LUMBERTON — During his debut season in cross country last year, South Robeson’s Billy Jones was constantly finishing second behind a senior teammate.
This year the top spot was his to lose, but that didn’t keep him from slowing down.
“I didn’t have to work this summer, so I always went and ran or did some activity during the summer to keep in shape,” Jones said.
It’s paid off and left him running in a league of his own. He’s won five straight races including Tuesday’s Three Rivers Conference championship meet at Luther Britt Park in Lumberton and was named the conference’s Runner of the Year.
He did it in convincing fashion, making a late sprint in the last 100 meters to beat teammates C.J. Locklear and Austin Hunt by 13 and 28 seconds. The Mustangs trampled the rest of the conference in the boys race, finishing with five runners in the top 10 and 24 overall points.
It’s competition that’s led to growth for Jones and the rest of the team.
“It makes me push myself harder to get better,” Jones said.
Midway through Tuesday’s race, the three leading Mustangs were close, but for the final stretch Jones made an all-out sprint to the finish line. All three of the Mustangs’ top finishers posted a personal best in the meet. Randy Oxendine, who finished eighth, and Brandon Hunt, 10th, rounded out the team’s five all-conference selections.
In team standings, South Robeson beat Fairmont, which finished with 44 total points in the boys race.
Similar to how the Mustangs took the first three places, runners Nos. 4, 5 and 6 all finished in succession for the Golden Tornadoes.
It ultimately came down to a 100-yard dash between seniors Malik Milton and Julian Massey and sophomore Jamison Locklear.
Milton finished at 20:06, Massey at 20:07 and Locklear at 20:08.
“It was a good feeling knowing that my teammates were right behind me and that all three of us had a chance for all conference,” Milton said. “We gave it all we had, we didn’t get first, but we put in the effort and that’s what counts.”
Milton said the close finish amongst the three is the norm. It ultimately came down to the final push.
“It’s conference, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got,” he said.
Red Springs’ Keelan McPhaul was the only Red Devil to make all conference, taking ninth in 20:31. The Red Devils took fourth in the team standings with 83 points.
Jamie Clark, of St. Pauls, missed the all conference cut with an 11th place finish in 21:21. The Bulldogs didn’t have enough runners to qualify for the team standings.
Whiteville dominates girls race
Whiteville left little question about the outcome of the girls race.
The Wolfpack had six runners finish all conference, led by Madison Creech, who posted a time of 22:12. It beat the rest of the girls by more than two minutes and would have placed her in the top 14 in the boys’ race.
Creech was followed by teammates that filled the top four and Whiteville finished with 18 points, substantially lower than Red Springs’ 47 for second place.
The county’s top finisher was Red Devil junior Daisy Vazquez, who posted a personal best of 25:41 to place 5th in her first year of cross country.
“It gets easier as you get used to the course,”she said. “The first time I didn’t know the course and I came in like 30th. Since then I’ve dropped like five minutes, so it’s good knowing the course.”
Though she’s dropped plenty of time, Vazquez expected to be top five based on recent success.
“Other meets I’ve come in top seven and one meet I came in second place, so I expected this,” she said.
The Red Devils had three all-conference finishers with Rocia Penia finishing in sixth place at 26:11 and Shania Leach behind her at 26:12.
Chantara Chavis, of South Robeson, was the only other county runner to finish top 10. South Robeson finished with 98 points.
Karen Regalado was St. Pauls top finisher, taking 12th. The Bulldogs had 82 points.
Candace Jacobs, Fairmont’s only runner, took 37th in 35:24.