Jenny Barringer and Andrew Bumbalough -- two of South's all time best prove their mettle with two sensational performances
by Ricky Quintana
Boys - Girls
Charlotte,NC- Two of the south's all time best proved their mettle with two sensational performances under near perfect conditions Saturday morning at McAlpine Park. And if one doubts how talented these two are, one only had to look to the sidelines to see Colorado head cross country coach, Mark Wetmore, five days removed from his men's and women's double NCAA team titles, in attendance.
A biting cold and soggy conditions greeted the runners as they arrived at McAlpine Park early in the morning.
By the girl's seeded start time, temperatures had risen to the mid 40's. Not to the liking of defending regional champ, Jenny Barringer(Oviedo,FL) who commented later,"The cold weather really does effect you especially being from Florida. I had a little bit of wind on my chest the whole race."
At the crack of the gun, co-favorite Erin Bedell(Plano West, TX) shot out to a 15 meter lead as she took the grassy path to the first turn. Barringer, clad in a dark long sleeve top, followed on the less soggy gravel path some ten meters ahead of the South's deepest field ever, 14 runners with bests of 10:52 or better in the 3200m.
"She had me shaking in my boots," Barringer said of Bedell, the fourth ranked miler in the country last year and the winner of the 5A Texas state cross country championships afterwards not knowing of Bedell's condition[see below]. "I was a little scared. She's really strong and consistent and a great competitor. I was real surprised when she wasn't up there the whole way. I'm really not sure what happened."
By the mile, Barringer was able to match the leggy Bedell stride for stride as they clocked a conservative 5:21 first mile. As they passed they passed the throng of spectators lining the course, this reporter could see that Bedell was not having a good day and looked concerned. Afterwards, Bedell would comment, "I tried to go out there and stay with the top pack, but it wasn't my day today." When asked for a reason she revealed, holding back tears, "I was a little sick. It started Thursday night and
I haven't felt better since. It happens."
A pack led by Carmen Mims(Mercy, Louisville,KY), Kate Niehaus(Spring Valley,SC), Miranda Walker(South Lake Carroll, TX), Brooke Upshaw(South Lake Carroll, TX) and five others followed some 3-5 seconds behind.
By the bottom of the steep hill, Barringer had a slight lead over Bedell with the pack still remaining another 5 seconds behind. A strong surge and a quick descent for flatlander Barringer extended the lead to eight seconds by the bottom of the hill entering the loop around the lake.
Bedell showed the effects of her sickness as she slipped quickly to sixth as a strong running Carmen Mims took up second place and a surprising Jill Skinner(Brentwood, TN), 23rd at the Great American Festival NIKE ROC, in third. " I was just so excited to be up and front and actually see Jennifer Barringer," said Mims.
By two miles, Barringer had a comfortable lead with her 11:05 split. The pack of seven was strung out behind her with frosh Aurora Scott(Western Branch, VA) holding a good gap over places nine and ten. The pace was a lot slower than expected. " I don't know what our two mile split was, but I don't think it was much under 11:20. It was a little muddy back there, but overall, the course was fine," said VA state champ Melissa Dewey(Hayfield, VA)."I don't know what happened. "
Exiting the woods for the final 800 meters, Barringer's lead was whittled down as Skinner chased Mims. But Barringer wasn't too worried. "I heard from people in the crowd that they were coming up on me. I knew I had a comfortable lead and I didn't want to totally kill myself. The last 150 meters I sprinted in."
Skinner used a strong kick over the final loop around the lake to catch Mims and finish second and continue the streak of surprising qualifiers that always seem to surround this regional. Skinner’s time was 17:32 and Mims was 17:35. Dewey just nipped Kate Niehaus who qualified for her third national championship. Both were timed in 17:35. Aurora Scott used a strong kick to get past Kelly Parrish who was nursing an injury. Scott was timed in 17:43 and Parrish in 17:44. " I tried something new," said Scott who has been battling injuries and bunions." I tried to take it easy and calm the whole race. I was trying to count places, but it was hard from the back."
Barringer's winning time of 17:27 equaled her time from last year as she became the first runner in Florida history to win twice. Behind her was the deepest field in race history. The eighth place time, 17:44,eclipsed 2001's best eighth place time of 17:55.4 and a whopping ten girls finished at 17:58 or better.
Texas claimed top honors in the team standings edging Florida, 67-70 despite Florida putting three in the top ten.
The boys race did not disappoint as the top returnees, Andrew Bumbalough(Brentwood Academy, TN) and
Scott McPherson(Plano,TX) from last year's national meet staged a memorable battle. The two went straight to the front and hit the mile in a unexpectedly conservative 4:40. Also, unexpected was that Robert Bedsole(Hoover, AL) was not in the lead and super soph Kevin Schwab(OK) was nowhere to be seen. " I was hoping to be up front, but it just didn't happen. I was a little hesitant."
McPherson and Bumbalough followed a still unknown tall runner to the base of the hill. By the descent, the two were clear and running side by side. Junior Justin Harbor(Flagler Palm Coast, Bunnell,FL), the Florida 3A state champ, then made an unexpected challenge after he got onto the loop around the lake.
" We went out really fast. It was like 4:30's. I was like 'alright, I'll just keep rolling with it.' I just simulated my two mile[an 8:59 effort in October] and just latch on. I had McPherson and Bumbalough ahead of me so I'll just sit right here."
Andy Biladeau(Jesuit, Tampa,FL) was also having a good race in fourth. "I told myself to not back down. I didn't want to give an inch because I knew there were eight guys right behind me who wanted it as bad I did."
The pace still seemed off record pace as McPherson and Bumbalough cruised past the two mile mark in 9:30. The two seemed set on just qualifying until McPherson decided to press the pace. " I knew he was right behind and that we were both relaxed. I saw his shadow behind me. I moved around the turn and he came with me." Bumbalough was able to get past McPherson on a small ascent in the wooded loop just before the last half mile. Exiting the woods, Bumbalough had a slight advantage.
At 800m, Bumbalough began to inject even more pace as McPherson fought to stay with him. The two were flying. "He asserted himself and I responded and I was able to assert myself a little more passing him. I went and felt pretty good about it. I was scared that he[McPherson] would come back on me. I was able to hold him off in the end," Bumbalough said afterwards.
With the seconds ticking away, the attention turned to Alan Webb's 14:43 record time. Bumbalough increased his lead over a tiring McPherson as he sped around the final loop. In the final straight away, Bumbalough was gracefully eating up chunks of ground as the spectators cheers spurred him on. His winning time of 14:32 was simply incredible considering his 16 second margin over McPherson was made up over the final 800 meters. His final 1.1 miles was run in approximately 5:02; 4:34 mile pace.
Bumbalough reflected on the record afterward. "I came into the race trying to qualify and maybe win the race," he said after a long warm-down which caused him to miss the awards ceremony." The record was more an extra. Records are great, but my main thing is to run the best that I can and as hard as I can against the guys that are out there."
McPherson was happy with his effort. "It was so much fun. I knew I could run faster this year," he said.
Harbor kept his margin to finish an impressive third in 14:57. "They just took off the third mile. I just tried to keep rolling. I came in the final loop and said 'Yes! I'm going to San Diego!"
Biladeau withstood a hard charge from a surprising effort from Jack Bolas(Chapel Hill,NC) to claim fourth. Both were timed in 15:01. "I feel like I'm dreaming," said Biladeau, voice cracking and tears welling up in his eyes."Since sixth grade, I've been trying to do this. I did it more for my coach, my parents, my family and my team than for me. It's a good joy to see them smile too."
Another surprise was the sixth place finish of Daniel LaCava who ran 15:03. LaCava finished third to Schwab at the Cowboy Jamboree and second to McPherson Marcus Invite before winning the TAPPS state meet on Oct. 16 in modest 16:10.
Bedsole rallied to finish seventh in 15:05 automatically qualifying and possibly creating an opening for Sandy Roberts(Broughton, Raleigh, NC) in the revamped qualifying procedures for Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals. Roberts was just outleaned for eighth by Michael Eaton(Bowling Green, KY). Eaton won the 3A state championships in 15:45. But Roberts would go to San Diego if Bedsole finishes 1-2 among South region boys next Saturday at Nike Team Nationals in Portland. Bedsole's Hoover AL team competes in NTN as the #1 ranked team in the Southeast.