10/28/11 — Sophomore wants state 1-A crown

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Sophomore wants state 1-A crown

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 28, 2011 8:33 AM

Connor Jones knew almost nothing about the sport of cross country four years ago.

Now, almost all Jones knows how to do is win. Considered to be one of the top runners in the state, Jones hopes to prove it on Friday in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A cross country championship meet at McAlpine Park in Charlotte.

A sophomore at Wayne Christian, Jones was encouraged to give the sport a try four years ago by Lee Price, who created the program from scratch. Several of his classmates who were already on the team further egged Jones to join the group.

His times didn't count toward the team's overall score during his first season of competition, but Jones gained valuable experience. He needed more than 40 minutes to finish his first-ever meet and eventually trimmed nearly 20 minutes off his time by the end of the season.

"Sixth grade was a learning year," Jones said. "I learned about the sport and watched the older runners on the team while taking valuable tips that would help me throughout the next few years."

As a seventh-grader, Jones ran a season-best 18 minutes, 44 seconds and earned All-Carolina Christian 1-A Conference honors. He also received Wayne Christian's most improved cross country award.

It was during his eighth grade season that Jones got his first true taste of success. He recorded 11 first-place finishes, trimmed his best time of the season to 18:18 and finished second at the annual Wayne County Cross Country Championships (now the Bill Kemp Invitational). Jones was named all-conference for the second straight season and was the team MVP.

A year ago, Jones was part of Wayne Christian's state championship team that edged Davidson Day School in the 1-A state finals contested at Montreat College. Jones won 14 meets last season, was an All-State and all-conference selection and claimed the Bill Kemp Invitational crown.

Yet, it's his second-place finish, by eight seconds, at the state finals last year that has continued to serve as a motivating factor.

"I was very happy for my team and my teammates to win a state championship," Jones said. "That's an awesome, awesome thing. Finishing second individually was very tough. It's crossed my mind a few times and it has motivated me. The guy I lost to (Garret Conover) was a senior, but I would have loved to have another shot at him."

Jones has won all 13 meets he has competed in this season while seeing his personal best time dwindle to 16:51. He won the Carolina 1-A Christian Conference championship two weeks ago on the challenging course at Wake Med Soccer Park in Cary with a time of 17:33.

The momentum from the conference championships along with the desire to complete an undefeated season with a state championship is what has driven Jones in recent weeks. Friday's state championships serve not only as Wayne Christian's shot at back-to-back titles, but as Jones' chance at redemption following last season's runner-up showing.

"An undefeated season and a state championship would be very, very sweet," Jones said. "After the way last season ended with losing by eight seconds, a perfect season and a state championship would mean a lot to me. It would definitely be worth all the hard work."

Jones' value to the Eagles extends well beyond contending for state and conference championships to setting an example for the value of work ethic and pushing teammates to give a maximum effort.

"I wish I had a few more seniors or a few more runners like Connor to help push some of the underclassmen," Bryan Jones, Connor's father and Wayne Christian's head coach said. "I have some runners that run for a while, and they end up walking and they are OK with that. I have other runners that give everything they've got all the time and that's great."

Despite all the success he has experienced since his journey into the world of cross country began four years ago, Jones surprisingly does no training on his own during the season or the offseason. He has also joined the Eagles' soccer team this season, but only focuses on improving his skills as a runner during cross country season.

It's a routine that may soon change.

"We're looking at doing some different things during the offseason," Bryan Jones said. "We're considering changing his workout routine to include some offseason work. We haven't made a final decision yet, but we've talked about incorporating some work into the offseason."

Driven by his faith, a relentless work ethic and a refusal to accept losing, Connor Jones has spent the past four years giving life to the phrase "you never know until you try."