SMYRNA — This was the year Deja Rodriquez-Santiago decided to give cross country a shot.
It turns out the Milford High junior is the fastest girl in Kent County.
Rodriquez-Santiago ran the Blackbird State Forest course in 20:37 to top the field in the girls’ Kent County cross country championship on Tuesday afternoon. Smyrna High’s Tosin Ibironke won the boys’ race while Caesar Rodney High swept the team titles.
Rodriquez-Santiago is in her first year on the cross country team. She also plays field hockey for the Buccaneers.
“I’ve always had the love for running,” she said. “I finally gave it a shot and it’s amazing. This is really great for me.”
It was the first time Rodriguez-Santiago had ever ran at Blackbird State Forest.
Her field hockey schedule makes it difficult to practice with the Buccaneers. She said she has to train on her own in her free time.
In second place was another Milford High dual athlete, Rajene Bowe, who is teammates with Rodriquez-Santiago on the field hockey team. Bowe finished in 20:45 as Smyrna’s Abby Mace (20:56), Caesar Rodney’s Nikkie Beers (21:13) and CR’s Lauren Grismer (21:20) rounded out the top-five.
The Riders tied with Milford for the team championship and won the tiebreaker thanks to a better finish by their sixth-place runner — Katie Bole, who came in 17th.
Lake Forest finished third in the team standings.
Rodriquez-Santiago took the lead with about a half a mile to go and was able to hold off a hard-charging pack.
“I knew I had to wait it out and think smart about the race,” Rodriquez-Santiago said. “It’s a long race, it’s hard and enduring. At about 2.5 I knew I had to kick it in. Everyone was right behind me, the crowd was screaming and it was crazy. It was a good race with good competition and I congratulate everybody.”
Ibironke’s victory came with a new personal best time of 16:26 — two seconds better than his previous mark.
He said he was nervous he would be caught, but his strong sprint to the finish line helped him win by 23 seconds.
“I was scared for a second,” Ibironke said. “I was just sprinting, got out there and I don’t know what happened. I just had the strength and got through it. I felt really fast.”
Caesar Rodney’s Nate Twining was second with a time of 16:49, Lake Forest’s Drew Harris was third and also broke 17 minutes, finishing in 16:56.
Bryan Perry of Polytech ended up in fourth (17:06) and Dover’s Sean Saxton was fifth in 17:18.
Ibironke was part of a six-man breakaway right from the start and said he was able to get the lead with about a mile ago which was his plan.
“I didn’t really have a strategy,” Ibironke said. “The only strategy I had was at the last mile, pick it up. That was it. It worked out.”
Dover finished second to Caesar Rodney in the team standings and Smyrna was third.