HIGH SCHOOL CROSS COUNTRY
CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Leilehua's Bryce Jenkins received a rare challenge from Christian Liberty runner Keoni Ucker yesterday.
Solid strategy brings Jenkins a state championship
Quick thinker, fast feet.
Bryce Jenkins was more than a calculating runner yesterday. The Leilehua sophomore captured his first Honolulu Marathon/Hawaii High School Athletic Association cross country state championship.
The nimble harrier competed with verve, fighting off a major challenge from Keoni Ucker of Christian Liberty to rally past a handful of competitors in the final half-mile. The Oahu Interscholastic Association champion finished the hilly, grassy 3-mile course at Central Oahu Regional Park with a time of 16 minutes and 23 seconds. He crossed the finish line 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Mac Crommett of Hawaii Prep.
"I'm tired, but I feel very fulfilled and blessed," said Jenkins, who enjoyed the company of both parents. His dad, Bruce, was deployed to Kuwait this year, but returned home due to a family illness and was on hand to watch his son race.
Unlike previous races, where Jenkins usually led from start to finish, he found himself pushed hard by Ucker. The Big Island runner had posted the best times in the state along with Jenkins through the regular season before succumbing to exhaustion in last week's league championship meet.
Ucker collapsed three times in the final 100 yards in the BIIF finals and wound up third.
He found himself in a similar scenario in yesterday's race. After the first lap around the facility's soccer field, he roared uphill alongside Jenkins.
It was not a surprising sight for cross country fans, and certainly not unexpected for the two competitors.
"I was planning on holding to Ucker. I was trying to get some distance on him on the hills, but he's good on the hills, too," Jenkins said.
Ucker, a 6-footer, towered over the Mules runner. Jenkins, who trained often with his teammates at the course over the past month, saved some gas for the stretch. By the time the harriers came downhill for the final half-mile, Jenkins was behind several runners.
"There were 10 or 12 people who got in front. I didn't want to get too far behind," he said. "I wasn't nervous. I just ran my race. It's a state race, so everybody takes off fast."
Jenkins kicked it into high gear and zoomed past the pack on the straightaway. Ucker began to struggle and never made up the lost ground.
Iolani senior Kon Weber was a close third at 16:40, followed by Honokaa's Travis Larsen-Helbing (16:42) and Jake Shiraki (16:49). Ucker wound up sixth (16:52).
Kamehameha won its second team championship in three years, scoring 79 points to win handily.
"They got out a little slower than I liked, but it might have helped a few guys. They continually moved up," coach Steve Jenness said. "This course can wear you down more than it looks like it would."
The Warriors led a host of challengers, including the rising team at Leilehua (107 points). Leilehua placed second after a fourth-place finish in last year's championships.
Kamehameha's top runner was Nathan Nakatsuka, who was eighth overall (17:16). "Coach last night told us to give all our effort," he said.
Iolani finished third (109), followed by Honokaa (138) and Punahou (162).