With one of the top teams in North Carolina, the Cary High boys cross country team would be a shoe-in for a top-10, possibly a top-5, team finish in the NCHSAA 4-A state cross country championships on Nov. 3.
Theres a catch, however. The Imps must first earn a spot in the state meet by placing among the top four teams at Saturdays 4-A Mideast Regional race at SAS Soccer Park.
Theres the rub. Because Cary is in a region that includes most of the best teams in the state, coach Jerry Dotsons harriers must pull off a huge upset just to earn a spot in the state meet. There are no at-large bids in a system that has had Triangle cross country coaches upset for more than a decade.
With Broughton, Enloe and Green Hope all favored to land among the top four Saturday, the Imps are hoping to overtake two-time defending state champion Chapel Hill for the fourth spot.
With a strong runner-up finish last week in the Tri-Eight Conference meet, won by Green Hope 24-58, the Cary boys proved they belong among the states big boys, but knocking off Chapel Hill Saturday will probably require a perfect day for the Imps and a sub-par performance by the Tigers.
The Imps can do their part, but few expect Chapel Hill, which easily won the Pac-6 Conference meet last week with 26 points, to fold with a trip to the state meet on the line.
Our boys are on the outside looking in, Dotson said. We cant touch Enloe and Broughton, and Green Hope beat us. My boys team is probably sitting fifth or sixth (in the state) right now.
Dotson says his boys will have to each run their fastest times ever by 20 seconds each for us to have a chance.
Cary sophomore Mohamed Abushouk, who was the surprise individual winner at the Tri-Eight meet, says the Cary boys know its a long shot, but they have hope and talent. Even discussing the task at hand left Abushouk with a couple of incomplete sentences.
Enloe, Broughton and Green Hope will probably make it to states pretty easily, Abushouk said. lf we can beat Chapel Hill
Like his coach, Abushouk says the Imps will have to pull off a major upset Saturday to make it to states.
Its going to take perfect conditions and a 100 percent effort by our team, he said. If Chapel Hill has a bad day, and we give it our all
Dotson is among several area coaches who have contacted the NCHSAA to ask if something can be done to even out the regional races so teams like the Cary boys dont have to worry about missing the state meet.
Im not asking for a quick fix, just asking them to take a long-term look, he said.
With the Cary girls, a trip to the state meet looks more promising, especially after last weeks win over Green Hope, which snapped the Falcons five-year run of Tri-Eight titles. Led by senior Kristen Azarelos runner-up finish, the Imps placed their five scorers among the top 11 to easily defeat Green Hope 33-51.
I really think our girls have a really, really good chance of making it, Dotson said.
Dotson will have four senior veterans to count on Saturday morning. In addition to Azarelo, seniors Brittany Estermyer, Amy Lansing and Christine Dragonette will toe the starting line for the Imps at the regional.
Like the Cary boys, the Apex girls, who were third with 65 points in the Tri-Eight meet, have to run their best to have a chance of advancing to the state meet.
Leading the Apex girls, as she has for the last four years, will be senior Andie Cozzarelli, who won three Tri-Eight titles during her prep career, including last weeks 61-second win over Azarelo.
Even with a lingering iron deficiency, Cozzarelli, a three-time state 4-A individual runner-up, can overwhelm her competition.
I feel good, Cozzarelli said.
Cozzarelli says her team has a good chance to advance to the state meet.
The whole team hasnt really performed as well as it can yet this year, she said. So Im hoping if they perform like their best, I think we have a chance.