Darton star cross country runner Kingsley Cajuste, center, set a new course record Saturday, while leading the men’s team to the Region XVII Championship. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- Nothing has motivated Kingsley Cajuste quite like last year's Region XVII cross country meet.
The Darton sophomore and native of the Bahamas barely made it three miles into the five-mile course on the Darton campus last season before dropping out from dehydration.
"I was bugged. I was really bugged. It upset me real bad," Cajuste said. "It's (been) motivating me to this day."
Cajuste stepped on that same course Saturday morning for the 2011 region championship, reminded of last year's results and motivated by his disappointment.
And instead of collapsing three miles into the race, he passed leader Delonzo Sharp of Chattahoochee Technical College at the three-mile mark en route to an individual region championship.
It was just that kind of day for the Darton men's and women's cross country teams, both of which won region titles with dominating performances. The Darton men placed four runners in the top five and had a nearly perfect 20 points, while the Lady Cavs had 31 points and were led by Sha Wright's second-place finish.
"I'm very proud of my teams (Saturday)," said first-year Darton coach Bruce Skiles, who was named Region XVII Coach of the Year for both teams. "It was surprisingly cold and very windy, and yet they still ran strong and many of them, despite the weather, ran their (personal record times)."
Cajuste's first-place time of 26:40 -- a course record -- was 24 seconds ahead of teammate Heath Lamb, who finished second. Other Darton men's finishers were Cody Malchock (4th, 27:48), Luis Navarro (5th, 27:49) Nathan Norton (8th, 28:12), Hank Campbell (9th, 28:26) and Nickenson Charles (12th, 28:54).
"Our team has been great all season," Cajuste said. "I think we have some of the best freshmen in the region. I feel like going into nationals with the team we have, we should do good."
The Cavs are ranked 11th in the nation and will run in the NJCAA National Championship Nov. 12 along with the Darton women, who are ranked 25th.
Hanna Hill of Chattahoochee won the 5,000-yard women's race with a time of 20:18, while Wright came in second at 20:30 and Darton teammate Jeronda Stringfield was third with a time of 20:49.
"(Wright) gave it her all and kind of ran out of juice in the end," Skiles said. "It has been back and forth all season with her and Jeronda, who have both won races."
Also finishing in the Top 10 for Darton were Ashley Tosky (7th, 21:38), Hayden Clapper (9th, 21:48) and Vanessa Pina (10th, 21:56).
Tosky and Pina, both graduates of Lee County, have been solid runners for the Lady Cavs all season.
"They are both Second-Team All Region, and a lot of girls can't say that," Skiles said. "They trained hard to get where they are now. Ashley broke her leg last year in the region meet. She couldn't run for over five months. She was literally on crutches for five months. I slowly worked her back. I told her over the summer that she would come back stronger this year than she was last year. And she did. That's a comeback story right there."
Also finishing for Darton were Lacey Webb (11th, 22:22), Americus grad Chelsea Battle (14th, 22:44), Taylor Hall (15th, 22:57) and Precious Martin (26th, 28:58).