There were nine runners packed together at the mile mark; 4:51. No one wanted to lead the race, it was inevitable though, there could only be one winner.
Mile two came around and the lead pack diminished to four; 10 flat. It was apparent that even with less-than-ideal course conditions, the time would still be blistering fast for the champion of small schools.
Three boys, Samuel Prakel, Cory Glines and Kyle Polman, each hustled up the final hill closely intact, with Prakel making a race-deciding surge that would bring him through the finishing chute first, in 15:32.60. Glines tried reeling him in, finishing a strong second in 15:36.16. Polman would come in three seconds later, 15:39.12.
"It's intimidating running out with the state champion [Versailles' Prakel]. He was two [starting] blocks down from us and you got 400 meters in and he's right there. It's a little intimidating." Old Fort's Marcus Meyer said.
Prakel has a reason to be intimidating, he won the same race last year and as a freshman (he was sixth as a sophomore).
Just over a minute later, Meyer came charging through in 13th (16:47.56), leading all area runners, followed closely by Seneca East's Jared Stockmaster (16th, 16:49.76). Seneca East would throw in three more guys before the next area runner, Calvert's Austin Schultz (43rd, 17:24.4) crossed.
"[Austin] ran extremely well today for us. He had a very good finish, much better than he's done in years past. He's improved every race compared to previous years.
As for Meyer, he met his goal, as he was hoping for top 15.
"Just figured I'd go out and see how long I'd stay with that front pack. It paid off. Normally I hit my wall after the mile mark, so I figured if I could stay with those front guys until I was at the top of the hill [after the first mile], I'd be okay, and that's what happened."
Old Fort Coach Tony Miller couldn't have been more excited either.
"Marcus ran great. He PR'd all the way across the board. It's the best he's ever ran here. He got out great with them and he went with it. He ran real good." Miller said.
Seneca East ended the race with 167 points, 41 points behind Cortland Maplewood (126). Minster (196) and Garaway (197) took third and fourth.
Seneca East head coach Doug Mason couldn't remember the last time Seneca East finished so high at the Carnival.
Yet, even in the highest of highs, there's room to improve
"We're happy with it. Obviously you're that close, you want to win the race. We had guys have great days we had some guys have so-so days. To not have your best day and come out and get second is definitely a good sign of where we're at at this point of the season." Mason said.
Carson Pipher was the next Seneca East runner to finish, ending 22nd (16:55.52). Twin brother Wes finished five seconds and six spots behind (28th, 17:00.31) while Karl Burgderfer (36th, 17:18.69) and Michael Szabo (65th, 17:48.41) rounded out the top five.
"We're going to have to get closer to their top guy, they gained some points there and we're going to have to have our fourth and fifth move up a little bit." Mason said.
The Tigers ran without their No. 1 guy from last season Jason Willman.
"He's going to come back and he'll be fine. He's obviously going to cut down some points off our team score. Last year he ran with that (Jonathan) Albaugh kid from New London all year long. You put that score in this race and we probably win it by 20 points." Mason said. "Not many teams are missing their number one runner right now. You throw him in on a solid performance like this and we're obviously a team to reckon with."
Stockmaster, who has finished third all season for the team, was the first man for the day, something that Mason looks forward to seeing more often.
"He had a great day, I think he's still trying, figuring this race out. He's a very talented individual and he's still figuring out how fast he can actually go and a race like this pushed him. His teammates we're behind him and he just kept going forward. That's a great sign for him to breakout and have a big race. Hopefully he can build on it and challenge those guys to come back and beat him." Mason said.
It's still early in the season but Mason has high hopes at the state level.
"We've got work to do. We gotta keep working hard and of course you gotta stay healthy. The hope is to try to peak on that given day" Mason stated.
Hopewell-Loudon's Chet Swartzmiller had a great day, finishing 68th (17:49.73).
"Chet, ran 17 for the first time ever, so that's a nice career PR for him" Hopewell-Loudon head coach Marie Coleman said.
Just because Division III is small on numbers, doesn't mean it's short on talent. The top 3 runners (Prakel, Glines and Polman) would have finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th in the Division I-A race. Also, the winning time in the Division II (16:20.54) would have been 10th in the Division III-A race.
"It's amazing how tough Division III is. It just goes to show you the quality of coaching and the quality of athletes in small schools; they're second to none. This is just a great event. We have a big following of fans here and a lot of parents that are new to cross country, like at our junior high levels. You can just see them looking around and they're like 'this is impressive.'" Mason said.
One thing is for sure, the competition level in the Division III-A race was nothing short of remarkable.
"3.1 miles is 3.1 miles, whether you are from a big school or small school, people respect what you do," Mason said. "I'm sure today, we got a lot of respect for Division III."