10/20/06 — Taking on the Cliffs Ñ Hicks, Baker lead respective teams

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Taking on the Cliffs Ñ Hicks, Baker lead respective teams

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on October 20, 2006 2:13 PM

You don't conquer the Cliffs ... you just hope to get out first.

With rocky terrain, challenging hills and sneaky roots that await unsuspecting cross country runners, posting personal best times is nearly impossible at the beautiful, yet unforgiving, course at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

Just ask Justin Hicks and Elizabeth Baker.

Hicks, a North Duplin junior, won Thursday afternoon's Carolina 1-A Conference Championships with a time of 19:41, while Baker, a North Johnston junior, finished first in the girls race with a time of 23:44.

Both were happy to win -- and thrilled to be finished.

"It's a hard course," said Hicks, whose personal best is more than a minute lower than Thursday's winning time. "You have the rocks and the roots and you're sliding everywhere, especially when it's wet."

Baker said it is one of the toughest courses around.

"It feels great to win after running this hard course," said Baker, who also won the girls individual conference title two years ago as a freshman. "And I like this course because it's as close as you can get to the state course with the woods and a lot of hills."

As a team, the Rebels took three of the top four spots as North Duplin knocked off defending conference champion Spring Creek 35-39 as Clint Bland (2nd, 20:19), Michael Mathis (4th, 20:50), John Canuette (14th, 23:09) and Kyle Canuette (18th, 24:17) joined Hicks in leading their team to the title.

"The whole team is working really hard this year," Hick said. "During practice, we've all been sticking together and pushing each other really hard. It feels great to finish first, and it feels really great for our team to win the conference title."

Spring Creek, which lost its top two runners from a year ago, was led by Ryan Kelly (3rd, 20:36), Alex Casey (6th, 21:21), Timothy Rogers (10th, 22:21), Andrew Swedenburg (11th, 22:43) and Drew Pierce (12th, 22:54).

"I was pleased with our performance," third-year Spring Creek coach Mike Jones said. "The first conference meet we had, we nearly doubled North Duplin's score ... it was like 35-70 or something like that. So my boys have made up a lot of ground to get within four points of them, and I'm very proud of what they've done and how they've progressed."

Despite boasting the girls winner and having four of its top five runners finishing 11th or better, North Johnston was nipped by Princeton 26-31.

For the Lady Bulldogs, Olivia Booker (3rd, 25:59), Maegan Hewett (4th, 25:34), Brittany Rainbow (7th, 27:22), Haley Wood (8th, 27:58) and Jill Whitley (9th, 28:00) teamed up to take home the conference team title. Joining Baker for the Lady Panthers were Amanda Sharpe (5th, 26:17), Amber Walston (6th, 26:18), Alison Sharpe (11th, 29:53) and Haley Newsome (13th, 30:05).

The Rosewood Lady Eagles finished third with 66 team points. They were led by Sarah Conger (10th, 28:45), Rachel McCormick (14th, 30:56), Morgan Wiggs (17th, 31:37), Kaitlyn Conger (18th, 31:49) and Lauren Lassiter (20th, 33:52).

The Lady Rebels didn't have the five runners needed to qualify as a team, but junior Rocio Alvarado finished second overall with a time of 24:30.

"I've gotten a lot better," Alvarado said. "When I first started running cross country two years ago, my times were terrible. But we train hard as a team and run a bunch of miles, maybe five miles every day, and it gets easier."

The Lady Gators, who had just three runners, were led by Savannah Egelston, who finished 12th with a time of 30:00.

On the boys side, Princeton finished third with 51 points. Top finishers for the Bulldogs were Chris Langdon (5th, 20:56), Christopher Hinston (8th, 21:54), Adam Peedin (9th, 21:54), John Massey (15th, 23:34) and Matt Wilkins (21st, 25:06).

Rosewood and North Johnston only had four runners each. Brandon Bryant (16th, 24:07) and Jeremy Peterson (17th, 24:10) paced the Eagles while the Panthers were led by Jonathon Teachey (7th, 21:34).