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Union boys cross country team captures state title

Tanner Cook • Nov 17, 2019 at 1:51 AM

SALEM — There’s a gold rush heading to Big Stone Gap.

On Saturday morning in the VHSL Class 2 Cross Country Championships at Green Hill Park, the Union boys team delivered the goods by bringing home the team title with 54 points.

“This is an awesome feeling,” Bears coach Mark Castle said. “For our seniors that have been with me since seventh grade, it’s surreal.

View Tanner Cook’s XC photos 

“They’ve seen it start as something we talked about joking around to becoming a reality. Even last year after we didn’t finish well, they’ve been targeting this year,” he added.

The Bears had three runners finish in the top 15 and earn all-state honors.

Senior Nathaniel Hersel was first across the line, finishing in sixth (16:33) followed by Tanner Cusano (16:46) in seventh and senior Jacob Mullins in 13th (17:07).

Rounding out the Union scoring was Caiden Bartee (22nd, 17:25.4) and Asher Whitt (23rd, 17:25.9). The Bears tacked on some insurance with Mason Byington finishing in 28th (17:33) and Benjamin Hersel in 33rd (17:38).

Heavily favored Union finished 24 points ahead of runner-up Strasburg (78). Radford (79) was third.

“We ran as a team today and that’s what we’ve been practicing for about the last month,” Castle said. “This whole group is one big family. They lift each other up and they’re very supportive. I work with some great kids and I’m blessed that I have that opportunity.”

East Rockingham sophomore George Austin III won the individual title in 16:00, breaking away from pre-race favorite Caleb Wright of Chatham in the dying stages of the race to win by 13 seconds.

John Battle’s Andrew Smith finished in an agonizing 16th place, missing all-state honors by a mere 2.5 seconds.

Wise Central’s Tyler Stapleton placed 65th in 18:51 and Hunter Austin was 84th in 20:03.

HARRINGTON MAKES HISTORY

Virginia High senior superstar Kelsey Harrington was a massive favorite coming into the race and she made a huge statement to the state in the first race of the day.

Harrington ran the opening mile in 5:18 and was well ahead of the field by the halfway mark. She crossed the line to claim her first state cross country title in an astounding 16:55.1 — winning by 2 minutes, 31 seconds.

Harrington became just the seventh girl in the history of Virginia high school cross country to break 17 minutes on a 5-kilometer course, moving into No. 5 on the all-time list. She also broke her own Green Hill Park course record by 18 seconds.

The time also moved her into 11th position in the nation.

Lebanon senior Jessey Ball finished in 10th (20:17) after missing all-state last season by one spot. It’s the third time she’s been all-state, including earning the individual championship in 2016.

Union’s Sydney Hall was the highest local finisher, crossing in 24th (21:17), followed by Wise Central freshman Lydia Slemp in 36th (21:45). Other local finishers included Lebanon’s Averie Price (43rd, 22:03), John Battle’s Jules Lemmon (47th, 22:09) and Gate City’s Julia Bocanegra (58th, 22:40).

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