Piper Freed won the Blue Hen Conference championship the hardest way possible. She led the entire race.
The Appoquinimink sophomore became the league’s first cross country champion in seven years from a school other than Charter of Wilmington, commanding each phase of White Clay Creek State Park to finish the hilly Newark course Friday in 19:31.
Only five Blue Hen Conference girls have covered the course faster. Each – Julie Macedo, Anna Brousell, Jenn Kutney, Jessica Leitsch and Amanda Rickert – became a state champion.
Charter of Wilmington won its eighth straight league title but was victorious by the closest margin in that span. With no runners in the top six, the Force bunched their five scoring runners in the top 17 to edge rising Concord by eight points.
Long distance running can be especially lonely in first place.
“Throughout the whole race, I had someone trying to get by me, but I managed to pull through it,” Freed said. As she approached the course’s pivotal mid-race hill, Freed said, “I knew I had to run through, extremely thorough, as hard as I could, and pull away.
Freed trained seriously this summer, in daily runs with the Appoquinimink boys, often traveling north to hillier sites. She began the season credibly, finishing 10th at Lake Forest and fifth at the Lums Pond Invitational, but has blossomed since. Her time Friday was a full minute faster than her performances on flat courses a month ago.
A member of a running club since elementary school, she had expected to play high school soccer until she finished fifth in this race last fall. Last spring, she finished sixth in the Division I 1,600 and helped the Jaguars become the state’s second-fastest 4×800 team.
Concord had its best finish in years, leaping from sixth last year to runner-up Friday behind sophomore Katie Macturk (second), freshman Grace Slate (third), Paige McKinney (11th) and Amelie Harpey (13th). Middletown senior Gabby Brown was the fourth runner to break 20 minutes on a brisk afternoon.
Caroline Subramoney (seventh) Emma Barnes (ninth), freshman Danielle Martin (10th), Emma Reyes (14th) and senior Lexi Santer (17th) gave Charter the depth in a year without a first-place challenger.
Middletown’s Ashton Dunkley (fifth), Appo’s Drew Sanclemente (sixth) and Newark’s Rachel Beston (8th) also made the top 10. Fellow Yellowjacket Whitney Holveck finished 15th. Brandywine freshman Alexa Crowell finished 12th.