Until the Wendy’s Invitational meet on Oct. 4, Alex Cornwell’s cross-country season was right on track. Then things got even better.
The Hickory Ridge junior had finished in first or second place in most of his previous meets, but when he placed second in the 5K at the prestigious Wendy’s meet while running a personal best time, Cornwell’s season-long goals got a little loftier.
Cornwell completed the race at Charlotte’s McAlpine Creek Greenway Park in 15 minutes, 40 seconds. He now believes he could run a time below 15:30 by season’s end, nearing the Cabarrus County record of 15:26, which was set by Jay M. Robinson’s Braedon Koerwitz in 2010.
Cornwell and his Hickory Ridge teammates have two meets left. The 3A Midwest Regional will be held Oct. 25 at McAlpine, one of Cornwell’s favorite courses, and the 3A state meet will take place Nov. 1 at Kernersville’s Beeson Park.
After placing 14th at last year’s state meet, one of Cornwell’s goals is to finish in the top 10 and earn an all-state nod. Placing well to help his team’s score is one of his motivators.
“I think Alex is having an awesome season,” said Jennifer Duft, Hickory Ridge’s first year coach. “The PR (personal record) at Wendy’s was a long time coming. As a coach, I was waiting for that to come. He was stuck at 16:00.”
An All-South Piedmont 3A Conference runner since his freshman year, Cornwell is now a seasoned veteran. He has become more disciplined as a runner while learning how to train properly and growing in his understanding of the importance of his team.
“He’s always very focused on his workouts and what he needs to do to recover,” said Duft. “He knows how many days he needs to go hard and easy. I don’t tell him what the workouts are going to be. He already knows what he’s going to do. It’s worked well.”
This summer, Cornwell said he ran about 60-70 miles per week. With other quality runners returning this season – like seniors Vikash Kumar, Mike McLaughlin and Sam Rupp – the Ragin’ Bulls started talking about qualifying for the state championships as a team.
In the season opening Providence Invitational at McAlpine, Cornwell placed ninth by running a time of 16:00. The team finished a disappointing 14th.
But at the Cannon School Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 6, Cornwell bested a field of 149 competitors, and the Ragin’ Bulls finished first as a team. A week later at the Weddington Invitational, Cornwell finished second, while the team placed third.
Cornwell nabbed second place again at an SPC preconference meet in Salisbury. He was runner-up to China Grove Carson’s Zachary Marchinko, Cornwell’s top conference rival.
On Sept. 30, Cornwell took first at the Cabarrus County Championships, beating the rest of the field by 50 seconds. McLaughlin and Kumar had top ten finishes, and Hickory Ridge won the team title.
All the while, Cornwell couldn’t get below 16:00. He shocked himself when he ran 20 seconds faster than that at the Wendy’s race.
“I was not expecting to run that,” he said. “I was expecting 15:50, and I just stuck with the guy ahead of me and got 15:40. Ten seconds is a lot to me.”
“I knew his hard work would pay off,” said Duft. “He likes to joke around, but he is the most focused athlete I have ever coached.”
In addition to Cornwell and the seniors, some other Hickory Ridge underclassmen have run fine races this season, including McLaughlin’s brother Kevin, a freshman. At the Wendy’s race, the Bulls finished fourth.
“I feel like if you run for the team, you’ll run better than if you run for yourself,” said Cornwell. “If you run with only yourself in mind, you will give up easier.”