Howland runners again on top
Tigers capture 6th consecutive Niles Invitational race
By JOHN HARRIS
Like clockwork, the Howland boys cross country team won the Niles Invitational Saturday at sun-splashed Stevens Park.
What wasn’t expected was a career-best performance by Jefferson junior Brandon Park, who turned a late kick into a first-place individual finish.
Park’s time of 16:51 on the 5K course resulted in his first career victory. Park overtook Howland sophomore Vincent Mauri over the final 30 meters to record his first sub-17 minute finish.
“I was a little bit surprised. There are other good runners out there,” said Park, who specializes in the 200 meters in track. “I just had that motivation that I wanted to win.”
Park navigated the race near the front among a group that featured four Howland runners.
“I wanted to stay with the front pack,” he said. “If I was with them toward the end, I was using my kick.”
Park lifted Jefferson to a third-place finish in the team standings, behind Howland and McDonald.
For Howland, which placed four runners in the top five, it was business as usual in capturing a sixth consecutive Niles Invitational.
“I’m really happy with the performance of our top three,” Howland coach Dan Libert said. “We’re getting our fourth and fifth runners to close that gap.”
Libert credited senior Ethan Neff, who finished third, with mentoring Mauri, his younger teammate. Neff was Howland’s top runner last year.
“Ethan took him under his wing,” Libert said. “It takes a lot for him to go from No. 1 last year to No. 2 and not pout.”
In the girls individual 5K race, Southeast freshman Hannah Schill won in a time of 20:41. Southeast won the team event ahead of McDonald and Niles.
“I like this course. I was hoping to do well,” Schill said. “My first two races were not how I need to run, so I wanted to come back strong.”
Schill was among four Southeast freshmen and sophomores to finish in the Top 10.
“We’re looking long term. We have a young team with all freshmen and sophomores in our top five runners,” Southeast coach Becky Dunn said. “Our 6-7-8 runners are seniors. They bring a lot of leadership.”
Trinity junior Carli Sparks finished second in a time of 21:01 on her 16th birthday.