TSSAA State Cross Country Preview - D1 A-AA

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2016 D1 A-AA Cross Country Preview

There is a common denominator when it comes to cross country training and racing.  It's not the sweltering summer workouts or the mud runs in the pouring rain.  And no, it's not the 800 repeats over and over or the long runs common among all the athletes that enjoy this pretty grueling sport.  It's not the woods, the trails, the dirt or the sun baking you on an open run.  Surprisingly enough it's the comradery these athletes have among each other.  Whether a teammate or a competitor, there is a respect these athletes have for each other that makes up that common thread among them.  It doesn't happen all the time, but you hear stories - and if you're lucky, you see it first-hand like I have - about athletes helping their competition get to the finish line.  Something startling happens and an athlete falls or gets hurt near the finish and instead of passing them, the runner helps them up and encourages them to finish... in the position they were before... ahead of them.

Now I'm not saying a selfless act like that should happen all the time.  Sometimes it shouldn't happen, since really, everyone trains for the race and should be able to get through a 5K.  But it does happen and probably more times than you hear about.  But then again, it's that comradery part of cross country that really has to be experienced to believe.

The TSSAA State Cross Country meet this year is set up to be an interesting and very competitive group of races.  The D1 A-AA girls then boy's races start out the Championships at 10am followed by the D2 AA, D2 A, and then D1 AAA boys finishing up the day at 2:20pm.  It's a good lineup this season and every race has its own story to tell.

The top runners in the boys A-AA division are very tightly packed with times all within thirty to forty seconds apart among the top ten or twelve in this group.  And if you're reading this, you are acutely aware of what can happen on this seemingly benign and deceptively difficult steeplechase course.  Anything can happen, and in the past it has.  A favorite leading up to the race just doesn't have it that day.  A nagging injury returns with a vengeance.  Or a sinus infection ruins your morning.  A few seconds cushion can disappear instantly along that last steep uphill climb.  It all has to come down to being ready at exactly the time you are scheduled to race.  So let's take a closer look at what and who to look for at 10am this Saturday in the A-AA division.

Georde Goodwyn has the only posted sub 16 performance this season and stacks him as the leader in the A-AA division.  But that doesn't mean it's a lock for him and his Knoxville Catholic team to win.  Although his closest competition is going to be someone he is familiar with - namely, his teammate Jake Renfree.  These guys have gone head to head in cross country and track, and for the most part, Georde has gotten the best of those races, but it doesn't always turn out that way.  It's going to be fun to watch two guys familiar with each other run out in front as I'd expect them to do from the start.  This could give them an edge and force their competition to step it up a bit or get left in the dust.  And I'm just wondering if maybe the younger of the two, Jake, might want to flex his muscle some and shoot for an upset. 

Now looking at the third through top eighth spots in the A-AA rankings, you only need one hand to count the difference between these athletes, that is, if you count with your fingers.  The time between these athletes' performances this season is very close.  Thomas Porter of Signal Mountain has a 16:25 season best (just last week), Diego Zuazua (Nolensville) a 16:25, Timothy Thacker of Grace Christian hits 16:30, and both Porter Bradley (Univ School of Johnson City) and Devin Sullivan (Knoxville Catholic) post 16:31's. 

The last two in the top eight are capped off with Will Cronin (Greeneville), who is having a very good year with a PR of 16:32, and Fuji Anday of Central Magnet with a 16:34.58 so far this season.  I fully expect this race to carry a huge pack all the way through the three mile mark and then we may just see a very wild finish.   Colin Lamb of Fred J. Page has run a 16:44 at state last season to grab the runner up spot but hasn't ran that strong this year, but with a win in the 6 A-AA region, he is another one to add to the mix here.  


Although I said earlier in the article that Knoxville Catholic isn't necessarily a lock for the win this year, I do think they should be in good shape to defend their team title.  I would be surprised if Georde and Jake fall off the lead with their season bests of 15:52.97 and 16:18 respectively.  Considering teammate Devin Sullivan just ran a personal best 16:31 at the KIL Championships in early October.  And then Ethan Tornstrom (17:12) and Jacob Pettinger (17:28) did the same with PR's themselves at that race.   Jacob ran more than a minute faster at the KIL championship than he did last year and so that is one heck of a strong fifth man to have for this team.  Oh, and by the way, Jake's 16:18 was also his personal best time, so this team is coming into the Championships on a pretty high and confident note for sure!

The runner up spot is going to be a tough call to make.  Last year the runner up spot was won by 1 point!  So yea, this one could be just as close with Central Magnet, Fred J. Page and Merrol Hyde Magnet vying to be the contenders in this too tight to call race!   If the team is healthy, I'd lean towards Fred J. Page as the runner up this year.  But again, it's cross country and many things can happen over the course of the 5K. 

On the girl's side, Rebecca Story is the top athlete, no matter the division, for cross country this season.  Her 17:12.03 best for this season is a bit slower than her career best, but it is enough to ensure a huge runaway should she be feeling good this Saturday morning.  She's only run a handful of races this season, and won every one!  The superb athleticism of this Christian Academy of Knoxville junior (yes, just a junior) stepped her from 6th at the state championship in 2013 to second in 2014, won in 2015 and this year she should repeat as champion again. 


Rebecca's closest competition comes from another Knoxville runner, Shila Kapaya of Knoxville Catholic (18:22).  My guess is the runner up spot in this division could be a thriller with Shila, then Signal Mountain's Taylor Luthringer (18:32) and Rebecca's teammate, Taylor Cosey (18:34). 


All top ten girls in this division are at or under the 20 minute mark and so with those times, there's always the chance that someone might just do a leap-frog and move up as the finish line approaches.  Taylor Cuneo has only run a 19:08 this season so far and is fully capable of running some very swift times.  Being the defending champion, and unless there's an injury in the mix, I would expect her to be way up the podium at the end of the day Saturday. 

A few more to keep an eye on would include two Dresden runners with Anna Johnson (19:15) and Loral Winn (19:21), two more from Knoxville Catholics with Callie Tucker (19:28) and Lindsay Bruce (20 even) and then L&N STEM Academy's Laura Bretscher (19:35).  I would like to see who in this runner up group will be in the lead at the two mile sign, because I'll bet the lead changes a few times before that point with these athletes being fairly closely matched. 



The girl's team race is going to be close for this division.  With the strength and health of their front runners, I believe Christian Academy of Knoxville will be the one hoisting the winner's trophy Saturday.   Using the virtual meet, they seem to have a good lead on the next in line.   Central Magnet and Knoxville Catholic will need to keep a close eye on their positions, since it's basically a toss-up as to which one of these will come in ahead of the other.  The last two runners on these teams will be the deciding factors for sure and I would imagine we'll see these two schools cheering their teammates on pretty intensely Saturday.  I think Central Magnet should have the edge, but like I said, that's if everyone is healthy and the focus is strong! 

We'll see how all this turns out on Saturday!

See you on the track... and the Steeplechase course!

Coach Ted