WILMINGTON- Two runners stood out from the pack during the season-opening 3.1 mile cross-country meet at Hugh McRae Park on Thursday as Jamie Witmer (Hoggard) and Natalie Tyner (Laney) set an early precedent moving into the fall schedule.
The Laney girls’ team made a statement to start the year with three of its top runners back in the lineup. Tyner (18:40.38) picked up right where she left off following a freshman season that saw her claim Mideastern Conference Runner of the Year. She blew past her competitors right off the opening gun and never looked back, finishing more than one minute ahead of runner-up, Cameron Smithwick (20:14.06). Haley Smithwick (20:53.03) put the exclamation point on the afternoon by giving the Bucs three of the top four times to make Laney the early favorites to repeat as conference champions.
Freshman Jenna Pellizzari (Hoggard) took third (20:34.31) in her first race and looks to follow a strong high school running career by her older sister, Sara Pellizzari. Bella Idol (21:19.22) placed fifth for New Hanover.
“I’m really looking forward to conference and counties and seeing how far we can go and what we can do this year,” Tyner said. “Having the twins (Haley and Cameron Smithwick) really helps push me, but mainly it’s important now to not go too hard. At the same time the goal is to get faster and stronger so we can do better.”
Set with the determination of a veteran leader in only her second year running at the high school level, Tyner won’t go as far as saying she will win every race moving forward. She wants to give it her best effort each time out and with that thought process, the Laney standout should have no problem competing atop the list moving through the season.
At Hoggard, with its leading runner from one year ago graduated, Jamie Witmer enters the scene as a primary candidate to fill the shoes of his predecessor and make a strong pitch for Mideastern Conference Player of the Year. Witmer’s poise and purpose was evident in the boys’ race after making an early move to easily gain distance from the pack for his first win at 16:40.59.
“My expectations this year are to run faster than what Robinson did last year and I think starting out like this gives me a lot of confidence going into the season,” Witmer said. “We definitely pushed this summer with strength workouts and putting in a lot of miles. Getting a lot of sleep and eating healthy also plays an important part.”
Despite the victory, Witmer didn’t have a time goal during Thursday’s race and looks to push himself in the days ahead leading to his next time out. He hopes to use the confidence gained at Hugh McRae Park to break the 16-minute mark. Witmer played a pivotal role in guiding Hoggard to a league title last season as a first-team all-conference performer.
Topsail senior Chad Campbell placed second with a time of 16:51.91, while Erik Dahlgren (Hoggard), William Tirella (Hoggard) and Connor Riggs (Laney) rounded out the top five.
Boys Top 5 finishers
- 1 Jamie Witmer, Hoggard, 16:40.59
- 2 Chad Campbell, Topsail, 16:51.97
- 3 Erik Dahlgren, Hoggard, 17:07.78
- 4 William Tirella, Hoggard, 17:28.23
- 5 Connor Riggs, Laney, 17:31.14
Girls Top 5 finishers
- 1 Natalie Tyner, Laney, 18:40.38
- 2 Cameron Smithwick, Laney, 20:14.06
- 3 Jenna Pellizzari, Hoggard, 20:34.31
- 4 Haley Smithwick, Laney, 20:53.03
- 5 Bella Idol, New Hanover, 21:19.22
Click here for complete results.