WINTERTHUR – After boldly challenging the defending state champion for three miles, Tatnall freshman Keelin Hayes retained enough energy to catch Lydia Olivere in the final 100 yards to win the New Castle County girls cross country championship Saturday afternoon, becoming the first Delaware runner ever to defeat the Padua sophomore.
Kevin Murray of Wilmington Charter broke his third course record in four weeks to win the boys race in 15:20.15, 40 seconds ahead of Salesianum’s Andrew Hally, 15 seconds faster than the record set in 2013 by Andrew’s brother Patrick.
Tatnall swept both team titles for the fifth time in the past 11 years, each Hornet squad placing all seven runners in the Top 26. Tatnall’s girls, four of them eighth or ninth graders, won their eighth county championship in 11 years.
Nearly a minute behind Olivere when they met three weeks ago at the Joe O’Neill Invitational, Hayes pressed from the outset in an unusually fast pace. Hayes took a slight lead at one mile and held it until Olivere took a five-yard lead on the final downhill, with a half-mile remaining.
Yet, she couldn’t shake Hayes, who closed in 18:01.93, a second ahead of Olivere, who completed the 5,000 meters 43 seconds faster than her winning time of last year.
“In the first half, I was just worried about setting a good pace without pushing it too hard,” said Hayes. “Going up the last hill, I could hear her, and I thought, ‘I have nothing else to lose,’ and I went for it. I’m glad I did. Hearing all the people motivated me even more.”
“I took it out the way I wanted to,” said Olivere. “She was responding well, so I decided to run my own race, and it just so happened that she had a great day. I really respect her for that. She made it a great race. I’m just so happy with my race because I gave it my all.”
Once Murray launched a 4:47 opening mile, the boys race had no suspense, except the anticipation of whether he would set a record.
“The hardest thing about this course is mental,” said Murray. “It’s not like Brandywine Creek or Bellevue or White Clay, where the trees pick up your line of sight and you can cut it into pieces. Here, you see everything that’s ahead of you at every moment of the race, and you can’t shut that out. You have to take it in stride and welcome the challenge.”
Murray maintained a fleet pace, reaching the second mile of the hilly course in 9:57.
“I like to take it out fast and get some room. I like to lead races and open up some room,” added Murray. “But one of the problems with leading the race is that you often end up carrying the mental burden for other people. I respect my competitors, but when I go out I want that effort to be my own.”
Junior Caroline Foley, who finished ninth to make all-county for the fourth time, despite growing six inches in that span, marvels at her younger Tatnall teammates. “I knew on the first day of preseason, looking at this group of girls, that this was going to be special,” said Foley of ninth-graders Lauren Anshen (4th) and Eirinn Sikes (15th) and eighth-grader Elaina Teklits (18th).
Rachel Beston of Newark, who hovered near the leaders for the first two miles, was third, a minute ahead of the rest of the pack. Her Blue Hen Conference rivals Erin Jackson of Charter, Katie Macturk of Concord and Piper Freed of Appoquinimink, finished sixth, seventh and 11th respectively.
Caitlin Cobb (7th) and 2013 champion Louisa Belk (9th) lifted St. Andrew’s to third place. Kelsi Lussier (13th) paced Delaware Military to fourth.
Analise Kaminski of St. Mark’s, who battles a vocal chord dysfunction when she runs, rose from 32nd at mid-race to finish tenth.
Sophomore Heather McClure (12th) and freshman Maya Bordrick (14th) of Conrad, Lillian Peterson of Newark Charter (16th), Maddie Olivere of runnerup Padua (17th), Newark freshman Naomi Dawkins (19th) and Charter’s Sydney Kriner completed the Top 20.
Joey Garrett (4th), freshman Brendan Balthis (8th), Michael Flanagan (9th), Ryan Pala (11th) and Brad Keen (15th) led Tatnall’s deep boys champions.
Coby Collins, who overtook Tower Hill’s Hudson Pepper for fifth place, Chris Avila (7th) and Charlie Wilson (18th) joined Murray for runnerup Charter, which interrupted the Hornets’ four-year title run last year.
John Walker (3rd), George Steinhoff, recovering from illness for 10th place, and Asa Bloom (16th) led third-place Salesianum.
Vail Freed of Appoquinimink (12th) and A. I. du Pont’s Blake Evans (14th) and David Bacigalupi (19th) led the field’s most improved teams to fourth and fifth place. Alex Horgan (13th) of St. Andrew’s, Brian Delle Donne of Newark Charter (17th) and St. Mark’s Robert Vadnais (20th) rounded out the Top 20 boys.