OCEAN — Close finishes between host Croatan and First Flight girls cross county teams at the 2A east regional is nothing new.
That was the case again Saturday on the Cougars’ home course as they squeaked out a one-point win to capture their third consecutive regional crown, sixth in the last eight years and 13th in 22 years as a program.
“All seven of the girls ran better than they had for a while,” Croatan coach Andy Bulfer said. “We thought we had a chance, but we had faced them earlier in the year, and they beat us. The girls brought it. They ran the fastest they have on our course. It was awesome.”
First Flight has been runner-up to Croatan in each of the past three seasons and came close to taking the title in two of those, falling by just one point Saturday and by three in 2017. The Cougars won by 39 points last year.
The Nighthawks were winners in 2016 and 2015 and Croatan was runner-up each time with the 2015 regional coming down to the wire with First Flight taking it by two points.
This year seemed like it would be a battle between the two teams again, but only later in the year, not early on after the young Cougars entered the season having lost all of their runners from last season.
“At the beginning of year, we didn’t know if we could catch First Flight, and I thought we would have a tough time with Dixon,” Bulfer said. “We had lost our top 10 girls, so we didn’t know what to think.”
Avah Beikirch followed a Coastal 8 Conference title by claiming the regional race in 20 minutes, 37 seconds in her sophomore campaign.
“She is doing great things,” Bulfer said.
Freshman teammates took fourth and fifth, respectively, with Samantha Hall finishing in 21:12.64 and Kamryn Waldram in 21:12.87.
“Those ninth-graders are doing great,” Bulfer said. “Their potential is incredible. Samantha was cut from track last year, so it’s unbelievable what she’s doing.”
Nighthawks runners took four straight spots, placing seventh through 10th, while Croatan junior Emma Morton grabbed 14th in 21:52.
First Flight had three runners finish ahead of the next Croatan runner, taking 16th, 20th and 22nd, respectively, but freshman Hannah Berger may have decided the race by toeing the line in 23:29 to end up 27th.
“Hannah passed a few girls in the last 200 meters, and we didn’t realize how big that was until after we saw the score,” Bulfer said. “That was huge. One spot would have made the difference. It was that close.”
Freshman Livia Disney placed 34th in 23:46, while sophomore Claire Nickson took 36th in 23:52.
“It was awesome,” Bulfer said. “The girls did so well. They trained all year for this, and we’re as proud as we could be of them. They stepped up. They work hard. Coach Rico Quispe does a great job at making it a family atmosphere, and it’s paid off.”
The boys race went the same as it has the past four years with First Flight winning the regional and Croatan taking the runner-up honor.
“The boys ran well,” Bulfer said. “They did a good job. You want to win, but First Flight is on a different level. I don’t see anybody beating them.”
The Nighthawks took the meet with 18 points followed by the Cougars with 42. Trask was third with 156.
First Flight garnered the top three spots, and all three nearly broke 16 minutes with Zach Hughes finishing in 15:37, Joseph Davidson in 15:51 and Tyler Sylvia in 16:02.
Croatan sophomore Elliott Kleckner placed fourth in 16:06.
“Elliott ran well,” Bulfer said. “He ran his course PR (personal record). He was a good 15 seconds ahead of his course mark.”
Kleckner’s twin brother, Cooper, took sixth in 16:48, followed by junior Thomas McCabe, eighth in 16:58, and sophomore Colten Rodiguez, ninth in 17:02. Freshman James Wallace was 15th in 17:40.
Other finishers for Croatan included sophomore Nolan McGehee, 27th in 18:54, and sophomore Zach Pruett, 47th in 19:37.