by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
CARY — Heritage High School cross country runner Grant Rodgers qualified for the 4A state championship meet after a strong finish in Saturday’s 4A mideast regional.
Rodgers finished 12th overall and also recorded a personal best time in the 5K race, which was held at WakeMed Soccer Park.
His time of 15:44 broke his previous best mark of 15:48.
“My main goal for regionals was simply to run tough enough to make it to states, whatever that took,” Rodgers said, and to make it to states would take an all best time from me.”
Rodgers had to place among the top five individuals, knowing that the top four teams would go.
“It was a tight race with all runners being within seconds of each other at the top,” he said. “It was one of the fastest and closest races the Mideast regional has seen.”
Going into the race, Rodgers said he was feeling a little sluggish due to a heavy homework week from exams.
“I didn’t get a ton of sleep but as I got into the race, I shook it off and focused on my main goal, which was running hard enough to qualify,” he said.
Rodgers said he started the race on pace coming through the first mile in 4:51.
“I knew I had an insane second mile filled with a lot of hills,” he said, “but I came through the two-mile at 10:06 right in the position I needed to qualify.”
“My race plan was executed perfectly and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way I ran,” Rodgers added.
Last year, Rodgers did not qualify for the state meet. He had multiple races where he blacked out and could not finish and during last year’s regionals, he ran the race in 16:30.
“It shows I have grown a lot since last year both mentally and physically,” he said.
His plan for the state meet is simple.
“I need to run with a lot of heart and go for the top ten,” he said. “This will not be easy knowing how competitive and tough runners in North Carolina are but I’m going to go for it. I’m going to let the Lord lead me and help pull me through the race.”
“It’s no longer about time, it’s about placement,” he added.
William Roberson of Broughton High School was the top runner in the regional, finishing the race in 15:23.63.
Matt Dausch of Heritage was his team’s second fastest runner with a time of 17:21.22.
Wake Forest High’s top competitors were Bailey Autry, 16:53.16 and Calvin Ulrich, 16:58.77
“I was very happy how my runners ran,” said Wake Forest cross country coach Patrick Marshall. “Although we did not have anyone qualify for the state meet, we did have most of our runners run times that were season bests, personal records or close to one of those two times.”
As a team, the Cougars finished in 13th place behind Heritage.
The Broughton High boys won the race and Apex and Green Hope rounded out the top three teams.
“If the runners continue to train, we will continue to see improvements in my distance runners and hopefully in the near future, we will be sending some runners, if not a whole team to the state meet,” Marshall said.
Tre Brooks was the first runner to finish the race for Wakefield with a time of 16:58.30. Teammate Wyatt Schug crossed the finish line in 18:16.15.
The Wolverines placed 19th overall in the boy’s race.
Rolesville High School, which had runners competing for the first time, since the school opened this fall, was paced by Stephen Strong, 19:32.56 and Matthew Mims, 21:45.28.
“Overall as a team, we achieved our goals for the season,” said Rolesville High coach Michael Grether.
“We started a cross country program, got our runners to finish their first 5K and they all improved their times,” Grether said.
All of the Rolesville High runners increased their times by an average of four minutes, said Grether.
“I could not be happier,” he said. “Come next May, we will begin the process of taking the next step as a program with installing our summer conditioning program and turning improvements into competitiveness.”
Green Hope, Broughton and Millbrook were the top three teams in the girl’s race. Wake Forest and Wakefield finished 14th and 15th, respectively.
The Cougars were paced by Megan Lanzon, 20:42.70 and Grace Yoakum, 20:57.73.
Wakefield’s top three runners included Ashley Blawas, 21:00.29; Lauren Monroe, 21:41.26 and Alexa House, 22:06.47.
Ashely Jeckel had the fastest time for the Heritage girls with 21:54.91.
The state meet will be held at the Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville, Saturday.