By RYAN HERMAN
KERNERSVILLE –– Without its top runner to lead, Lincoln Charter’s girls cross country team relied on each other, and it brought the Eagles a second place finish for a second straight year.
Missing defending 1A individual state champion Sophia Bhalla due to an injury, Lincoln Charter placed none in the top 10 but had five of the first 43 spots to finish second to Kernersville Bishop McGuinness once again Saturday in the NCHSAA 1A girls state cross country race at Beeson Park.
Bishop McGuinness, which defended its girls title with a 60, beat the Eagles by 38 points, a year after the teams finished in the same order.
Bhalla wasn’t able to defend her title, but Lincoln Charter placed three in the top 22 –– Mara Bhalla at 18th, Taylor Hughes at 21st and Kyndall Morrow at 22nd –– to make up for the previous weekend’s debacle at the regionals.
“This was a heart team this year. Last week we went into the West regional and our minds and emotions were everywhere. … The girls had to come together and believe in themselves. They had to figure out we can do this with everyone else,” Eagles coach Josh Williams said.
Mara Bhalla, a sophomore, came in at 21:09.25 –– more than a minute behind individual champion Malia Ellington of Community School of Davidson.
Behind her was Hughes and Morrow, and Anna Cunningham finished 36th while Haley Bennett was 43rd.
Saturday’s showing proved how cross country is the ultimate team sport.
“We told them we had to all be of one body, one mind, one spirit when we came and ran today,” coach Logan Spake said. “They got that philosophy, they worked hard all year, all the girls stepped up and just came out today with that goal in mind that we had at the beginning of the season to do as best as we can.”
Not only did Lincoln Charter finish second out of 16 teams in the 1A girls state championships, but it did so on Williams’ 35th birthday.
He couldn’t have asked for a better gift.
“I’m overcome with emotion,” he said. “We’ve poured so much time and energy into this, starting with the summer running. It’s basically a year-round thing. I’m just overwhelmed.”