very dedicated and determined since our season started. Now she’s county champion, and I know she’s going to push herself to make states.”

Landaverde, third in the county in 2022, finished 15 seconds behind Featherstone and edged teammate Julia Burleson for second place.


South Rowan won its first championship since 2018 with 4-5-7-8-10  scoring. (See separate story.)

Second-place Carson’s other scorers were Lainey Barger (9th), Alexis Kyle (14th) and Railey Joyner (15th).

West Rowan’s Katie Roberts, runner-up to Carson’s Makayla Borst in 2022, was sixth, but the Falcons didn’t have a team score.

East was third in the team scoring.

East’s Iyanna Lynch Berry was 11th and made all-county for the second time.

The top 12 runners make all-county. Sadie’s older sister, Jadyn, placed 12th and made the all-county team for the second time. She was 10th in 2020, but had slipped to 16th in 2021 and 20th in 2022.

“My sister’s goal was all-county, and she made it back as a senior,” Sadie said. “I was so happy for her.”