Fog was wafting through the air and Jackson Park was a muddy mess.
East Henderson sophomore Tanis Baldwin still found a way to run his best in the quagmire.
Baldwin placed fifth in the championship boys division of the Western North Carolina Cross Country Carnival on Saturday, finishing with the fastest time of his career (16 minutes, 17.19 seconds).
Quentin McKinnish from Morristown-West (Tenn.) was the overall winner (15:47.54).
“I’m pretty happy, considering this isn’t the best course for a fast time and it was pretty muddy,” Baldwin said.
“My coach had put of a lot of pressure on me to run well. I’m expecting a big season. My goal is to run in the 15s and today was a big improvement for me.”
More than 1,500 runners were entered in Saturday’s Carnival, which is in its 12th year as the area’s largest local meet. Heavy rain that swept through Henderson County on Friday made footing treacherous in several spots along the 3.1-mile race course.
Mitchell’s Zach Boone was only two places (seventh) and just over five seconds (16:22.55) behind Baldwin.
Boone was last year’s Western Highlands Conference Runner of the Year and Hayesville’s Dylan Johnson (14th place, 16:52.85) is back after being named the 2011 Smoky Mountain Conference Runner of the Year.
Roberson’s Paul Kovach (16th place, 16:59.16) and River Gordon (17th, 16:59.86) also went under 17 minutes.
The Rams (199 points) came in sixth in the team standings. East Henderson (251) was ninth. Chapel Hill (84) finished first.
Enka’s Andrew Crowell finished fourth in the boys invitational race with a time of 17:27.08. Franklin’s Harrison Conner was seventh (17:58.22), helping the Panthers (126 points) place an area-best third as a team.
Finally, Polk County’s Jacob Collins was ninth as an individual (18:08.00).
The North Buncombe boys (67 points) won the individual division race.
The girls championship race was the fastest in Carnival history, with a meet-record 14 girls breaking 20 minutes.
Roberson senior Brooke Gordon (18:45.72) was the runner-up to Watauga’s Darby Middlebrook (18:15.00).
Gordon has been named the Citizen-Times All-WNC Runner of the Year in 2010 and 2011.
Roberson’s Lily Anderson (fourth place, 19:09.47), Reynolds’ Anna Vess (19:50.15), Roberson’s Rachel Koon (12th, 19:51.34), Reynolds’ Kenzie Himelein-Wachowiak (14th, 19:59.08), North Buncombe’s Katarina Ruehl (18th, 20:26.21) and Roberson’s Anastasia Soule (19th, 20:29.02) also placed in the top-20.
The Rams came in second place as a team (63), finishing behind Morristown-West (59). Reynolds (186) was sixth.
“We ran well, and the race as a whole was as competitive as it’s ever been,” said Culp, who is also the Roberson girls coach.
“This is really a great bunch to coach. They know what to do and do what you ask. They’re close-knit and we only have three seniors.”
WNC had three top-10 runners in the girls invitational race – East Henderson’s Molly Horton (second place, 21:04.99), Roberson’s Elena Link (ninth, 22:04.60) and Robbinsville’s Shawnda Martin (10th, 22:05.79).
Team-wise, the East Henderson girls were an area-best fifth (186 points).
Tuscola’s Brooke Turner (21:28) was the winner in the individual division race.