10/29/11 — Connor Jones -- STATE CHAMP

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Connor Jones -- STATE CHAMP

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 29, 2011 11:05 PM

CHARLOTTE -- Connor Jones looked back one last time.

Then he looked ahead into open space.

Flags that marked the finishing area waved in the cold air and Jones zeroed in at a full sprint.

Yep, he had saved his best for last.

Jones, a Wayne Christian sophomore, emerged the 2011 N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 1-A boys' cross country individual champion at picturesque McAlpine Park late Friday afternoon. He crossed the line in 17 minutes, 17.5 seconds -- nearly half a minute quicker than runner-up McKinley Gray from The Epiphany School.

"It feels amazing," said Jones.


The soft-spoken distance runner became the fourth individual state champion in WCS history along with Eric Williams (golf), Faith Sutton (tennis) and Anthony Mulligan (track).

Hickory Christian, which moved to the NCISAA ranks this season, derailed the Eagles' bid for a second straight team crown. The Knights placed three runners among the top six and five among the top 19 overall to finish with 38 points -- 30 more than WCS, which claimed runner-up honors.

Senior Mark Sawyer complemented Jones with a seventh-place effort of 19:09.7. Teammate Spencer Foster ended up ninth in 19:20.3, while Matthew Wells and David Swets crossed the line in 28th and 31st place, respectively.

Ben Sawyer and Adam Hudson also competed.

"We were trying to defend our championship from last year and my whole goal the couple of days leading up to the state meet was to get them psyched up to run the best meet that they could," said WCS head coach Bryan Jones. "I told them to keep themselves warm and run as hard as they can. They all got personal records and you can't ask for anything more from a kid when he beats his personal best."

Epiphany took third in the team title chase, followed by Shannon Forest (S.C.) and Trinity School of Durham. County rival Wayne Country Day placed ninth.

Jones, as is his custom, seized the lead and set the pace for the 3.1-mile run. The runners began to separate through the first mile on the flat, moderate-hilly course. Jones steadily pulled ahead and used last year's runner-up finish as motivation.

Once he approached the finish line, he took one last look behind him.

There was not a runner in sight.

"It turned it on," he said.

Jones finished unbeaten in 14 meets this season and earned the 39th individual victory of his career since 2009.

"It was good, was very cold ... a pretty fast race," he said. "There was lots of pressure. I have run against most of the guys who competed that were at least in eastern North Carolina like Epiphany and Cape Fear. There were a few schools we hadn't seen this season or even last year.

"We tried to figure out how they would stack up against us. There was a lot of competition there. It feels amazing to finally get it (state title) after last year."