By BEN JOHNSON
Jason Proctor will undoubtedly be saving money on razors for the next two months. He has Zech VanFleet to thank for that.
VanFleet coasted to a first-place finish at the Early Tiger Invitational on Thursday, recording a cross country meet record, 12 minutes, 34 seconds, at Tahlequah’s home running course.
“I had a bet with Coach Proctor,” said VanFleet, a Tahlequah junior. “If I got the course record, we were going to grow his beard out until after the state meet. I did that and I’m pretty excited about that.”
VanFleet didn’t just set the new meet record — he demolished it. VanFleet replaced Broken Arrow’s Justin Swake as the new record holder, eclipsing the old mark of 12:51 and beating it by 17 seconds.
“My beard is going to get a little longer,” said Proctor, Tahlequah’s coach. “But you know, to encourage my team to do a little bit more — not that they need a lot of encouragement, because they’re pretty self-disciplined — I’ll play along. And my wife has agreed to play along, as well.”
The Class 5A state meet at Edmond Santa Fe High School won’t be until Nov. 2, so Proctor should arrive in central Oklahoma with an ample amount of facial hair.
“My beard will grow at least for a couple more months,” Proctor said. “And, hey, who knows, it might be our little symbol for the season. If we can keep this rolling.”
VanFleet set the pace for the Tigers, and his teammates responded by posting three other top-10 finishes. In the end, the Tigers posted 30 points, beating Sequoyah by 44 points.
“Very impressed,” Proctor said of his team’s season-opening performance. “...They all went out and executed their plan perfectly. They were conservative early and made a move late.”
Tahlequah’s Mo Bassime came in fourth at 13:11, beating out his teammate, Braxton Hood, by three seconds (13:14). Also for Tahlequah, Aaron Eversole (13:51) was 10th and Michael Spears (14:01) was 12th.
Terrance Nofire posted Sequoyah’s best finish in third place at 12:52. Kansas’ Seth Whittington was second at 12:47.
On the girls side, Keys’ Ali Andrews posted a time of 7:57 and came in second place overall in the 2,000-meter race. Stilwell’s Sydney Lawrence — last year’s Class 4A state champion — won the race, beating Andrews by 29 seconds at 7:28.
Amy Hembree (8:03) led Tahlequah with a third-place finish. Gracie Medellin (8:11) wasn’t far behind Hembree in fourth place.
“I didn’t know what to expect since it was the first race,” Hembree said. “But it was really fun.”
Kayla Davis paced all Sequoyah finishers with a fifth-place showing at 8:17.
Entering its first season without three-time state champion Jessica Hembree, Tahlequah won the team title with 42 points. Sequoyah (101) was second and Warner (105) was third.
“We felt like we ended last year on a sour note, losing to Metro Christian in the state meet,” said Tahlequah coach Elzy Miller, whose team finished 20 points behind Metro Christian at the 2012 state meet.
“...Amy came through today and ran really well. Gracie ran pretty well, and we had some kids who ran the races of their career.”
Tahlequah’s next meet will be Sept. 12 at Collinsville.