Several Tennessee cross country programs represented the state well at the Clara Bowl Invitational Saturday morning at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.
Four schools from the Chattanooga area - Signal Mountain, Chattanooga Christian School, East Hamilton, and Baylor's girls - along with Nolensville High School, located about 20 miles south of Nashville, made the trip across the state line to compete in what was for many the first meet of the season. There were 30 varsity boys' teams (263 runners) and 28 girls' teams (236 runners) from three states, with Tri-County Early College from North Carolina joining the teams from Georgia and Tennessee.
The best team performance of the day came from the CCS boys, who finished 8th. The Chargers are the reigning Division II-A state champs and returned all but one from last year's team. Prior to the season, Chargers' coach Daniel Russell discussed how the team had set a goal to get their top five runners under 16:30. Saturday's varsity team has gotten a good start on that goal with the top three finishing in the top 50 overall and all seven in the top half with an average time of 18:04.
"I'm pleased with the way we ran today," Russell said. "We ran great as a pack and really worked well together on a tough course and hot, humid weather conditions. I'm proud of the guys today."
CCS was led by junior Edimo Ninterestse, who picked up where he left off on in his runner-up finish at last year's state meet. Ninterestse earned 8th place in a time of 16:58.90, which was already four seconds faster than his run at Percy Warner Park last November. Here were his thoughts on the race:
The Baylor girls' team finished 10th overall, which was tops for the schools from Tennessee. The Raider's performance was a true team effort, with their top girl, junior Emmy Davis, finishing 34th. Eighth-grader Helen Webb finished 37th, while Hannah Rosser earned 52nd, Emrick Garrett 61st, and Merrit Newton 105th.
"I'm just really pleased because of how they worked on that pack running," Baylor coach Heather Ott said. "We were preaching to them last night not to worry about the time, it's going to be humid on a tough course with demanding terrain. We were working on just being mentally tougher and I was super-pleased with how they competed today."
Signal Mountain's girls finished just a couple of spots behind the Raiders in 12th place, led by their dynamic duo, senior Mattie Parker in 9th place with a time of 20:09.72 and freshman Tara Jessen in 31st with a 21:28.05. Check out their reaction here:
Eagles' coach Dustin Carpenter said that he stressed that same pack mentality with his girls, emphasizing working hard together and that this was a tremendous opportunity to see where they were for the upcoming season.
"I'm really proud of the effort they put in today for the first meet of the year," Carpenter said. "Our girls are faster at this point than they were last year. They were unified and did a phenomenal job. I'm really proud of the team effort they put together and how they encouraged each other."
Nolensville High School junior Parker Phegley finished 14th in a time of 17:11.43. The young Knights' program is only in their first year with seniors on the squad, but coach Brooke Koblitz emphasized how important it was for both the boys' and girls' teams to get good race experience under their belt and to have some success.
"I think we did good today," said Koblitz. "It was just good for us to get some race exposure as a young team. Our big goal for the year is to qualify for state, but individually I just want the kids to keep improving."
The Signal Mountain boys and CCS girls didn't fair quite as well as their program counterparts, but each team's coach stressed how important this meet was for their young teams.
"I was excited about how the girls performed today," Lady Chargers' coach Lily McKee said. "We had specific goals coming in and all of the girls met those goals. This was a great experience and a wonderful course to start off the season."
Both teams were missing their top runner due to injury. The Eagles were without their only senior, Jackson Lillard, who hopes to be back for the team's next meet in two weeks. CCS sophomore Phoebe Moran was injured during a soccer match earlier in the week, but also hopes to be back to running soon.
East Hamilton senior, Jacob Kiemeyer, finished 30th with a time of 17:47.09.