CONNELLSVILLE — Mason Stewart ran in the junior varsity race in last year’s FCCA Cross Country Championships.
The Uniontown sophomore made the move up to the varsity race this fall and sped past the field to become county champion in 18:05.8.
“I was not intending to set the pace. I was really worried about Zach (Bigam). I knew he’s always ready for a race,” explained Stewart.
Belle Vernon’s Luke Henderson and Noah Lerner set an early torrid pace, forcing Stewart, Bigam and the other leaders to keep up.
“I was going with (Henderson). I never go out that fast,” said Stewart.
Stewart was truly pleased with his county title-winning performance.
“This is the best I’ve felt after a race. I don’t know how to explain it,” said Stewart. “I don’t think I had any pressure on me.”
When Stewart pulled into the lead, he told himself, “I have to win.”
Teammate Leyton Maust wasn’t far behind in second place, crossing the finish line in 18:23.2.
Bigam lost a lot of the season because of a hip injury suffered in an earlier meet at Albert Gallatin, but had enough in his legs and lungs to finish third on his home course in 18:34.8.
“I thought (Henderson) went out way too fast,” said Bigam. “I tried to keep up with them. I went out a little slow in case I didn’t have the gas at the end.”
Bigam started to gain momentum on the field in during the second loop of the course.
“At the two-mile mark, right past the playground the second time around, I started to make my move. I was 11th and passed four at the two-mile mark,” said Bigam. “Then, on the lollipop loop the second time, I settled in.”
Henderson gathered himself from his fast start to pull into fourth place with a time of 18:42.5.
“I always start out quick. I don’t know why,” explained Henderson. “It usually doesn’t affect me when I start out quick. By the playground area, they started passing me.”
Henderson slipped back to seventh place before he worked his way back through the field.
“After that first loop, I told myself I have to start picking people off. I was seventh and moved up to fourth place at the end,” said Henderson.
As for his time, Henderson added, “It was pretty good for this course. It’s pretty narrow with a lot of sharp turns.”
Nathan Lucy (18:47.2), Titan Livingood (18:55.1), and Tanner Uphold (19:00.7) followed Henderson across the finish line to secure the team title for Uniontown with 21 points. Connellsville was second with 61 points.
Lehner placed eighth with a time of 19:09.3. The Falcons’ Seth Basinger was ninth in 19:20.3.
The biggest fight for positioning came for the 10th and final All-County berth between the Red Raiders’ Payton Hostetler and Albert Gallatin’s Gary Breakiron.
Breakiron made his move as the two turned towards the finish line, but Hostetler responded and pulled ahead in the final stretch to finish 10th in 19:22.9. Breakiron was 11th in 19:29.3.
Laurel Highlands’ Isaac Meeder was 16th with a time of 19:59.3, with teammate Joe Casteel trailing by three seconds.
Calvary Chapel Christian School’s Harrison Bommer was 18th with a time of 20:03.4 in the program’s first county meet.