By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– North Lincoln has become a powerhouse in cross country. And with the regionals looming this weekend, the Knights plan on continuing that tradition.
North Lincoln’s boys and girls cross country teams will take part in the NCHSAA 3A Midwest Regionals on Saturday at McAlpine Park in Charlotte.
The boys enter the meet having won the last two 2A state team titles while the girls are one of the favorites to win the regional.
North Lincoln’s boys also sport the 3A Midwest region’s top two runners in seniors Ryan Shannon and Andrew Fea, respectively, according to rankings on the popular running website NC.Milesplit.com.
The two have never known failure from a team aspect, as the Knights won their fourth consecutive conference title last week.
This year, they believe, the team is better than ever.
“Our team is much better as a whole,” Shannon said.
And that’s why the Knights are in the position they are in –– ranked second in the regional rankings behind Weddington and ahead of Waxhaw Marvin Ridge.
In such an individual sport, North Lincoln has learned to embrace terms such as family and unity.
While the runners push themselves to beat the clock individually, they also push themselves because the more runners a team has that finishes near the top, the more likely it is to win.
“You know that your team relies on you, but you also know that you rely on yourself and expect yourself to do good,” Shannon said. “In the end, when it comes down to the final stretch, you want to perform for your teammates because you know how hard they’ve worked, and how much work you’ve put into it.”
“Our team has always been like a family. It’s all about hard work together,” Fea added.
Being ranked second isn’t as important as finishing first on race day –– and next weekend at the state championships.
“It’ll be a good test to see where we’re at,” Fea said of the regionals, where the top four teams advance to the state championships in Kernersville on Nov. 2.
“It just comes down to the race. You don’t take the internet or stats too seriously,” Shannon said. “It’s more about what you think you can do.”
North Lincoln’s girls team is also ranked second, and its biggest goal is to qualify for the state championship race for a fifth straight year.
The girls team also has two top-10 runners in seniors Allie Castro (second) and Cailtin Potter (eighth).
“The girls team is really wanting to make it to states for the fifth year in a row. That’s the main goal,” Castro said. “We’d really like to finish second at the regionals.”
Second? Why not first?
Because the top-ranked team regionally, Marvin Ridge, is really, really good.
“First would be great. We’d love to get first,” Potter said. “(But) they’re one of the best girls team in the entire state.”
The Knights finished second in the North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference girls championships last week to 4A Lake Norman.
The entire program’s success has come from two words: Dedication and teamwork.
Fifth-year coach Jerry Castro started the current run of success, and he sees their dedication to their craft both as individuals and as a team.
“They’re just so dedicated, the guys and the girls,” the coach said. “Their idea of a Friday night party is watching track movies and eating power bars.
“If you’re running for your teammate and you’re running for your friends and you’re running for someone higher than us, then that’s when you do well.”
North Lincoln isn’t the only county cross country program preparing for the regionals, as all five Lincoln County schools will be represented.
Freshman Frances Massey leads East Lincoln’s girls to the 2A West Regionals at Freedom High School. The top-ranked Mustangs have four ranked in the region’s top 10: Massey (first), Megan Rowles (seventh), Maggie Fowley (ninth) and Elizabeth Sisk (10th). Their boys are ranked fifth.
Lincoln Charter’s Sophia Bhalla is ranked third in the 1A West Region. The defending state 1A individual champion will lead the Eagles into their respective regional meet at Cherokee High School.
Taylor Hughes (fifth) and Mara Bhalla (ninth) are also ranked. As a team Lincoln Charter’s girls are ranked first in the region.