By Jeff Nations
THE PLAINS -- Warren County High School sophomore Zach Beckner had a premonition during Saturday's Class 3A state cross country championship meet.
Beckner sensed that there were strong runners behind him as he headed into the final mile running in 15th, the final place to earn a spot on the all-state team. Beckner felt he needed to improve his position, and did. He wanted to move up another spot, but couldn't manage it.
"With about 800 [meters] left in the race I passed a kid and I was in 14th," Beckner said. "Then I was like five meters away from the finish line and [Blacksburg's Noah Combs] passed me for 14th. It sucks because I don't have a sprint. I don't know why, but I can never muster up a sprint.
"Once the kid passed me for 14th and I was in 15th, I didn't even notice [Blacksburg's Sam Teller] coming up behind me. He just came out of nowhere and took it right from underneath my chin."
Beckner's 16th place finish as a bitter disappointment for the Wildcats' top runner, even though he posted a stellar time of 16 minutes, 29 seconds on the course at Great Meadow.
"He ran a great race," Warren County coach Jeremy Burnworth said. "It was just that lack of a kick there at the end -- he got passed by a couple good guys. When you're in that position, between five and 15 -- I mean, he was only a couple seconds from running in fifth place running into that last stretch."
The Wildcats finished 11th in the 12-team boys race, and captured 10th in the girls competition.
"They all ran well," Burnworth said. "I think a lot of them got [personal bests]."
Warren County's girls got a solid effort from top runner Rachel Oden, who placed 35th overall in 20:15 despite enduring flu-like symptoms. Teammate Mara Brown, slated to run Saturday, was also out with the same illness and had to be replaced by Warren County's Felicity Caldwell.
Joining Oden as scorers for the Wildcats were Fiona Sayers (51st, 20:43), Claire Morrow (59th, 20:59), Jacklyn Rankin (75th, 21:33) and Karley Shanks (90th, 22:50). Warren County totaled 238 points in team competition. Blacksburg won the state championship after tallying 35 points.
"Three of them were sub-21, and our No. 4 girl Jackie Rankin ran really well," Burnworth said. "They all ran what they were supposed to, probably even a little bit better. It was a good day overall."
Central also got solid efforts from its two individual runners. Elsa Garcia posted a personal-best 5K time of 21:07 to finish 63rd overall, and teammate Lexi Keller was 68th with a time of 21:19.
"Elsa kept putting the hammer down," Falcons coach Melissa Wright said. "Lexi had some trouble in the second mile with breathing, I think it was the cold air. Then she did the same thing she did last week. I think towards the last half-mile, she pulled it back together and finished fairly strong."
Warren County's boys, an extreme longshot to reach the podium, attained Burnworth's more realistic goal of beating someone at the state meet. The Wildcats tallied 261 team points. Lafayette won the team title with 54 points.
Joining Beckner as scorers for Warren County were Nick Myers (43rd, 17:04), Nathaniel Lund (85th, 17:59), Erik Stafira (93rd, 18:25) and Zack Workman (97th, 18:41).
"The guys put it out there," Burnworth said. "A lot of guts, as usual."
Central's lone boys runner, freshman Ivan Alvarado, was 70th overall in 17:34. Skyline also had one runner in the meet. Hawks junior Luke Cline was 76th overall in 17:41.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>