Polytech, IR, Cape runners make history at Henlopen

The top four leaders, from left, Indian River’s Brynn Crandell, Smyrna’s Alyssa Young, Cape’s Katie Kuhlman and Lake Forest’s Josephine Ledford, run in a pack during the girls’ Henlopen Cross Country Championship at Killens Pond near Felton on Saturday. Crandell won the girls’ individual crown at the championship meet. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

FELTON — The amazing thing about Brynn Crandell is that she’s barely started her career as a distance runner.

“You can count the number of cross country races she’s run in her entire life on one hand,” said Indian River High coach Rick Hundley.

Like Crandell, Polytech’s Kenny Guy was running for a program that had never had an individual Henlopen Conference champion in cross country before.

But both runners made history for their schools as Crandell took the girls’ crown while Guy won the boys’ title at the Henlopen Conference championship meet at Killens Pond State Park on Saturday.

First three in front of the first group, from left, Polytech’s Kenneth Guy, Cape’s Ryan Baker and Caesar Rodney’s Blaise Moyer during the boys’ Henlopen Cross Country Championship at Killens Pond near Felton on Saturday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Also, Cape Henlopen swept both the boys’ and girls’ teams titles for the first time in its history on the warm, sunny November day.

Just a freshman, IR’s Crandell raised some eyebrows by covering the 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 10.4 seconds — 25.2 seconds ahead of second-place Josephine Ledford of Lake Forest (19:35.6), the defending champion.

Tim Bamforth, of the race organizing-Seashore Striders, said the 14-year-old Crandell is one of the “strongest” freshman runners he’s seen in his 38 years watching the event.

“She’s very focused, she’s very determined,” said Hundley. “She races well beyond her years. .. She’s running just over six-minute miles as a freshman.”

“I was expecting like top five,” said Crandell. “But after the mile, when I was in the lead, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ … It’s just amazing. I love having the competition with everyone.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” she said about being the first IR girls’ cross country conference champion. “I think all the runners are amazing. They all work very hard. … It’s just crazy is the only word I can use to describe it — just crazy exciting.”

IR has only had a girls’ cross country program for less than a decade. This fall, Crandell and fellow freshman Heather Smyth are the only girls running for the Indians.

Lake Forest’s Ledford had bettered Crandell by just over a minute during the regular season. But the junior knew the youngster was capable of putting up a good time.

Crandell’s clocking on Saturday was 1:06 faster than in the first meeting, which was held at Lake Forest.

“She definitely had a good day,” said Ledford, who is dealing with a foot injury. “I’m not upset with losing to her. She’s a strong freshman. I think it’s good that she put it all out there today.”

While he runs for Polytech, Guy is from Felton, so he knows the Killens Pond course as well as anyone.

Guy (16:20.8) and second-place finisher and fellow Panther Matt Gatune (16:28.6) finished comfortably ahead of the pack. Caesar Rodney’s Blaise Moyer (16:36.9), the defending champion, placed third.

Coming into the race, Guy knew he had a chance to make some school history.

“I knew it hadn’t been done before,” said the junior. “I wanted to get it now since the opportunity was there. … I’ve run this course a lot. I like coming here because this is kind of where it started for me.”

The two Polytech runners thought they had a shot at going 1-2 in the race since they’d finished there much of the regular season.

“We just wanted to come here and get it done,” said Gatune, who is from Smyrna. “If I wanted to finish second to anybody, it’s Kenny.”

All-around it was a pretty good day for the Panthers, who finished third as a team, just one point behind second-place CR. Polytech’s Czar Bloom was also named the Henlopen Coach of the Year for the boys.

“Kenny and Matt, the two of them together, have just been a 1-2 punch since they came in as freshman,” said Bloom. “They work extremely hard. They’re extremely disciplined and great kids in the classroom.

“And they had goals set. The two of them plus all other runners worked extremely hard during this COVID shutdown all summer long. They’ve never relented after their gals.”

Cape Henlopen’s boys’ and girls’ squads got to finish the day taking a big group photo with their championship trophies.

The Viking boys came in with 39 points, 22 lower than second-place CR. Ethan Edery (16:48.0), Ryan Baker (16:55.1) and Julian Callaway (16:56.1) finished 4-5-6 as Cape won it second-straight boys’ crown.

It was a little more difficult for the Viking girls after their No. 4 runner had to drop out midway through the race because of injury. Cape, though, still put up 53 points to out-distance second-place CR (76 points).

Katie Kuhlman placed third overall (20:00.2) with Mia Nuebling took ninth (21:19.3) for the Vikings.

Matt Lindell, who coaches both Cape teams, was especially happy for the girls’ squad. It was their first Henlopen team title since 2009.

“Just seeing the excitement on the girls’ faces. … ,” said Lindell, who was voted the girls’ Coach of the Year. “The kids had confidence in what they could do. They went out there and performed well today.”

The Henlopen runners will be back at Killens Pond next Saturday for the DIAA state meet. Several teams and individuals left the course believing they had a chance for a strong showing in the states.

“There’s definitely a little bit of pressure,” said Guy. “People want to us do well and get in that top three.”