By Jeff Keeling
Top duo Josh Routh and Ben Varghese led a crowded field at the prestigious Low Country Invitational outside Charleston, S.C. Saturday, leading the Daniel Boone High School Trailblazers to a tie with Hilton Head (S.C.). Hilton Head was named champion as the team’s sixth runner finished ahead of Boone’s. Boone’s quickly improving girls’ team finished fifth in a field of 47.
Routh, a senior who has shown himself to be one of the nation’s top runners in winning his last two invitationals, completed a normally fast course on Johns Island in 15:28 (4:59 per mile). Varghese, a junior, came in at 15:46, seven seconds in front of the third-place finisher.
A tornado had turned the Mullet Hall equestrian center into a sodden slog, which Boone Coach Len Jeffers said impacted runners’ times.
“The course was not in its typical condition,” Jeffers said. “The starting and the finish areas were just very, very soft and saturated and sloppy.” He said the wooded section, which accounts for 80 percent or more of the five kilometer course, had some good sections but others that were wet enough to be problematic.
“Everyone we talked to, times obviously suffered,” Jeffers said. “Not just ours, but everybody’s.”
While he was generally pleased with the defending state champion boys’ performance, Jeffers had to deal with not one, but two tiebreaker losses as the junior varsity, led by senior Nick Roth’s fourth-place overall finish in 17:41, tied Wando (S.C.) with 58 points. Roth will be among the seven varsity starters at Boone’s last regular season out-of-state invitational, the Great American in Cary, N.C. next Saturday. That meet should also see local rivals Science Hill and Boone, two of the state’s top teams, on the course together for the first time this fall.
Jeffers said Routh, who is being recruited by a number of NCAA Division I schools, did a good job establishing position early in the race, which featured nearly 400 runners. “The course funnels into the woods at about 250 meters, and with 379 boys trying to get into a 10 or 12-foot gap, that’s a tight fit if you don’t get out fast.”
Jeffers was at the two-mile mark in the woods and said Routh came by with Varghese not far behind. “Ben had a pack of about six guys following him when he passed me, but he opened up a gap in the last mile,” Jeffers said. “It was a good run for him.”
Other runners scoring for Boone’s varsity were senior Mitch Bronstetter (21st, 16:53), freshman Chance Bowman (23rd, 17:01) and junior Zac Branham (28th, 17:12). Noah White was sixth for the team in 17:48 (59th) and Daniel Johnson was seventh in 18:16 (82nd).
“In the virtual meet, Hilton Head was favored by about 20 points over us, so to be able to take them into a tiebreaker was good,” Jeffers said.
On the girls’ side, the freshman-dominated team was led by junior Makayla Shaw, who finished 23rd in 19:55. Freshman Marley McCoy was 41st in 20:42, and sophomore Maria Chellah was 58th in 21:14. Freshmen Erin Bruce (21:31, 69th) and Gracie Murray (22:04, 91st) rounded out the scoring. All but Shaw are first-year cross country runners, but the team still finished just one place behind Dobyns-Bennett.
“I’ve been very pleased with their efforts and improvement,” Jeffers said. “It’s been fun with them.”
Science Hill’s boys, who cruised to a win Saturday at the Bristol Cross meet in Steele Creek Park, appear ready to pose a threat regionally. The Toppers’ top duo of Alex Crigger and Noah Charles finished first and second Saturday. Boone and the Hilltoppers both look as though they’ll have their hands full with perennial state contender Brentwood. Brentwood’s three-year run of state championships was ended by Boone last November.
Brentwood has a full eight runners who have posted sub 17-minute times already this year, with top two Taylor Vroon and Brodey Hasty having run 15:12 and 15:13, respectively, at a meet in late August.
Prior to the state championships Nov. 7 in Nashville, Boone and Science Hill will meet at Boone’s Trailblazer Invitational Oct. 10, at the Big Nine Conference Championships at Steele Creek Oct. 22, and at the Region 1 meet at Boone Oct. 29. The top three teams at regionals in both boys’ and girls’ qualify for state.