The William Monroe cross country team headed to Central Woodstock’s Fairview Park to race the 3B Regional meet on the familiar rolling hills around the corn fields for the season finale. With goals set and strategies planned, the racers got off the bus into crisp spring air, much better than the previous week’s heat, humidity and pollen at the same venue. Regionals is about each competitor leaving every ounce of energy on the course, running their gutsiest, fastest race of the season and showcasing personal honor from the smoke of the gun to the line at the end.
The top two teams of the 12 competing and the next three individuals advance to the state meet under the new COVID-19 guidelines, which makes for slim pickings and tough circumstances to qualify.
Spectators flocked to the course with excitement to support the racers, as they have been denied many opportunities to do so this season. The William Monroe non-racers (only the top seven race at Regionals) scurried to critical spots to cheer and encourage their teammates over the challenging three-mile track.
The boys went off first in two waves, one minute apart. Conrad Bruton knew he had a fighting chance to qualify and he came ready to rumble. From the gun, he was in the top 10—knowing he had to climb to at least the top five to have a chance to make it to the next level. He powered his body through the packs and picked off those strung out ahead until he was in the fourth spot with a half mile to go and three opponents breathing down his neck. He dug deeper from within holding off the culprits trying to rob him of his honor, and held on to a fourth-place finish with a blistering 16:47 (5:35 average per mile) to qualify for the state championship meet. Speaking of running personal records, Evan Young also came ready to roar—placing three spots away from All-Region Honors at number 18 and running a personal record (PR) of 17:56 (5:58 per mile) to finish his sophomore year. Nathan Lindegren, Schuyler Nitzsche (PR), Carlos Gomez (PR), Logan Spencer and Gabriel Henkel rounded out the top seven. The boys placed sixth out of 12 teams then bustled their way out along the course to cheer on their lady teammates.
With the elation of the boys’ race combined with nervous pre-race energy, the ladies went to the line for their two wave start, which seemed an eternity as the starter was slow to pull the trigger. Elli Pursel, who has led the girls’ team all season, had a goal of getting out with the lead pack and doing her best in the ambitious field. The freshman star came ready to roll and got out in good position within the top 20. A smart strategic racer, Pursel had a strong first mile slightly mixed up in a pack that she needed to break through. Weaving her way out, she picked more girls off in a strong second mile. Knowing she had to leave it all on the course with a mile to go, Pursel got to the thirteenth position with teammates zipping through the corn fields to cheer her on to catch yet another girl ahead. Pursel shifted into another gear and ran down the opponent for a twelfth-place finish and All-Region Honors with a time of 20:44 (6:54 mile pace), just three spots from qualifying for the state meet. A stellar season for the freshman. Teammates Sarah Earle and Sydney Orange, the one-two Monroe punch, pushed and pulled one another; Earle crossed the finish line for her last high school cross country race with a personal record and four years of running and racing for the Dragons to be proud of as she ends one chapter and starts her next at Bridgewater College. Followed by Earle were Orange (PR), Seanna Sutton (PR), Livia Kilby, Lillie Davis and Olivia Hoffacker.
The coaches recognize each athlete after every competition and extended the recognition to the end of the season awards ceremony acknowledging each athlete’s first race and personal record before moving on to the special awards. Four-year cross-country runners were recognized: Ellie Andreson, Mehrab Asif, Sarah Earle, Logan Spencer and Keegan Sutton.
The Coaches’ Awards included: Conrad Bruton with the Class and Character award; Evan Young with the Jump Out of the Jar award; Sydney Orange with the Spirit award; Elli Pursel with the Fierce Example award; and Sarah Earle with the Rock of The Team award.
The season continues for Bruton as he prepares for the April 21 State meet in Salem, which is after press time. As his teammates transition to other sports, they carry the memories of a season filled with growth, laughter, great racing, a mudfest and newfound friendships—with gratitude that they even had a season start to end during a pandemic.