11/22/05 — Michael Lawrence -- Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year

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Michael Lawrence -- Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on November 22, 2005 2:00 PM

Four years ago, Tony Parrish, a physical education teacher at Eastern Wayne, had a hunch that Michael Lawrence might be a solid cross country runner after watching Lawrence run a mile in five minutes and thirty seconds as a freshman.

"When he (Lawrence) was a freshman, coach Parrish came to me and told me he had a kid who ran the mile pretty fast," Eastern Wayne cross country coach Vince Beasley said.

Lawrence didn't know much about cross country, but thought it might be a good idea.

"I didn't know anything about it, but I was kinda like, 'Yeah, I woulnd't mind running.'"

Michael Lawrence

News-Argus/Kaye Nesbit

Michael Lawrence

Parrish's reccomendation to Beasley turned out to be a pretty good one to say the least.

Four years later, Lawrence emerged the Wayne County, Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference and N.C. High School Athletic Association East Regional champion. At the state championships at Tanglewood Park in Forsyth County, Lawrence finished 12th overall with a 17:12 -- the best finish by a runner from the eastern part of the state among the 3-A ranks.

For all of these accomplishments, Lawrence is the 2005 News-Argus Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

At the start of the season, Beasley thought he would be able to count on having two strong, senior runners with the ability to finish near the front of each race -- Lawrence and Matt Interrante.

Unfortunately, Interrante suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss most of the season, but fellow senior Joey Burridge stepped up to finish among the leaders at most of the conference meets. With its ECC rivals, Charles B. Aycock and Wilson Hunt, both fielding competitive teams, coming away with a county and conference title would be a tough challenge. By narrow margins and with Lawrence winning both of those races, the Warriors stepped up to achieve those goals.

Lawrence believes that having good competition in the conference helped him and his teammates improve their own times.

"It helped out. Everyone trained hard, knowing it would be a hard meet," he said.

"Two or three points could make the difference between winning and losing. It was a mental thing."

Lawrence and his teammates had big shoes to fill, following the graduation of standout runner Will Collins, who is currently on the cross country team at East Carolina. Collins finished second overall in the state championships as a senior and captured numerous accolades during his career at Eastern Wayne.

Lawrence accepted the challenge and admits he learned a lot from running and training with Collins.

"When he graduated, we all knew we would have to step up a lot to keep the tradition going," he said. "Running with Will helped me a lot ... learning how he ran and what helped him. I ran with him on weekdays to get a better pace."

After setting a course record at Eastern Wayne with a 17:14 at the Wayne County meet, then posting a 17:22 at the ECC championship at Hunt, Lawrence seemed to carry that momentum to the East Regional in Battleboro. Lawrence surged out at the start of the race in impressive fashion and eventually outraced West Carteret's Matt Stallsworth by seven seconds to capture the regional title.

"It was the fruition of all the work he'd been doing all four years ... seeing him run the race of his life," Beasley said. "He says it wasn't easy, but he made it look easy."

Lawrence's time of 16:39.4 was a personal record.

Not bad for a runner who started his career on a whim.