By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — South Effingham’s Tyler Phillips breezed to a first-place finish at the Honey Ridge 5K Invitational on Thursday but he wanted more — a course record.
A slightly softer turf and a slightly different layout of the Honey Ridge Plantation course factored in Phillips’ time of 16:33.29 — about 13 seconds faster than his time last year — but still a little more than 12 seconds behind Southeast Bulloch’s Avery Jaynes’ record of 16:20.96.
“There will be other chances. I’ll get it next time,” said Phillips, an unapologetic sophomore who will be eyeing other opportunities for region championships and higher placements at state as well.
On the Honey Ridge course, Phillips led from start to finish while holding off teammate Cailan Howard (16:51.72) and Savannah Arts’ Brogden Steele in the boys race.
SEHS won the boys team title with the help of scorers Joey Burdick (17:58.15, sixth), Caiden Mason (18:41.19, 10th) and Karistopher Gadsden (18:55.19).
In the girls race, South Effingham placed second as a team. Cheyenne Ryan (21:40.94) led the Mustangs with a fourth-place finish. Rounding out SEHS’ top five girls were Mia Fitzpatrick (23:02.16, eighth), Lily McDonald (23:22.42, ninth), Madison Lockhart (23:36.36, 11th) and Melanie Ripley (23:37.32, 12th).
Savannah Arts placed first among the six girls teams. Seven teams competed in the boys meet.
But maybe all eyes were on Phillips, who seems to be fully recovered from a tendon injury that limited his hip flexibility last spring in track.
Phillips was the Region 2-AAAAAA cross country champion and his fourth-place finish at state (along with Howard’s fifth-place showing) helped the Mustangs to a school-best, second-place team finish at state.
Phillips said bike work and “a whole lot of stretching” in the summer helped him return to form this cross country season.
“I’d like to be a little faster than I am right now, but this is close enough,” Phillips said. “I’m hoping to be the top sophomore in the state.”
SEHS coach Laura Soles said Fartlek training — interval training of surging, then running at a normal pace — will help Phillips improve speed.
Phillips didn’t strategize too much Thursday, taking the lead from the start, opening up a safe cushion, and maintaining.
He lost recently to Howard at Wayne County by overthinking.
“I want to make sure I’m the one in charge, not reacting,” Phillips said.
It will be his strategy in the big races ahead. The Mustangs will run at Wayne County again on Thursday and Phillips will have another crack at the Honey Ridge Plantation record on Oct. 21.
The region championships will be held at Jekyll Island on Oct. 28 and the Class AAAAAA state championships is at Carrollton on Nov. 5.
The last time Phillips ran in Carrollton — the Carrollton Orthopaedic Invitational on Sept. 11 — his shoe came off during the final kilometer.
He didn’t stop to put it back on and finished 27th, about 15 seconds slower than last year at state.
“We were less than three minutes from the finish so I was (thinking), ‘Just go,’ ” Phillips said.