And they’re off: Local cross-country teams open season at Olsen Park is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

A crowded field took to the course at Olsen Park in northern New Hanover County late Thursday afternoon as all seven Mideastern Conference teams joined Cape Fear Academy, Coastal Christian and White Oak High School for the first cross-country meet of the fall season.

While a strong time was important to many of those who crossed the finish line atop the list, setting a fixed mark for future races and foundation for a successful couple of months was the mindset for a majority of runners who battled through wet conditions.

Trent Pyrtle, left and Chad Campbell. Photos by Joe Catenacci
Trent Pyrtle, left and Chad Campbell finished 1-2 in the boys race. Photos by Joe Catenacci

“The faster we’ve got over the past few years the more intense our training has been,” said Chad Campbell, who placed second in the boys varsity race, one second behind Topsail teammate Trent Pyrtle. “We’ve been doing a lot of tempo and distance running and that’s helped us prepare for the season.”

Pyrtle crossed the finish line in just over 16 minutes, while Alex Nadaud (Cape Fear Academy) took third. Xavier McKinley (New Hanover) and Brian Walker (Laney) rounded out the top five.

“It’s the first race of the season and we’re building right now obviously towards the county and conference championships,” McKinley said. “We had a lot of fun out there today on the sloppy course, but will continue to push and work hard in training as we get the season going.”

While Pyrtle is Topsail’s school record holder in the 3.1-mile run, he and Campbell both use each other as motivation during practice to stay atop their game.

“We’ve been pushing each other so hard and that’s a big driving force,” Pyrtle added. “All I’m thinking is that I can’t let Chad beat me, but it’s a friendly competition and he really helps push me to be better. We will train harder and look to build off today’s run.”

Coming off an individual title at the New Hanover County and Mideastern Conference meets last season, Hoggard junior Sarah Pellizzari was the front runner heading into opening day, but the state qualifier was hampered by a hiccup during Thursday’s competition. As she jolted out to front of the pack through the early stages of the race, Pellizzari was misguided on the course route after the mile mark and fell a few spots before making up ground towards the end.

Cameron Smithwick.
Cameron Smithwick.

With the Vikings’ standout falling behind, Cameron Smithwick (Laney) quickly stepped into the lead and carried a first-place finish in just over 19 minutes and 34 seconds. Pellizzari placed second at 19:43, while Natalie Tyner (Laney), Bella Idol (New Hanover) and Hailey Smithwick (Laney) closed the top five.

“Our team consistently practices hard and Coach Bobbitt has a good training schedule for us,” said Smithwick. “We always push each other during races and this is just one step. Throughout the months we continue to increase our mileage, but during the races, I like to work my way from middle of the pack up towards the front and it worked out today.”

While Pellizzari was disappointed in the outcome of Thursday’s meet, with family members on hand to watch her compete, she expressed optimism moving forward and expects to be back in front of the pack real soon.

“We’ll continue to work harder and just a little upset with how things turned out,” said Pellizzari. “This year we’ve started doing more strength and core workouts during practice and I’ve been more active joining the marching band,  my instrument is like 10 pounds so it’s a lot of work. I’m just trying to stay active, fit and eat right and hopefully that’ll keep me at the front this season.”

Runners to look for this fall season

Cape Fear Academy- Alex Nadaud, Yasmine Henneke

Hoggard- Robison Snyder, Sarah Pellizzari, Jamie Witmer

New Hanover- Xavier McKinley, Preston Linnen, Katherine Flynn, Bella Idol

Ashley- Dakota Spurley, Mary Andrew, Julia Boudreau

Thursday's meet featured 10 schools from the area.
Thursday’s meet featured 10 schools from the area.

Laney- Brian Walker, Shane McCormick, Cameron Smithwick, Hailey Smithwick, Natalie Tyner

Coastal Christian- Jackson Boyles, Clint Tuberville, Gabrielle Marushack, Ruby McKain

South Brunswick- Will Howard, Hannah Pfieffer, Jack Palagrado, Gabbie Hitchcock

West Brunswick- Matthew Tripplett, Michael Tripplett, Lora Kinlaw, Caroline McKinon

Topsail- Chad Campbell, Trent Pyrtle, Kersten Parrella