MOREHEAD CITY — Eliza Craig Parker must be fond of first place.
The West Carteret junior won the 3A Coastal Conference cross country championship and also ranks No. 1 in her class with a 4.56 GPA.
“It takes a lot of time management and trying to stay focused on those two things,” she said.
Parker had big shoes to fill this season when she took over the No. 1 spot for a tradition-rich program.
“It was weird, because I hadn’t actually thought of that until the very end of last season, and it kind of shocked me, because I wasn’t really ready for that,” she said. “I was always used to having at least two people who are faster than me and I could use them to push me.”
If not for a Blake Dodge injury in 2012, West would have produced the girls cross country league champion for the past 11 years. Even with that missing year, the number is still impressive with Parker accounting for the eighth straight Patriots’ win with a personal record time of 19 minutes, 33 seconds.
Dodge won three conference titles in four years (2010, 2011, 2013) followed by three consecutive league crowns apiece by Emme Fisher (2014-2016) and Jenna Reiter (2017-2019).
“I know Jenna, having run with her for two years, but the other two girls, I’ve heard a lot about,” Parker said.
The pressure on a West Carteret girls cross county runner doesn’t end there. The Patriots entered the recent conference championship having won 17 titles in a row.
“I wasn’t really aware of the tradition,” she said. “I actually didn’t know anything about the cross country team when I started running, but I think pretty quickly I learned the reputation.”
Parker led the club to its 18th consecutive conference crown with a dominating 30-point victory over Jacksonville.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure,” Parker said. “We have a freshman on our team that had no idea about that streak, and I didn’t know that, so I accidently told her about it right before the race, and it kind of freaked her out. But she did fine.”
Ironically, when Parker wanted pressure this season, it didn’t come. She won most conference races with ease, and that didn’t change in the league title meet when she outran the runner-up by 44 seconds.
“This season has been a struggle, because it helps a lot when you have someone to push you and run with,” she said. “I want to drop my time, so I just have to tell myself during the race – even though there is nobody around me – and pretend the girl in second place is right behind me.”
Parker said she never envisioned becoming the next West cross country league champion when she entered the season.
“I wanted to drop my time, but overall, I just really wanted to become a leader for the freshmen and sophomores since I had been running for two years, and this is my third year,” she said. “But it was pretty exciting winning it.”
She entered the season with a personal record of 19:40.
In addition to taking over the No. 1 spot, Parker also had to deal with running during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s had to quarantine twice this season due to contact tracing and is currently quarantining with that layoff set to end just before the 3A regional this Saturday.
“I’ve been hit pretty hard by that this season,” she said. “It’s a tough ordeal, not being able to practice.”
The pandemic also caused a two-month delay, a condensed schedule of fewer meets and a season broken up by both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks.
“It’s been really different,” Parker said. “I feel like our teams handled it really well and adapted to it. Both teams won conference championships. I’m really proud of that.”
When she’s not running, she’s hitting the books.
Parker said she was raised to believe academics were important, and so she holds herself to a high standard in the classroom. After passing the midpoint of her junior year, her thoughts will soon turn to college applications.
“UNC-Chapel Hill, that is my dream school,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go into medicine and be a doctor when I grow up. I’ve wanted to do that for a really long time, since I can remember.”
Parker, who spends her free time as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader, is interested in pursuing a career in obstetrics and gynecology.
Here are a few of Paker’s favorite things, as well as her ideal groups with which to eat dinner and survive a zombie apocalypse, and the five items she would take with her on a deserted island:
Favorite Movie: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Favorite TV Show: “Riverdale.”
Favorite Cartoon: “Tom and Jerry.”
Favorite Band/Artist: Luke Combs.
Favorite Song: “Starting Over” by Chris Stapleton.
Favorite Book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.
Favorite Team: North Carolina Tar Heels.
Favorite Athlete: Michael Jordan.
Favorite Vacation: Ocracoke.
Favorite Hobby: Skiing.
Favorite Subject: Science.
Favorite Quote: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills.
Favorite Food: Spaghetti.
Favorite Drink: Any type of smoothie.
Favorite Restaurant: Ruddy Duck Tavern.
Favorite Season: Summer.
Favorite Sports Memory: Going to the state championships.
Favorite Teacher: Ms. Michelle Phillips.
Favorite Sport: Cross country.
Favorite Pre-Game/Post-Game Ritual: Praying over the meet/game I am about to play or have just played.
Favorite Website/App: TikTok.
Favorite Follow on Twitter/Instagram: UNC Sports Teams.
Ideal Dinner Guest List: Roy Williams, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elizabeth Blackwell.
Ideal Group to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: Emmy Wade Langley, Morgan Mason, Sydney Eure, Josh Marson, Gracie Ipock and Matt Graham.
Items For A Deserted Island: My dog, my favorite water bottle, some Sun Chips, a hammock and a pocket knife.