Westover state champ Ericka Taylor, center, was the top local girl’s finisher during Saturday’s 30th annual Westover Invitational, placing 12th overall. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- Saturday's 30th annual Westover Invitational at Robert Cross Middle School began with a stumble and ended with a free dinner for Lee County's Jacob Kennedy.
Seconds into the race, Kennedy got tripped up with a Tift County runner and nearly fell to the ground in the middle of hundreds of his competitors. But the senior recovered and battled his way to third place with a personal record time of 15:29.
He also got a free meal out of the finish.
"I had the motivation of (Lee County coach Tom Matheny) buying me a dinner," Kennedy said. "15:35 or better and he was buying me dinner, and 15:45 or worse and I was buying him dinner."
Kennedy then added with a smile: "I'm going someplace expensive."
Kennedy, who had already run the fastest 5K time in the history of Lee County, finished 11 seconds behind winner Patrick Fleming of Pope High School. Behind Kennedy, the next fastest local finisher in the 305-runner boys race was Westover's Jeremy Bonner, who finished 43rd in 17:09.
Pope High School won the boys' race with 66 points, followed by Union Grove (94) and North Gwinett (117). Top local team finishers were Westover (15th place), Lee County (20th), Bainbridge (24th), Worth County (26th), Monroe (29th), Americus-Sumter (32nd), Albany (33rd) and Dougherty (35th).
Westover junior Ericka Taylor was the top local finisher in the 252-competitor girls meet, finishing 12th in 19:15. Columbus' Kristina Delpesche won the individual title with a time of 18:02, while North Gwinett took home the girls team title with 84 points.
Other team scores in the girls varsity meet were Westover (15th place), Lee County (19th), Bainbridge (23rd), Albany (27th), Americus-Sumter (29th), and Worth County (30th).
Taylor, who won the Class AAA state title last year and ran a personal best time of 18:59 during last season's Westover Invitational, said she came out of the gate a little too fast trying to move to the front of the pack.
"I know we are supposed to get out so we don't get boxed in," she said. "I was nervous, and that was probably why I was so tired because my heart starts beating fast when I'm nervous and it makes me tired quicker."
Taylor said she started to relax about one mile into the race, but by then she had already lost sight of the leaders amidst the scenic pecan orchard.
Kennedy's goal was to run the opening mile in 4:55, but he hit the first mile markers at 4:50 and never slowed down. He was in a three-way tie for the lead up until 800 meters to go before Fleming and Tift County's Hunter Honeycutt pulled away.
"I was challenging for the lead, but those guys are really good," Kennedy said. "Competition wise, this meet is tougher than the state meet. Running well here gives me confidence at state."
Kennedy went on to say it was the best race of his life, trumping his fourth-place finish in the 3,200 as a sophomore in the state track & field meet.
Other Top 100 local finishers for the boys race were: Worth County's Dale Pate (17:39, 70th), Lee County's Lamar Wynn (17:45, 75th), Bainbridge's Davie Reynolds (17:49, 78th), Westover's Quenterrious Ousley (17:50, 82nd) and Westover's Jack Plowden (17:54, 89th).
Other Top 100 local finishers in the girls race were: Westover's Toianna Campbell (20:47, 57th), Lee County's Suzanne Wynn (21:33, 92nd), Lee County's Mariah Davis (21:35, 93rd) and Bainbridge's Paige Braswell (21:40, 97th).