COLUMBIA — A remarkable high school cross country career came to a perfect and altogether spectacular end on Saturday at the SCISA Class AAA state championship meet at Heathwood Hall.
Porter-Gaud senior Brent Demarest delivered one of the greatest distance running performances at any level in South Carolina history while leading the Cyclones to their fourth straight runaway championship.
Demarest scorched the field in winning his fourth consecutive individual title with an eye-opening time of 14 minutes, 47 seconds. It is only the third time a South Carolina runner cracked the 15-minute barrier at state, the first by a SCISA runner.
It stands as the third-fastest time ever behind Hilton Head’s David Adams and Wren’s Ernie Shepard. Adams clocked in at 14:37 on the way to the 1999 Class AAAA championship. Shepard posted a 14:45 in 1987 while winning his third straight Class AAA title.
The Cyclones superstar ran against the clock, not the field. He finished an astounding 2:11 ahead of runner-up Mason Hazel of Pinewood Prep.
“That was a legendary run,” said P-G coach Hugh Knight. “I knew he could (break 15 minutes) because I’ve seen it in workouts. It was just a matter of getting a perfect day with the weather like today — 50 degrees and no wind. The most amazing thing is he had to do it by himself because there was no one to push him.”
Demarest said breaking the old SCISA mark of 15:16 by Ben Lippen’s Graham Tribble was the main goal in his final race as a Cyclone.
“I did come in wanting to break the SCISA record, but I didn’t expect to go under 15 today,” he said. “I hit the one-mile mark faster than maybe I should have, but when I was at 9:20 at the two mile, I kind of knew I had a pretty good shot and I went for it.”
Ironically, Demarest said his training regimen this season is designed for him to peak at the Footlocker meet in November — a regional qualifier for the nationals.
“I was 10th at Footlocker and 25th at the nationals, and I was a little disappointed at both meets,” he said. “Everything this season has been to get ready for those two meets. I’m hoping for a top three finish at the regionals and a top 10 at the nationals.”
“Brent’s performance should be a huge boost for him going forward,” said Knight.
Porter-Gaud finished with 33 points in the team standings, 28 ahead of Pinewood Prep.
Brendan Ward (3rd, 16:49), Carson Marr (6th, 17:00), Dawes Caldwell (10th, 17:27) and Bolton Sanford (13th, 17:30) fell in behind Demarest.
“Our success as a team is due to our guys having confidence in the program training,” said Knight. “We’re going to lose three seniors off this team, but I expect us to stay pretty competitive.”
Pinewood Prep’s girls returned to the thorn with a one-point win (32-33) over defending champion Heathwood Hall.
The Panthers, who slipped to third place a year ago after claiming top honors in 2011, had five scoring runners crack to top 11 places. Eighth-grader Maryah Nasir, the defending individual champion, paced the Panthers with a second-place finish and a time of 19:03.
“Heathwood beat us every time we faced them this season until today,” said Pinewood coach Kelly Hazel. “I really felt like today was going to be our best shot. We had our full team together and they ran beautifully.”
Katie Black (4th, 19:24), Megan Kuhn (5th, 19:29), Emily Shuler (10th, 20:24) and Sallie Limehouse (11th, 20:05) rounded out the Panthers’ scoring lineup.
Spartanburg Christian picked up an easy victory in the girls’ Class AA-A meet with a 21-49 decision over Spartanburg Day. Trinity-Byrnes was third with 94.
Caitlin Casey of Palmetto Christian was the top local finisher, with a 20th-place finish.
Covenant Christian won the boys’ Class A championship with a 55-63 victory over Spartanburg Christian. Newberry was third with 89. Coastal Christian was sixth with 117 points.
St. John’s Christian’s Connor Thorton was the individual champ with a time of 16:33.31. Teammate Dillon Biering was third and Elijah Bill of Coastal Christian finished 10th.
Trinity-Byrnes posted a 32-51 decision over Spartanburg Day in boys’ Class AA. Spartanburg Christian was third with 60.
Collin Casey of Palmetto Christian was the top local finisher, claiming sixth place.