Kinston's cross-country team makes strides in first season in 15 years
Kinston’s Crystal Bryant talks to Emanuel Fisher (left) and Niejel Wilkins before the Eastern Carolina Conference championship race Wednesday at South Lenoir High School. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
DEEP RUN | This year, Kinston had something the Vikings hadn’t in 15 years — a cross-country team.
Wednesday’s Eastern Carolina Conference championship marked the end of Kinston’s season, the first since bringing cross-country back. Vikings coach Crystal Bryant said the team members had to learn how to prepare for matches in comparison to what they’re used to during the winter and spring.
“It’s different than track and field,” Bryant said. “We’ve got a lot of sprinters on the team and I had to explain to them early these are two different sports. They’re definitely adjusting and looking to get ready for the indoor season.”
Kinston hadn’t been able to qualify as a team in matches due to numbers — the requirement is five per gender and the Vikings have done meets with up to three boys and four girls — Bryant said some of the runners turned heads in the very first race.
“We had our first meet with North Lenoir, West Craven and Greene Central, and two guys finished in the top three,” Bryant said. “Emanuel Fisher won the race and Niejel Wilkins finished third, which really opened some eyes. They finished second and fourth in the next race and have always been in the Top 10.”
The trend continued in the ECC championships as Fisher placed fourth and Wilkins finished ninth. Fisher, who hadn’t competed for Kinston sports-wise, said he wanted to try out for the track team this year and saw cross-country as a way to improve.
“It’s something new, and I wanted to come out here and do my best,” Fisher said. “This helped me with competition and I can’t wait for the indoor track season.”
Wilkins has participated in track events such as the 400 meter dash, triple jump and long jump for the Vikings. Wilkins said Bryant got him interested in cross-country and he enjoyed the challenge.
“It’s really helped me with conditioning and endurance,” Wilkins said. “It also helps me to keep a good mindset and always keep my feet moving.”
While Wilkins and Fisher are seniors, the girls’ team has several years to continue working on the skillset. Sophomore Mekaylind Kilpatrick said she was happy to be a part of the team and it will help her in the upcoming season.
“I was looking to get in shape for indoor track season, and this has helped,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s a good feeling to be a part of something like this.”
Bryant said she hopes the Vikings continue running cross-country, even with the loss of Fisher and Wilkins to graduation after this school year.
“We’ll keep looking to bring people in,” Bryant said. “Hopefully we can build upon this year and get even stronger.”