Providence Day’s Ben Huffman qualifies for national cross country meet
Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013

Providence Day’s Ben Huffman qualifies for national cross country meet

    Providence Day senior Ben Huffman finished second at the Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional at McAlpine Park, qualifying for the national championships Dec. 14.
    Providence Day senior Ben Huffman broke 15 minutes for just the second time in his career in the Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional, finishing in 14 minutes and 44 seconds to place second.

Ben Huffman’s goal at the Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional race Nov.30 at McAlpine Creek Park was just to qualify for the national championships by finishing in the top 10.

The Providence Day senior accomplished that and more.

The 6-foot-1 Huffman, 18, finished second in the race, running a personal-best 14 minutes, 44 seconds on the 5K course. It was the best time ever run at McAlpine by a North Carolina runner and the 12th-best time overall in the park’s 34-year history.

The time also broke the Mecklenburg County 5K record by 17 seconds.

With that top-10 finish, Huffman became just the third Mecklenburg County runner to qualify for the Foot Locker National Championships, which will be Dec.14 in San Diego.

“I was so relieved, first of all, to make it, because that was what was going through my head the whole time. ‘Just be top 10, qualify,’” Huffman said. “And then to see my time, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really fast.’

“I didn’t expect to do that.”

Providence Day coach Ben Hovis said he also felt relief when Huffman crossed the finish line in second place.

“This is my third athlete that had a chance to qualify, and I think we’ve learned from the previous two,” Hovis said. “Lewis (Woodard) got injured right before and (John) Compton wasn’t ready for the initial pace that was just crazy, and so it was just complete relief and just satisfaction that we finally got it right.

“I was just pumping fists in the air and giving anyone high fives that knew me.”

The race started fast. Huffman, running behind eventual winner Aaron Templeton (14:36) from Tennessee, hit the 1-mile mark around 4:30, which he said was faster than he’d ever started a race.

Templeton “made it clear from the beginning that he was going to go for the record and just go out,” Huffman said. “And then I was with a pack, a big pack of everyone chasing him, and no one really went with Aaron, so I decided to just do that, do the work early in the race and don’t leave it up to a kick.”

That aggressiveness and the ability to run without fear is something Hovis said Huffman has had since his freshman year.

“It’s been really neat for him to continue to be the same person he was then that’s just fearless, totally proven by the… Foot Locker, where he just went for it and didn’t care,” Hovis said. “But now he has all the other stuff, the endurance and the speed and everything where it just pays off.”

Huffman spent the rest of the race trying to hang with Templeton and not be caught from behind.

He was surprised by his time when he crossed the finish line; it was only the second time in his career he had broken 15 minutes, the first coming earlier this season at the Great American Cross Country Festival.

He was so excited when he went into a tent to record the time that he could barely sit down and write.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I was so happy for it to be over and to have that.”

This won’t be Huffman’s first national race. He qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals last year, finishing 129th. He said that race was more about getting the experience of running in a national meet.

Huffman’s training this whole season has been geared toward being ready for the Foot Locker races. He didn’t want to peak at the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championships Oct. 25.

He was running hard workouts in preparation for the Foot Locker South Regional in the week leading up to the state meet.

He still managed to win a second-straight NCISAA state championship (15:24.39) and help his team to a fourth-straight team title.

Earlier in the season Huffman won the Race of Champions at the Great American Cross Country Festival in 14:59.4, the fastest time by an N.C. runner on the WakeMed Soccer Complex course in Cary.

He also set a state record on the Hagan Stone Park course in Pleasant Garden when he ran a 15:13.95 to win the Greensboro Cross Country Invitational.

“I’m a stat guy, so that’s a crazy statistic,” Hovis said of Huffman setting three state course records in a season. “And it’s not like the intention was ever, anywhere we went, it’s not like records were what you were after.”

Heading into the Foot Locker Nationals, Huffman has set a new goal for himself: Earn All-American status with a top-15 finish.

“Just compete, really,” he said. “Just see what everyone else is doing and just race, because the time doesn’t matter out there. So I’m just going to go out there and try to beat people.”

Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe

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