State XC: Pleasant Valley boys overcome illness, injury to finish third

Nov. 5—OAKVILLE — Sometimes the biggest winners don't get to stay around for the awards ceremony. They get no trophy, blue or red.

What color represents strength?

Led by flu-stricken Cayden Nelson's fourth-place finish and Alec Vess' determined run with a hamstring injury, Pleasant Valley's boys finished third in the AHSAA Class 1A-2A cross country championship on Saturday at Oakville' Jesse Owens Park.

Macey Roper's 23rd-place finish helped Pleasant Valley's girls take seventh.

Boys' team champion Cold Springs and second-place finisher Hatton took their turns collecting trophies, but Pleasant Valley coach Brad Hood had nothing but praise for his team as rain fell around the Raiders' tent.

"With Cayden sick, and my No. 2 is hurt and 6 and 7 are sick, for them to come out and compete in these conditions and compete, I was proud of them," he said.

Nelson led the Raiders in 17:31.62. Rounding out their scoring runners were Braxton Williams (14th, 17:59.12), Jaden Veazey (17th, 18:12.61), Matthew Walden (26th, 19:00.22) and Vess (27th, 19:00.84).

Nelson came down with the flu Thursday, Hood said.

"He's one of those kids, he didn't want anybody on the team to know," Hood said. "He's a warrior. He finished fourth, but at the mile marker, he was 13th or 14th, so he mowed down a lot of people."

That Vess ran Saturday was a minor miracle. His right hamstring popped at Pleasant Valley's sectional meet Oct. 27.

"I was doing a kick, and I heard a loud snap, like a pop," he said. "I felt like my leg was messed up."

Normally Pleasant Valley's No. 2 runner, behind Nelson, Vess attempted to run with the injury but couldn't go on past the first mile. The senior cried as Hood consoled him.

Pleasant Valley finished second at sectional, qualifying as a team for the state meet. The question remained as to whether Vess could at Oakville.

"He couldn't even walk Monday," Hood said. "Wednesday, he did a mile at, like, a 10-minute pace."

Vess said the injury hurt for the first mile Saturday but stretched out after that.

"Still, I knew it wasn't the same, but I had to keep going," he said. "I looked at my team, and I knew that I needed to do my best for them. If we wanted to do good, I had to do what I could for them."

Cold Springs won with 44 points, 20 better than Hatton. Pleasant Valley had 83.

Hood said the Raiders likely could've finished second with a healthy Vess, but Vess' performance made a difference.

"Without him, we'd have been, probably, fifth or sixth," Hood said.

Vess saw the big picture.

"At the end of the day, as long as I made my team happy," he said, "that's all that matters."

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.