2016 State Cross Country Meet Recap
I've had some time to digest the results of this year's state championships. It's clearly been one of the best state meets in quite some time. The weather was ideal. And without the mud, the course was in great shape and fast. There were seven guys dropping below the 16 minute mark across all four of the divisions. Carter Cheeseman running in his last state cross country championship in Tennessee made sure he was leaving his mark with a very fast 15:54.04. That was about twenty five seconds faster than his last year's state championships time. He won the D2AA division with that time and led his Brentwood Academy team to the win as well.
As impressive as Carter's time was, a couple of neighbors down the road from Brentwood High finished off the day with an even more sterling end to the day of races. Brody Hasty and Taylor Vroon went out hard, like 4:45 mile hard! Daniel Boone's Ben Varghese was with them but unfortunately had problems later on and had to drop out. But his fast early pace helped Brody and Taylor make this a one-two race for the Brentwood athletes. And so they kept it up. Brody finished first in 15:09.07 and Taylor right behind him in 15:10.71. By the way, those two performances were better than the best ever performances for the State Championships.
This one race now holds the top two spots on the best ever list for this race. So, running a 15:37.54 would normally win this race most years. Titus Winders ran that time to get into third place after passing the mile mark in seventh place. So, you pick off runners as you strategically move up in the placing and run that time and get third. So yea, this day was not for the weak, that's for sure. Right behind Titus was Alex Crigger (Science Hill) and Jackson Vroon (Brentwood High) run in 15:49.75 and 15:53.23 to wind up the top five in this division and all under sixteen minutes for a 5K.
That's six athletes so far below the sixteen mark at one day of races. The last of the six was Webb School of Knoxville's Carter Coughlin. Carter ran a 15:57.16 that was thirty seconds faster than he has ever run on this course. That's a pretty good pace to hold when you run all by yourself. And Carter was by himself and almost a minute faster than the second place runner in the field. There was no lack of excitement in any of the races on yesterday's sunny Saturday over the steeplechase course.
Georde Godwyn and Jake Renfree, both of Knoxville Catholic went 1 and 2 respectively in a very high powered boys A-AA race. Georde was the favorite to win, but this year he had a lot of competition form his teammate, Jake. Running 16:12.94 and 16:13.02 made for a close race and kept both athletes honest throughout the race! And as I said, all these races were hard fought and so exciting to watch. This was for sure the closest of all the battles this day. Again, the reason cross country is so much fun to watch!
You can tell I'm not exactly going in any specific order with this recap. Just about every race had something fantastic happen or some kind of surprise of some sort. The girls D2AA had perennial lead runner Claire Cheeseman running in the lead for most of the race. Around the mile mark, her lead was about thirty or so meters. By mile two, it was larger. But Meredith Helton, her Brentwood Academy teammate was right there in the runner up spot and then the surprise happened. Meredith started to narrow the gap and catch up to Claire. Can't say for sure how it happened but after the last steep uphill and just about near the 400 meter mark left in the race, Meredith surged forward and took the lead. It seems when things are going well and you feel good, you take advantage of the day and pick up the pace. Meredith won the race in 18:53.98 setting her course best by over 30 seconds. Meredith ran to ninth place on his first state meet trip, second place last year and now has the title. Pretty cool day for her!
Heading back to the start of the day of races, the girls A-AA race was a good story itself. And yes, a bit of a pun since the leader in this division was a Story! Rebecca won in a blistering 17:49.70. And just like some of the other races, she took the lead and stayed far ahead of the runner up. She actually was over a minute ahead of second place, about a minute twelve actually. That performance gets put into the top three all-time performances at this meet. You normally would hear this was a battle with this Christian Academy of Knoxville athlete going up against Taylor Cuneo of Central Magnet. This year though I heard Taylor was a bit injured, and even with injury hampering her season, she still pounds out a solid fifth place finish to help lead her team to the A-AA title.
Another win by a minute or more race was in the D2-A division with King's Academy senior Niamh Schumacher running a 17:38.65. On this day of great performances, that posted Niamh with the second best performance at this meet... ever! So if you were a spectator, athlete, coach, fan of cross country and you came out to watch this year's meet, this was one heck of a lot of great races.
But wait, there's one more race to talk about. Last year I was at the Middle School state track championships at Austin Peay University and got to watch a young 8th grader pretty much demolish the field in the 1600M race. I was standing at the cones near the first part of the race Saturday and as the girls passed, Annika Sleenhof, Erica Fisher, Addi Coggins, Halle Housman, Skylar Boogerd, Ella Baron and a slew of other athletes that have experience at the hardest part of racing, and that's the win. In that mix, was the girl that I saw winning that middle school race last season, Sasha Neglia. Little did I think that Sasha would head to the high school ranks and get her first state race championship. Three girls went under 18 minutes for the AAA division. Erica Fisher of Arlington ran 17:58.29 and Annika Sleenhof (Ravenwood) ran a 17:50.40. But Sasha Neglia ends the day with the second best ever time at the state championships with a 17:32.17. Not a bad start to a high school career!
Those were the top racers this past Saturday but not by any means the only great performances. It seems cross country is getting larger and larger each year. Athletes are turning out in droves to give their shot at a sport that really, like Track & Field, is the purest of all sports. And yes, there are injuries in the sport, but not nearly as devastating as other sports. Maybe that's the pull. But maybe not. I think it might be that some people think that these "running" sports are easy to do. They'd be wrong. Watch some of these athletes' performances this past Saturday and go and try to do it yourself. Yea, that's what I thought, not too easy to do!
I've covered a lot of the top athletes in these articles that I write. But by no means are these the only stories across these sports. There are so many different motivations throughout this sport. It could be a win. It could be getting to an all-State ranking. Could be a personal best or a course best performance each season. It could be finishing ahead of that one athlete that beats you all the time. Or maybe just to finish a second faster than last time. But whatever it might be and whatever makes you an athlete in this sport, I'd say one thing... don't slow down!!
And be sure to check out the interview videos posted on TN Mile Split by Will Boling. Some additional insight into the athletes and one of the best cross country state meets we've seen in quite some time!
See you on the track... and the grass,