South Carolina Athletes Compete Against Nation\'s Best At Festival

The Great American Festival in Cary, NC this past weekend gave several high school cross country athletes from South Carolina the chance to compete against some of the best cross country athletes in the nation.

In the Girl\'s Race of Champions Spring Valley junior Kate Niehaus placed ninth overall in 18:02.73. According to Spring Valley Head Girls Cross Country coach Kevin Shaw Niehaus stopped at a white line, thinking it was the finish. \"Based on where she was in the race (at that point) she would have been between 17:50 and 17:53 had she not stopped,\" said Shaw. \"Two girls passed her when she stopped.\"

According to Shaw, Niehaus ran a 5:15 first mile as the leaders went through the mile in 5:11. Niehaus went through mile two in 11:13. The lead pack went through the two-mile mark in 10:51. \"She was a bit dissapointed in the fact that she stopped early, but otherwise she was happy,\" said Shaw. \"She now understands that she can run with the best girls in the nation and looks forward to running against them again.\"

Niehaus is a two-time Footlocker National Championship qualifer since she started to run cross country at Spring Valley her freshman year. Niehaus holds the state meet best of 17:36.81, set in 2003, breaking her old best of 17:52.3 set in 2002.

Joining Niehaus on the cross country team at Spring Valley is her two sisters Emily and Annie. In 2002 Niehaus DNF at Footlocker and in 2003 Niehaus placed 17th overall as former Northwestern runner Angelina Blackmon, now attending NC State placed 32nd overall.

Carlissa Heyward, a junior at Summerville High School led the Green Wave girls to 19th place finish in the Race of Champions. Heyward placed 74th overall in 20:24.87. Sarah Massenburg was the next in for Summerville as the senior finished 78th in 20:28.70. Summerville\'s other finisher\'s included Sara Johannesmeyer (112th, 20:59.39), Audrey Bone (119th, 21:06.70), Marichele Heyward (129th, 21:13.06), Amanda Pulliam (157th, 22:21.13), and Laura Watkins (164th, 23:05.71).

In the Boys Race of Champions Spring Valley senior Reid Wilson crossed the line with a 16:18.25, good for a 27th overall finish. Daniel Knight was the next finisher in for Spring Valley as he crossed the line in 107th with teammate Justin Hunter finishing 108th. Spring Valley finished 20th in the team standings out of 23 teams.

Fort Mill boys were led by Andrew White in the Race of Champions. White, a junior finished in 99th with a 17:19.51 5k time. Travis Owens was next in for Fort Mill as he finished in the 106th spot.

Spring Valley\'s average time on Saturday was 17:27.07 to Fort Mill\'s 17:41.31 average course time.

Northwestern and Dorman led the way for South Carolina as the two teams finished one and two, respectively in the Boy\'s Red Invitational. Northwestern finished 10 points ahead of Dorman with 77 points as Dorman tallied 87 points. The Blue Ridge High School boys, former 2A State Champions, now making a move on the 3A competition in 2004 finished 10th overall in the Red Invitational.

Northwestern Trojans Brandon Hudgins and J.C. Koziel placed fourth in fifth in the race, respectively with Dorman\'s Ben Sloan finishing four seconds behind Koziel in fifth. Bryan Stoner was the first in for Blue Ridge, as the senior Tiger finished 20th overall in 17:13.72.

Northwestern had an average time of 17:02.19 in the Red Invitational, while Dorman average a 17:10.74 5k time. Blue Ridge averaged 18:13.28 over the 5k course.

The Wando High School girl\'s finished ninth out of 13 teams in the Invitational White Race. The team was led by Meghan Kirwan, a sophomore whom finished in the top six in the race. Blue Ridge girls competed in the Blue Invitational race. The Tigers were led by Brooke Franklin, a senior. Franklin placed 25th overall, as the team placed sixth out of six teams.

In the Girl\'s Invitational Red 5k Stephanie Buffo, a top contender in the 4A State Championships, placed fourth overall in 19:14.36, leading the Cavaliers to a fourth place team finish. Candice Johnson, a senior at Byrnes High School placed in the top 15. Laura Eleazer (23rd) was the second finisher in for Dorman with teammate Taylor Harvey crossing the in 26th. Next in for Byrnes was Samantha Smith (27th).

In the Boy\'s White Invitational 5k Wando High School\'s Daniel Vincent was the first South Carolina runner across the line with a top 20 finish. Next in for Wando was Christopher Fallis (24th). Wando placed fifth out of 14 teams.

David Willis, a transfer from Kentucky, now attending Fort Mill placed second overall in the Boys Junior Varsity Section I race. Willis was three seconds off champion Alex Yersak of Cherokee. Josh Mabry was next in for Fort Mill, as the sophomore finished fifth overall. Fort Mill captured the team title in the field of 17 teams.

Next up in South Carolina is the Furman Invitational on Oct. 9. Furman University is hosting the Southern Conference Championships on Oct. 30. In 1999 and 2001 Furman hosted the NCAA D-I National Cross Country Championships.