The Providence Day boys cross country team entered last week’s N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A meet as two-time defending state champions. But although they returned many runners from last year’s squad, that hardly meant the Chargers considered themselves locks to win a third consecutive title.
The biggest reason? Asheville School, which had dominated Providence Day this fall and served notice that a new sheriff might arrive at Cary’s Wake Med Park, site of the 2012 state championships.
But as the meet neared, Chargers coach Ben Hovis reflected on a familiar maxim.
“In running,” Hovis said, “you’re either calling for consistency or a breakthrough. One of those two things is all you need.”
The Chargers were fortunate enough to have both things going on Oct. 26, as their usual top three runners (Ben
Huffman, Nick Linder and Jack Paddison) held down familiar spots near the top, and a couple of up-and-comers (Chad Matthews and Garrett Lunking) had breakthroughs.
Combined, it led to a third consecutive state championship for the Chargers.
Huffman dominated while winning the individual championship in 15 minutes, 23.01 seconds – more than 22 seconds faster than the next-closest runner. Linder was fourth (16:02.66), and Paddison was eighth (16:16.12). Each earned all-state honors.
Matthews, a sophomore, had never run competitively before this season, and he started the year running 5-kilometer races in roughly 21 minutes. Last week, he finished 26th with a time of 17:19.84. Lunking missed most of last season with an injury but clocked in at 17:20.50 at the state meet.
“We had the three guys at the front who ran great races, and we expected them to be solid,” Hovis said. “That, with what (Matthews and Lunking) did, was what it took for us.”
Matthew McCorkle (17:36.16) was 42nd, while Evan Gray (17:51.36) was 46th.
Huffman, a junior, controlled the race from the outset, en route to his individual state crown.
“Ben just had a remarkable season,” Hovis said. “I don’t even have to talk to Ben before races. I don’t have to discuss strategy or anything. I can worry about everyone else. I trust Ben, and he trusts himself to go do his thing. That takes a lot of pressure off everyone.”
It was the Chargers’ sixth team title in eight years, but some thought Asheville School would shake things up this year.
“Asheville School blew us out of the water in the middle of September on that same (Cary) course,” Hovis said. “But instead of getting discouraged and thinking that they were out of it, the boys just believed that when the time came that they were going to be ready to run.”