Chatham Charter, Woods Charter cross country see individual and team qualifiers at conference meet

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/10/21

SILER CITY — A conference MVP. A team qualifier. Two individual qualifiers.

Neither Chatham Charter nor Woods Charter won the ultimate prize last Wednesday — a first-place team finish …

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Chatham Charter, Woods Charter cross country see individual and team qualifiers at conference meet

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SILER CITY — A conference MVP. A team qualifier. Two individual qualifiers.

Neither Chatham Charter nor Woods Charter won the ultimate prize last Wednesday — a first-place team finish in the men’s or women’s Central Tar Heel 1A conference championship meets — but both programs left in good standing for next weekend’s NCHSAA 1A Mideast regionals in Cary.

And that alone was worth celebrating, according to the runners who are approaching the finish line of the weirdest North Carolina high school cross country season in recent memory.

“I’m just really happy things worked out the way they did,” Wolves senior Primo Costa said.

Chatham Charter hosted Woods Charter, Research Triangle and Cornerstone Charter for the championship meet at its Siler City campus course. And since those four schools were the only ones in the conference to run cross country this season, it made for plenty of familiar opponents.

In the men’s race, for example, Knights junior Brandon McKoy knew he’d have to beat out junior Liam Johnston of Research Triangle if he wanted to place first. In two previous meets this season, McKoy had finished second to Johnston, a first-time cross country runner with a background in soccer.

Chatham Charter head coach Gary Oakley knew what was at stake, too. So on Tuesday night, he shot McKoy a final text of encouragement. In the message, which Oakley shared with the News + Record, he deemed McKoy “the greatest runner in school history no matter what happens tomorrow.”

“But I want you to be legendary!” Oakley wrote. “I know you are gonna give everything you have and that’s all I or anyone can ask of you. You’ll be fine.”

The following afternoon, McKoy did just that, maintaining a small lead and icing his individual win with a last-leg sprint down the third-base line of Chatham Charter’s baseball field, which led to the race’s grassy finish line near home plate. McKoy’s final time: 18:20, six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“I’m so proud of Brandon,” Oakley said.

Johnston finished second at 18:26 to lead Research Triangle, which won the race on team points with 33. Costa finished fifth at 19:39, and Chatham Charter junior Caleb Kolb finished sixth at 19:49.

Neither team had the depth to beat out Cornerstone Charter, though, which earned the conference’s only other automatic qualifier team spot with a score of 46. McKoy and Costa, whose teams had 56 and 94 points, respectively, will both race next weekend in regionals as individuals.

“I surprised myself today,” Costa said, “so I’m happy with that.”

In the women’s race, Woods Charter freshman Ellie Poitras knew she also had a skilled runner to compete with: senior Victoria Swepson of Research Triangle, who’s excelled in conference this season.

Poitras’ goal, as she put it: “to keep (Swepson) in my sights.” If she was even semi-close to Research Triangle’s top runner, she knew she’d be in great position to finish high for Woods Charter. That’s exactly how it played out, as Swepson finished first (21:58) and Poitras finished second (21:58).

Research Triangle comfortably won the women’s race on team points (29). But with sophomore Maddie Sparrow (fourth place, 22:32) and senior Ember Penney (eighth place, 24:21) placing high alongside Poitras and two more runners in the top 15, the Wolves finished second in the meet with 40 points.

That earned the Woods Charter women an automatic team qualifying spot in next weekend’s regionals.

“I thought this season was very different,” Poitras said, “and even though we didn’t have all of our best runners, we still did really well together.”

Wednesday’s event ended with a distanced awards ceremony; the Knights had two all-conference runners, McKoy and Kolb, and the Wolves had five: Poitras, Sparrow, Penney, Costa and sophomore Wiley Sikes, who didn’t race in the conference meet but had strong times earlier this season.

The Woods Charter men’s and women’s teams earned sportsmanship awards, too, and Oakley — who’s retiring from coaching this season after a lengthy and productive career with Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Charter — got a surprise men’s coach of the year award. So ended a productive meet for the Knights and Wolves, who are now gearing up for the larger challenge of regionals.

“I think everyone ran really well today,” Costa said.

Click here for full men’s and women’s results.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.


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