By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
St. Bernard’s Logan Ayers won her second race in a five-day span, and the Bearcats showed out on their multi-surfaced home course, winning the large-school (Class 4A-6A) boys championship and taking second in the large-school girls division at the annual Cullman Invitational on Saturday morning.
The Saints’ senior standout quickly jumped out front off the starting line and never relinquished her lead, finishing the three-mile trek in 20:44 to snag the overall and small-school (1A-3A) individual title. Ayers also took the top spot at Fairview’s Hay of a Run on Tuesday and was sixth at the Jesse Owens Classic last Saturday.
The college prospect was thrilled to add another victory to her resume, but with three races under her belt in a single week, Ayers had no problem admitting she was tired, too.
“But it feels pretty good,” she said. “I felt like at the beginning of the season, I was kind of off my game, and the rest our team was kind of off, but it seems to be picking back up.”
St. Bernard coach William Calvert called his top runner’s latest performance just “another day at the office.” He’s focused mostly on base work and hill work with Ayers this season, only throwing sprint work into the mix since the start of October in hopes the senior can avoid peaking a tad too early like she did in 2012.
“We think it’s hopefully going to work out just right for state,” Calvert said.
Cullman’s Kyle Norris was the man of the hour over on the boys side, running out front from start to finish en route to first in the large-school division and second overall. Holy Spirit’s Alex Enns crossed the line in 16:47, followed by Norris in 17:38.
The Bearcat speedster had no shortage of motivation for the race, including it being held on his own campus and wrapping up on the track at Oliver Woodard Stadium.
“I just had all this support, so I decided I’d honor them and honor Nic by running my best,” Norris said in reference to his teammate, Nicholas Fillinger, who tragically passed away a little more than three weeks ago. “It feels weird actually. I didn’t see myself doing this at the beginning of the year. But I’ll take it.”
One guy not surprised by Norris’ outing — or the times turned in by all of his boys for that matter — was Black and Gold coach Trent Dean. He watched on as Samuel Murphree and J.D. Warner cruised to third (17:51) and sixth (18:12), and as Joey Franklin and Walker Caretti rounded out Cullman’s championship effort by finishing 10th (18:52) and 13th (19:02), respectively.
“We actually have several guys that work hard through the intervals and the different workouts that just depending on the day, how someone is feeling, if it’s Kyle, if it’s Samuel, if it’s J.D., it could really be any one of those three on a given day,” Dean said. “It’s good to have that much strength up front.”
Marisa Franklin anchored the Bearcat girls’ runner-up result by snagging second in the large-school division and fourth overall with a time of 22:05. All five runners landed inside the top 13 to help the Black and Gold finish just five points back of 6A Thompson.
Anna Bailey and and Megan Pendley were seventh (22:39) and eighth (22:45), while Savannah B. Smith and Hillary Crider were 10th (22:47) and 13th (23:15), respectively.
Dean figured a solid day in a race that featured a double loop in the woods and at least three different surfaces only helped his Cullman squads as the postseason quickly approaches.
“We’ve been racing a lot of courses that are maybe more manicured and about time and speed, but if you want to be successful later in the season, it’s about racing well on those courses that are more set up for racing. It’s about position,” he said. “This course is set up like that. St. Bernard’s next week is set up like that.”
The Saints finished third as a team in the small-school boys division, and West Point was fourth as a squad in the large-school ranks.
Oscar Perez (18:08) and Steven Mami (18:22) served as a 5-6 punch, while Nate Giffin, 14th (19:30); Thomas Russell, 16th (19:43); and Will Sciaroni, 27th (20:43) rounded out St. Bernard’s contributors.
The Warriors’ Nick Johnson continued a successful week with an eighth-place run (18:41). West Point’s other counting scores came from Joey Riggs,18th (19:44); Nick Parrott, 20th (19:48); Luke Tucker, 29th (20:15); and Jesse Farrell, 41st (20:58).
Holly Pond’s Austin Hammonds was 18th (20:03) in the small-school competition. Teammate Colton Teeling wasn’t far behind in 24th (20:32).
With one of its top threats in Ayleana Mami forced to sit out with an illness, St. Bernard didn’t field a full girls team. The Saints instead chose to let their younger talent run free in the 2.1-mile junior varsity race, which paid off in the form of a dominant team win. Leahrose Mami was the individual winner, followed by Jaden Edge, second; Ivy Edge, third; Cailin O’Donnell, fifth; and Eva Barck, eighth.
Joining Ayers in the varsity race for St. Bernard were Allison Hubert, 18th (25:29); Lesley O’Donnell, 24th (27:11); Shivangi Patel, 27th (27:37).
Holly Pond’s Nikki Christie sprinted to a silky-smooth sixth-place finish in 22:41. Other Bronco girls were Elizabeth Thompson, 23rd (26:39), and Starsha Trimble, 31st (28:37).
Cullman earned a clean sweep of the boys’ titles with a team triumph at the JV level. The Bearcats were led by Tucker Adkison, second; Tucker Franey, fifth; Colton Smith, ninth; Caleb Coley, 13th; and Mitchell Collins, 18th.
Fairview will host the Cullman County Cross Country Championship on Tuesday morning, while St. Bernard will be the site for the annual Oktoberfest Invitational next Saturday.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.