ALBANY — The Westover Cross Country Invitational, in its 11th year at Robert Cross Middle School and 32nd year overall, welcomed 37 schools and hundreds of runners to the Good Life City on Saturday.
Abby Booth from Perry High School led the way in the varsity girls’ race with a time of 18:35.93, while Westover freshman Janie Plowden led the way for Albany-area runners, coming in at 20:45.3. Bainbridge’s Paige Braswell came in second with a time of 18:38.82.
“I’m really excited,” Plowden said afterwards, “because normally I run about a 21:15.”
The boys’ race was won by Shaw’s Hakeem Mustafaa (15:37.30), and Worth County’s Dale Pate finished 13th with a time of 16:25.94 to come in first among area runners.
The course, designed by Westover athletic director Harley Calhoun, is a special one to many. Circumventing the Robert Cross schoolyard and surrounding woods, the track has developed its own inviting reputation.
“This is my favorite race ever,” Plowden said. “I was pretty excited about this one. I think it’s the history behind it, plus it’s a good course, a bunch of people come out for it. It’s just a lot of fun. When coach Calhoun made the course, he didn’t mean to make it so fast, but it’s one of the fastest tracks in the state.”
Year after year, Calhoun sees teams from all over the state flock to Albany for the invitational.
“We needed a place to practice and have meets,” Calhoun said. “(Dougherty County Director of Athletics Johnny) Seabrooks was able to secure this site from the city of Albany, and with that being done, I was asked to come and build the course. It just happens to be fast and really pretty, so a lot of people love to run it, so I’ll take it.”
“From years past, people heard about Westover and the high-quality meets they put on. We were able to move it out here near this pecan orchard, and with the cool mornings out here, everybody loves it. We’re excited to have it out here every year.”
North Gwinnett finished first in the girls’ team standings with a total time of 1:39:31, while the Lady Patriots came in 12th with a time of 1:50:51 to finish ahead of other Southwest Georgia squads.
“We just always try to prepare so we can compete hard,” Calhoun said. “We believe if you practice hard during the week, on race day, everything else should take care of itself. We try to stress keeping a routine, and we try to keep all negative thoughts out and stay positive.”
Pate, a senior from Worth County High School, came in less than 10 seconds from a Top-10 finish.
“It’s an easy course,” Pate said. “This is where I’ve set my fastest times, I’ve always done well at this track. The courses we run are usually uphill and it’s really flat here, that’s why I like this one.”
Smith’s Station won the boys’ race with a total time of 1:22:55. Westover’s boys finished ninth out of 33 teams with a total time of 1:27:23. Monroe finished 15th with a total time of 1:30:35. Worth placed 17th at 1:30:35.