CARBONDALE — Even with all his accomplishments and accolades, Carbondale cross country phenom Alex Partlow had never ran a home race until Wednesday.
And as expected, Partlow put on quite a show as he won the boys race of the South Seven Conference Championship by nearly two minutes.
Yes, nearly two minutes.
Partlow blasted off from the starting line at the Southern Illinois University course and crossed the finish line in 14 minutes, 43.37 seconds. The second-place runner, Marion's Logan Morgan, came in at 16:34.44.
"I went out so fast," Partlow said laughing. "It was my first ever home meet. I was having fun. I didn't want to get boxed in. I was just trying to escape the group."
That fast start led to a painful stretch, but Partlow pushed through.
"I was trying not to die," he said. "I was barely surviving. But I'm not going to quit. So I had to do something."
Only two things have slowed Partlow down this season. The first is some plantar fasciitis — that wasn't an issue Wednesday — and the other is Carbondale coach Greg Storm.
Storm wasn't an issue Wednesday, either.
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"Today was hands off," Storm said. "This was the first time I said he could go. Normally we have to strategize and work through things. Today I took the reins off and said go ahead. He was a little quick through the first mile and probably suffered a little on the back part, the hardest part, but I knew he could go under 15 minutes. I just didn't know how much.
"If he can stay healthy and keep progressing, the sky is the limit for him right now. I think he's put himself in a really good position to have success."
Morgan's finish as runner-up helped Marion claim the team trophy as the Wildcats scored just 31 points with Benja Stone and Jack Gregory placing fourth and fifth in 16:43.01 and 16:53.43, respectively.
Marion actually had six runners take home all-conference medals as Mekye Lomas (7th, 17:00.05), Christopher LaChiana (9th, 17:07.57) and Noah Gilley (10th, 17:25.06) also placed in the top 10.
"I'm really satisfied with today," said Marion head coach Mykel Gary. "I'm happy that we won obviously. This is a big win for us. But we have to keep it rolling. We've got to keep the momentum going and try to run faster every race."
Marion also won the team title last year even with Carbondale's Partlow and Tucker Poshard taking the top two spots. The Wildcats defended their title Wednesday even with Mount Vernon placing Trey Mygatt (3rd, 16:42.53), Chalin Bathon (6th, 16:54.53) and Caedmon Cook (8th, 17:00.34) all in the top 10.
Gary hopes his team's results continue to improve in the postseason.
"Honestly, in my opinion, we're not where we need to be yet," he said. "I think we should make it out of regionals if we do our job, but I know when we get to that sectional we're going to have to run. We're going to have to drop some times and run really well. But the goal is to get there."
In the girls race, Carbondale senior Anna Schurz had a nearly-as-dominant performance as Partlow as she crossed first in 19:44.14, over a minute before Althoff's Claire Nash (20:56.06).
Schurz's strategy was simple.
"Go out hard and work those hills in the middle part," she said. "Then it's just finish hard."
Storm, who also coaches the Carbondale girls, said Schurz has been improving steadily all season, even while splitting time with soccer in St. Louis.
"Anna is leading the way," Storm said. "She's starting to come into her own in terms of having that chance for a sectional qualifier and state qualifier."
Carbondale's depth came through to win the team trophy as Olivia Mathias placed fourth (22:22.34) and Olivia Buffington was sixth (22:52.74) to give the Terriers a trio of all-conference runners.
They nearly didn't have enough for a full team.
"We have five girls and we got one cleared today after three weeks off," Storm said. "We weren't sure how today would look but good news happened."
Schurz essentially became a cheerleader after her quick finish to help guide Carbondale to the title.
"We all did really well so I'm proud of our girls," Schurz said. "We mentally prepped together and talked before the race and we're always there to support each other because it's very much a mental sport. It's tough."
Most of the South Seven teams will see each other again on Oct. 23 at the Highland 2A Regional held at Alhambra Fireman and Legion Park starting with the girls race at 10 a.m.