Saturday was a day to remember for North Carolina's runners - especially those from Charlotte and the Raleigh areas.
Cary Academy's Thomas Graham, West Charlotte's Mark Blackmon, Raleigh Millbrook's Samantha George and Charlotte's Alana Hadley each qualified for the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships at the 33rd South Regional at McAlpine Park.
The meet featured state champions from 14 southeastern states, as well as champions from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The top 10 boys' and girls' qualifiers will compete at nationals Dec. 10 in San Diego.
"It was tough," said Blackmon, the All-Observer Boys' Runner of the Year who finished eighth Saturday. "That first mile, I felt like I wasn't going to be able to pick it up. I took the hill (at about 1 1/4 miles) pretty strong and I came down really fast. That put me in a pretty good position" to qualify.
Blackmon, whose sister Angelina qualified for 2003 nationals, ran 15 minutes, 1 second to break the Mecklenburg County boys' record of 15:05 set by North Mecklenburg's Stephen Haas in 1999. Hadley's 17:27 also broke the county record of 17:36 set in 2008 by North Mecklenburg's Kimberly Spano.
"The feeling of crossing the finish line and knowing I'm going to San Diego is amazing," said Hadley who finished eighth. She attends Ardrey Kell but doesn't run for the school.
Blackmon and Hadley are the fourth and fifth Mecklenburg County runners to ever qualify.
Texas 5A champion Craig Nowak (Houston Cypress Woods) overtook two-time Virginia 3A champ Ahmed Bile in the final 100 meters to win the boys' 5K, 14:37 to 14:38. Texas 4A champion Cali Roper (Willis) held off Virginia 3A champ Sophie Chase (Lake Braddock) and four-time Georgia champ Grace Tinkey (Macon First Presbyterian Day) in the last 600 meters to win the girls' 5K in 17:02.
"It was faster than expected," said Graham, who led the boys' race at the 2-mile mark and qualified for the second straight year with a fifth-place finish. "I was surprised at how comfortable I felt through the first mile and a half."
Graham and Bile, the son of 1987 world 1,500-meter champ and two-time Olympian Abdi Bile (Somalia), were the only returning boys' qualifiers.
For the girls, Chase and Tinkey were the only returning qualifiers.
N.C. 4A runner-up and 2010 4A champ Darby Middlebrook (Watauga) was 12th (17:36), two-time national qualifier Wesley Frazier (Raleigh Ravenscroft) finished 25th (18:01), and NCISAA 3A champ Eliza Dekker (Durham Academy) was 36th (18:11).
NOTE: Providence's Wyatt Maxey ran 15:43 to finish third in the sophomore boys' race as the top three went under the old sophomore meet record of 15:45.