High School Sports

Runners chasing state titles

Bill Wrightson refrains from saying the Hilton Head High boys cross country team won't face stiff competition at Saturday's state championship meet.

He's just as careful to leave out any guarantees, even though most coaches from around the state consider the Seahawks to be quite heavy favorites to repeat as Class 3-A champions.

But he is willing to admit one thing -- the Seahawks' greatest concern Saturday at Sandhills Research Center in Columbia will be doing more than taking first place in the morning meet.

"We're racing against the most unyielding opponent -- the stopwatch," Wrightson said. "We're trying to be the fastest team in state history. We're going for the record."

The Seahawks are already close. At least week's Lower State qualifying meet, also at Sandhills, the team was an average of six seconds off the state-record pace, despite racing without T.J. Melanson, who's usually among the team's top-five runners.

Hilton Head High owned the podium -- Jack Felix, Jack Manesiotis and Mackenzie Johnston took the top three spots, respectively. Felix is the No.1-ranked boys runner in the state, and after years of finishing second and third in the state meet, he may be in line to complete his medal collection Saturday.

"It would be great to leave as a senior as the champion," Felix said. "That's one of my main goals, but winning as a team is even more important than that."

The Hilton Head High girls team hopes to give the school a clean sweep. As two-time defending Class 3-A state champions, the Seahawks are still ranked No. 1 in the state, but Daniel -- which gave the Seahawks a run last year -- will make a three-peat a difficult task.

The Seahawks have battled a slew of injuries this year -- specifically to some of their better runners in Emily Crick and Faith Lifer. They have been led all season by Sara Manesiotis, who is expected to battle for the individual title with Daniel's Sinead Haughey.

Manesiotis said Haughey runs with a different style than she does, often electing to get her lead early and then hold onto it.

"I definitely have changed up my training a little bit to prepare for her," Manesiotis said. "Every single workout I do, I try to go harder in the first part of it so I get used to the recovery during the workout."

Bluffton High School hopes to make a dent in both meets, as well. The Bobcats' boys squad is ranked in the top five in the state. Led by a one-two punch of Anthony Vecchio and Demetrius Smalls, the Bobcats are hoping to crack the top three at Sandhills.

"I think there's a real opportunity for us to do well," Bluffton coach Dana House said. "I think it could be a very competitive state meet. The Hilton Head (High) boys team certainly isn't going to be touched, but beyond that, the (rest of) teams are close."

Bluffton's girls team is nearly as hopeful after a second-place finish in the Lower State qualifier, though the Upper State possesses many of South Carolina's best Class 3-A girls teams. Jennifer Giles, Casey Witkowski and Scottie House finished within the top 15 runners in the Lower State.

Battery Creek will send its boys team to Saturday's state championship race. The Dolphins qualified in eighth place last weekend, a strong showing considering they started the season with just two runners -- three short of a full lineup.

"About a month into the season, we got the five we needed, and they did a great job of coming in and helping right away," Dolphins coach Terry Fillmore said. "It's a major accomplishment that we qualified. We're excited."

What: S.C. High School League Cross Country State Championships

Where: Sandhills Research Center, Columbia

When: Saturday

Schedule: 8 a.m. -- Class 3-A girls; 8:30 a.m. -- Class 3-A boys; 9 a.m. -- Class 4-A girls; 9:30 a.m. -- Class 4-A boys; 10:30 a.m. -- Class 1-A girls; 11 a.m. -- Class 1-A boys; 11:30 a.m. -- Class 2-A girls; 12 p.m. -- Class 2-A boys