By Donald Heath
GUYTON — Candace Kieffer has a problem a lot of cross country runners probably wouldn’t mind experiencing — running all alone in front of the pack.
The Effingham County junior started fast and left the field in the dust to win the Honey Ridge 5K Invitational by more than a 1:24 Saturday.
Kieffer’s performance helped the Rebels’ girls team place third in the seven-team race behind Frederica Academy and South Effingham.
In the boys’ portion of the race, SEHS rode the second-place, third-place and fourth-place finishes of Tyler Phillips, Jacob Mitchell and Cailan Howard respectively to capture the boys team competition.
Perhaps Kieffer’s run stole the show in the rural, grassy plantation setting. Just three days earlier, she set a school cross country record by posting a time of 19:29.45 at the Southern Georgia Cross Country Championships in Hazlehurst.
“(Running in front) is something I have to learn,” Kieffer said. “Instead of focusing on somebody beside you, you’re focusing on yourself and it just amplifies everything. It’s so much harder.”
The level of difficulty hardly shows on Kieffer, who has won all four ECHS races she’s entered this season. She has also run out of state to gain more experience. The ultimate goal is improving on her third-place finish at region last season and producing a good showing at state.
Kieffer was at her best in Hazlehurst when she topped Catherine Hall’s previous school record of 19:43.60.
“(The course) was flat and there weren’t many turns and the weather was nice,” Kieffer said. “There were some girls who went out with me (pushing the pace at the start) so the competition helped.”
At the Honey Ridge Plantation, Kieffer opened a 30- to 40-yard lead during the first leg of the race and breezed to a time of 20:00.
“I was hoping to get (a time in the 19 minutes), but I guess it’s good. I tried my hardest,” Kieffer said.
Rebels teammate Megan Hilton was third with a time of 21:30.44.
SEHS was paced by Cheyenne Ryan’s sixth-place time of 21:59.04. Diya Patel was the second Mustang across the finish line and ninth overall with a time of 22:34.97.
Lily McDonald (23:06.57, 11th), Madison Lockhart (23:18.86, 12th) and Mia Fitzpatrick (24:04.18, 15th) rounded out SEHS’ scorers.
For Effingham County, Brooke Maseda (24:25.44, 17th), Shelby Hilton (24:30.63, 18th) and Olivia Lott (24:55.45, 25th) rounded out the Rebels’ top five.
In the boys race, Phillips, a freshman, had a personal-best time of 16:46.25, topping his 16:56 on Jekyll Island on Sept. 5.
On the Honey Ridge Plantation course, Phillips finished behind Southeast Bulloch’s Avery Jaynes, who ran a 16:20.96.
The Mustangs won the boys teams competition with their depth. Mitchell (16:57.44, 3rd), Cailan Howard (17:11.03, 4th), Joey Burdick (18:15.61, 7th) and Julian Howard (18:40.62, 11th), along with Phillips, comprised the team’s top five.
SEHS finished with 27 points; SEB was second with 41 points. (Lowest score in cross country wins.)
Effingham County’s boys placed a distance third with 100 points.
The Rebels’ five scorers were Seth Moye (18:50.06, 13th), Levi Thomas (18:52.51, 14th), Will Collins (20:16.38, 23rd), Amari Branch (20:47.75, 29th) and Dalton Meng (21:20.55, 31st).