09/22/10 — Warrior boys, girls prevail

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Warrior boys, girls prevail

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 22, 2010 1:47 PM

Keep the pace.

The silent mantra lingered in the minds of Caleb Cooper and Sarah Irsik during a three-team Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference cross country meet contested Tuesday afternoon at Eastern Wayne.

Cooper waited for the right moment to seize the lead in the boys' race, while Irsik dominated from the outset on the girls' side. And while each didn't meet their respective goal of recording a personal-best time, they each emerged the top runner in hot, sticky conditions.

Cooper's meet-winning mark of 19 minutes, 35 seconds spearheaded a convincing team victory for the Warrior boys. Eastern Wayne seized four of the top six spots and easily defeated meet runner-up Cleveland, 19-44.

North Lenoir took third with 65 points.

Eastern Wayne's girls enjoyed the same success. Returning letter-winner Heather Black led a 2-3-4 finish with a time of 25:39 and the Warriors upended the Hawks 22-39. Cleveland did not have enough runners to post a team score.

Cooper followed a North Lenoir runner off the track to start the 3.1-mile run and overtook him during the first mile, which led runners past the baseball field. Once he grabbed the lead, Cooper settled into a steady pace and logged just one of two sub-20 times on the flat course.

"We ran against them last week," said Cooper, a senior. "I expected Cleveland to do a little better because I had to pick off a few of their guys last week. North Lenoir, they've always had that one guy who starts off dominating and then burns out that first quarter mile.

"I just hold my pace and wait to catch up to them."

The Warriors' Warren Kirkwood claimed second in 19:58, followed by Cleveland sophomore Jarrett Hayes (20:00). Denzel Benjamin (20:48) and Nolan Kirkwood (20:49) placed fifth and sixth, respectively, followed by the Rams' Cole Simons.

Michael Pinkston completed the Warriors' scoring with a seventh-place time of 21:33. Kenny Greene registered North Lenoir's top time -- a ninth-place effort of 21:53.

A three-year varsity performer, Cooper said he and his teammates have been anxious about the season since several top runners either graduated or transferred.

"I'm proud of the team as a whole (today)," said Cooper. "I was worried that we weren't even going to be a factor in the conference, but we've held our own. There's been a lot of slack to pick up. There's some big shoes to fill."

A transfer from Kansas, Irsik continues to find her niche on the cross country scene. The sophomore ended state runner-up in the 100 and 300 hurdles last spring at Class 6-A Goddard (Kan.) High School.

Irsik and Black, who have developed a healthy competition this fall, nearly ran side-by-side through the first mile. Irsik pulled away during the second mile, while a mild ankle sprain nagged Black as the meet progressed.

Irsik crossed the line in 24:50.

"My start was faster and I think that's what gave me the biggest advantage in getting ahead of her," said Irsik. "I just wanted to keep my pace good, wanted to get my time better and just keep improving throughout the year."

Black is regaining her groove.

"She started off really fast and I tried to keep up with her," said Black of Irsik. "The second lap was still fast and the third was a little slow. I felt like I could have done better."

Kristen Larsen and Crystella Rochelle took third and fourth, respectively, behind Black. The Warriors' Ashley Jarrett and Jessica Ream completed the scoring with sixth- and seventh-place showings, respectively. Teammate Morgan Exum was eighth.