Some say home is where the heart is.
But on Saturday, home was where the St. Bernard cross country varsity girls team could say it won its fourth straight team title of the season.
Logan Ayers, Ayleana Mami and Jaden Edge hogged the first three spots in the small-school (1A-3A) girls race to help the Saints earn the crown, while Will Faulk, Seamus Russell and Steven Mami went 2-3-9 in the boys race in a second-place team effort to close a strong overall showing by St. Bernard at its annual Oktoberfest Invitational.
“I think both squads defended their home-turf well today,” coach William Calvert said. “That’s what we talked about on Thursday. If you’re going to be a good program, one thing you need to do when you have your home meet — as big and important as this is — it needs to be your best. I think we did our best today, and I think the results show it.”
The Saints were far from the only local squad to have a great day, though. Cullman’s Nicholas Fillinger won a thrilling large-school (4A-6A) boys race that came down to the lean at the finish line, and the Bearcats, Fairview and Cold Springs all claimed at least one top-10 runner in their respective races. Hanceville, West Point, Good Hope and Addison rounded out the other schools from The Times’ coverage area represented at the meet.
Ayers hasn’t had to worry about much traffic other than at the starting line this season, but she actually found herself trailing Mami around the 1-mile mark. That lead didn’t last, though, as Ayers turned on the jets and crossed the line 36 seconds ahead of her teammate for her fifth win this year.
Considering the funk she’d been in leading up to Saturday’s competition, Mami wasn’t about to complain with finishing second.
“I’ve been having a really bad week, and then as soon as that gun went off, I was in, I was ready,” she said. “I think I could’ve got her (Ayers). I just got that side stitch. But hey, we got 1-2-3. That’s pretty amazing. I’m pretty happy with that.”
St. Bernard’s other two contributors were Morgan Matz in 12th and Leahrose Mami in 25th.
Cold Springs snagged third as a team behind impressive top-15 results from Emily Campbell (sixth), Kaleigh Merring (14th) and Cassi Still (15th). Katie Huffstutler took 20th, and Haven Watson was 23rd.
Hanceville’s top runner was Courtney Underwood in 40th, while Good Hope’s was Heather Middleton in 58th.
After trading the top spot nearly every race last season, Ayers has so far separated herself from Mami as the Saints’ clear No. 1. Mami admitted she’s “been getting a little freaked out about” that role reversal but mostly because she feels her improvement could make the formidable duo even better.
“I know if I get closer to her, we can push and get faster,” she said. “But I’ve been falling, and it’s been affecting both of our times, not just mine.”
Mami’s last chance to make those improvements in the regular season will come Thursday, when the Saints host the City-County Classic. Only the sectional and state meets will remain after that.
“I think we could really get close to state,” Mami said. “If Logan and me step up and get faster and be 1-2, I know Jaden is going to be in the top 5. She can do it.”
After Faulk, Russell and Steven Mami came Oscar Perez in 17th and Samuel Robles in 37th in the small-school boys race. The Saints came up 14 points short of first-place Hatton.
Cullman County champ Kramer Crider rocketed to fourth, leading Cold Springs to fifth. The Eagles’ other contributors were Morgan Smith, 19th; C.J. Lang, 25th; Josh Coleman, 46th; and Adam Carney, 52nd.
Hanceville’s Matt Burns cruised to 11th, while Good Hope’s Peyton Sanders was 38th and Addison’s Jake Bryson was 109th. Hanceville finished 10th.
Porcha Hunter kept up her stellar season with the best local finish in the large-school girls race, edging out Cullman’s Marisa Franklin for sixth by 6 seconds.
Fairview’s shining star credited two unconventional training methods for her success so far in 2012.
Hunter said she practices with the Aggie boys, though she joked about not being able to keep up with them, and added that she never lets up — ever.
“Every day, I try to run my best time,” Hunter said. “A lot of coaches might say you need to go slower, but I don’t. Then I try to see what I can do at the race.”
The senior said she has dropped 2-3 minutes off her personal best this season and would like to trim at least one more before sectionals.
The Bearcats finished in third place, only nine points behind Lawrence County and a single point behind Pope John Paul II.
In addition to Franklin’s seventh-place effort, the Black and Gold received contributions from Megan Pendley, 10th; Hillary Crider, 13th; Anna Bailey, 20th; and Savannah B. Smith, 28th.
West Point’s Juliane Parrott was 39th.
The most exciting race of the day was the last one. Fillinger was to thank for that, using a bit of late-race magic to claim his first victory of the year.
The Cullman runner was hot on the heels of Lawrence County’s Justus Montgomery down the entire home stretch but used everything he had to pull even and win the race by a nose with a gutsy last-ditch lean. The difference in Fillinger and Montgomery’s times was a mere 25 hundredths of a second.
According to Fillinger, the win didn’t come without a little help. Between gasps for air shortly after the race, he said one of his friends, Adam Lindsey, recently returned home from Marine boot camp and pushed the team along.
“I don’t think I could’ve done it without him,” Fillinger said.
Devan Hall has been the Bearcats’ No. 1 runner this season, but he finished in seventh. It wasn’t a big deal to Fillinger that he beat his teammate.
“I don’t really care where I am on the team as long as I’m ahead of the other teams,” He said. “I’m glad Devan had a good finish, too.”
Cullman was beat out by Grissom for the second week in a row but did finish three points ahead of Lawrence County for second place. The Black and Gold’s other contributors were Jesse Burroughs, 13th; Stephen McNeal, 18th; and John Weeks, 21st.
West Point’s Jake Wilson was 70th.
Fairview’s Reece Walker won the junior varsity boys 2-mile race in a second-place team effort for the Aggies. Cullman was third.
Local top-10 JV boys runners were Joey Riggs, West Point, second; Jerrami Browder, Fairview, fourth; Isaias Robles, St. Bernard, fifth; Walker Caretti, Cullman, eighth; and Kurtis Miller, Fairview, ninth.
The Bearcat girls claimed the team title in the JV girls 2-mile race. Fairview was third.
Local top-10 JV girls runners were Eva Barck, St. Bernard, third; August Stancil, Fairview, fourth; Jillian Richard, Cullman, fifth; Maddie McNutt, Fairview, seventh; Allie Chambless, Addison, eighth; and Alexus Lindsey, Fairview, ninth.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.