By Erik Harris
TRUSSVILLE – Behind three top four finishers, the Hewitt-Trussville cross country team capped off a strong outing at its 24th annual Husky Challenge on Saturday. Head coach David Dobbs’ boys finished fourth as a team while the girls posted a fifth place finish.
Pinson Valley also competed, posting a seventh place finish in the boys’ run and tenth on the boys’ portion of the day.
For the boys, Benjamin Knox and John Ngaruiya set the pace for the Huskies and all but one of the runners in the overall field. Knox stopped the clock at 16:14.79 to take the silver medal. Ngaruiya crossed the finish line less that a second later to claim third place out of 118 runners. Oak Mountain’s Cole Stidfole wasn’t looking for a photo finish, ending his run over 17 seconds before anyone else.
For the girls, Marlee Mason finished fourth out of 93 runners. She was easily Hewitt-Trussville’s fastest athlete, ending the run at 19:15.39. The weather was very agreeable for distance runners and Mason feasted on the opportunity.
“It felt amazing because it’s been a while since I’ve been in the top ten,” said Mason. “I think the elements were just perfect today with the cold weather, it helps you run a lot faster and I just told myself that I was either going to win it or I was going to get really close to it.”
Mason credits her quick time to a strong start.
“It was a fast start (for me) and I just kind of held that pace, because the top girls are really competitive and you just have to stay on their shoulder,” said Mason.
While Knox is pleased with his No. 2 overall finish, he isn’t thrilled with his willingness to allow the top runner (Stidfole) to push him out of a “smart” run.
“I feel like I raced pretty hard, tried to stick with that No. 1 guy (Stidfole) and probably got a little too excited getting out,” said Knox. “Should’ve ran a smarter race, but it was a rough course, definitely going to be fast after a few runs on it.”
What Knox is referring to is alterations that have been made to the running path prior to the Husky Challenge.
“You have your good race pace and you’re going around the course and small hills over on to where the start is, those sort of stop the pace,” said Knox.
Austin Atkinson and Hunter Thomason worked through those inclines to post timely runs of their own. Atkinson finished his run at No. 17 and Thomason came through at 21st.
In the girls’ race, a group of three Hewitt-Trussville runners came passing through over two minutes after Mason ended her run. Syndney Hall (30th) led that wave of Huskies runners, stopping the time at 21:34.47. Kylie Purdy came through at No. 32 and Olivia Bland came through at No. 37.
Follow Erik Harris on Twitter @jeharris2.