There are times when we reach the State cross country championships and you think that this one is an easy call and so and so will get the win. Ahh... this is cross country; you of course know better than that! When it comes to cross country, there are so many variables to consider. As in most races, the start time is critical. And by that, I don't mean the actual time of day, although sometimes that figures into the outcome. What I'm talking about here is having everything in place... feeling your best... bathroom breaks out of the way... spikes laced up... didn't break a lace this time... warm up working well... no aches or pains (to speak of anyways!)... standing in the box exactly where you want to be... every little start line superstition taken care of... and then of course, the weather, the wind, the chill, the heat, the whatever else that unpredictable gremlin called the weather can throw at you... all taken care of.
Oh... for those of you that visualize the race ahead of time... knowing the course - down to every flag or hole or tree will be, knowing where NOT to step, knowing where to turn and not to turn, knowing your goal time at every split and being able to calculate your finish when you're off that time, knowing your own training well enough to set the pace correctly and surge and kick at exactly the right time.
Then it comes to actually running the course. Did you accidentally step in a hole or side step something that quickly took you out of focus? Is your competition going out way too fast based on what you predicted? Should you chase... sit back... step up a bit... hold back... surge... relax... shake out your arms... move those arms more... or less... are you going to have enough at the end... is that last treacherous hill going to get you this year or will you get IT this time! Did you just look down and see one of your shoe laces is untied? Ugh... Are you mad enough after looking at the back of the singlet of your competition in so many races to go ahead and get up in front of them this time? Is that a good move... or will that be a bad move? I thought I heard the coach yell something. Or did they.
Ok... all this and more went through your thoughts sometime this week... maybe just now. You must be ready to race. So let's take a quick look at taking the bridles at the steeplechase course this year (yea, I know... that was a really bad pun).
Division 1 large school class boys race will be a showcase race for Henry County's Silas Winders. I saw that with a little apprehension though.... Two years ago Silas tagged a runner up finish at the state championships and then last year faded to 14th overall. That was a bad race and one that Silas certainly wants to make amends here this year. Cross country can make you feel like you're on top of the world at any given time, both in training and racing. But the sport can be very cruel to you the very next day. Like I mentioned, everything... and I mean everything, has to be perfect at the exact moment, the exact split second, the gun goes off at the start line. Silas is a phenomenal athlete and I fully expect him to come across the finish with a smile on his face.
One of Silas's top competitors will be looking to stop that smile though. Siegel's Canaan Anderson doesn't have a better PR than Silas or a better record when going head to head. Canaan however does home one thing, he finished about ten seconds ahead of Silas last year in this very race. And saying that doesn't mean much is saying you may not fully understand how cross country can work. A couple years ago, Canaan did pace out the favorite at the State indoor 2-mile race. Canaan did set his new personal best in the CC 5K this year at the Great American CC Festival at the beginning of October and, like anybody coming out to the course this year, isn't lacking in motivation to do well Saturday! Aiden Britt is also one to keep an eye on Saturday. He's runner up to Silas at the Region 5 meet last week and he's also set a pretty significant PR this season when he ran 15:20 in Louisville. Aiden has a 2 flat speed in the 800 and so having him near you at the finish line should put some fear in the competition.
A few others that should be making up this very large lead pack will include Chester County' Evan Allen, Arlington's Jackson Williams, Aaron Jones and MLK's Miles Ally. All these athletes are running strong this season while setting new PR's. Evan just set his 15:25 PR at the JR Ward TN Classic, which by the way is on the State course and has always been a very difficult course to set PR's at. Jackson Williams has been consistently running about 30 seconds faster this year than last and comes in strong with his Region 8 win last week. Who knows how this top pack will fare Saturday. One thing we do know is that this Division will produce a very tight race among the top ten or so. And that is exciting for sure!
With the D1 large school girls, this just might be one of those times where who you think might be the winner, certainly ends up there. Jenna Hutchins of Science Hill brings her talent to the State meet with a national ranking, a huge PR setting season, and not to mention experience racing in some pretty strong meets this year. I don't see Jenna taking less than first on Saturday. The question might better be posed as what time can she get on this tough course?
Of course, there are several athletes in the girls D1 large that should feel fully capable of changing the outcome of the race. Five other athletes have posted into the 17-minute mark this season. Of that group in the 17's is Sasha Neglia (Dobyns Bennett) with a 17:27.80 that is just three seconds ahead of Landri Wilcox (17:27.68) of Cookeville. Then comes Fred J. Page's Leigh Walters with a 17:34.70 and Dinah Winders at 17:45.77. The last of the group is Andie-Marie Jones of Maryville posting a 17:47.29 mark this season. All those times are pretty tightly matched making this another one of those don't miss races.
I'm not all that good at making predictions on the team races. There's enough variables in this sport to make that a slightly less than monumental task to predict. But, for the fact that I'm sure I'll get emails or comments on how badly I chose, I'll do it anyways! The boys D1 large could be Franklin as a favorite and Siegel as the one that could topple them. Bartlett could be fighting out Central Magnet or Arlington for Bronze. On the girl's side, Brentwood's top three girls seem to give them a strong push but Dobyns Bennett has a more closely tight group from top to bottom and that could give them the edge.
Division 2 Small school girls race could mimic the D1 Large girls with Allison Newman of St. George's being the hands down favorite to carry the torch through the finish line. Allison has made a pretty strong case for herself by running an impressive PR at the D2 A region last week. That 18:23 time was much faster than her previous best that she set at the Foot Locker last season. Her next best competition in the Division is First Assembly's Abbie Baker. Abbie recently set a PR this season and was runner up in the D2 A Region meet (um.. to Allison). Her and Lucy Rutherford (Davidson Academy) may be her biggest competition Saturday. Of course, what better way to learn your competition and training than to be on the same team - Allison's teammate, Lauren Rutlin doesn't have the sub 19 PR that Allison boasts, but understanding your competition sometimes has its advantages. We'll have to see how this race pans out. With the colder temperatures rolling in, that could be a factor for those not used to the chill!
The Boys D2 small boys race I believe is going to something similar to what St. George's might see. A tight race between teammates. Timothy Hays of University School of Nashville comes into this race as the top seed with 15:54.59 that he ran at the Jessie Owens Classic in early October. His teammate, Nick Sieders ran his fastest at the Chickasaw Trails. That time was 16:01.25. Five seconds could be a lifetime, but it also could be a blink of an eye in cross country. These two are pretty closely matched. PR wise, it appears Nick has a few more Track bests than Timothy. The 5K distance, at least up to now, is Timothy's better event on paper. If you've ever played Rock, Paper, Scissors... who knows how paper turns out!
Division 1 small school class boys could bring some excitement pitching L&N Stem Academy's Seth Jinks against Sequatchie County's Grayson Kennedy. These guys have not raced against each other and with Grayson not exactly having a prolific list of meets and competition, could make for an interesting outcome. So many times I've seen athletes that are just getting into the sport take on the seasoned athletes and come out on top. With about 14 seconds difference in their PR's, which can be a pretty good chunk to make up, the ending might just still be up for grabs.
On the girl's small school d1 group, the winner here doesn't look like an easy pick at all. The top two seeds for this division are 0.01 second apart - Jaedyn Stalnecker and Samantha Anderson. Neither of these girls have gone up against each other in a head to head race either. Jaedyn seems to have less experience in the sport than Samantha. Who knows how that can turn out. I think I'd put the edge on the experience and with Samantha having some solid times and a good amount of racing experience in the distance events from 3K to 5K, that 0.01 second probably doesn't have much meaning on Saturday.
But I don't think the race will be limited to these two girls, the top five in this division have season bests that are all less than twenty seconds apart. Alyssa Andrea (Fairview) is just a couple seconds behind with a best of 20:08.00 and likely will be right with these girls till the last hill up to the finish line. Emma Bradford (20:15, Sequatchie County) and Tara Jessen (Signal Mountain) round out these top five girls that I'm sure are going to make the lead pack here interesting and competitive!
D2 Large School division might just see the toppling of one of the most prolific teams in the state. I don't see Brentwood Academy being the most dominant force this season. With that said, they're probably gearing up for next year!! Anyways, the D2 Large top seed male athlete and the only one with the sub 16 time is Edimo Ninterestse of Chattanooga Christian. Edimo just set his PR on October 17 at the Front Runner Athletics championship with his 2nd place finish there. That race had him ahead of the top McCallie guys who I believe are going to be the hands down favorite to win the team competition Saturday.
McCallie boats a group of athletes that should put a good amount of them into the top ten overall Saturday. Leading off the pack will be a group of seniors with John Arrowsmith out front with a best of 16:04.88, then Dylan Zeller (16:13), Samuel Ligon (16:14) and Duke Richey (16:23). The number five spot is taken by Benjamin Niehaus with his 16:40. Having a bunch of athletes this closely matched makes the team almost impossible to beat!
Father Ryan could possibly get in as a spoiler here since they too have a very closely grouped bunch of athletes. Ciro Albamont (16:21) and Colin Knapp (16:27) will lead off this team and if they can pull up the other guys, could make for a closer match than I'm predicting. That is always a plus!!
On the girls D2 Large division, the Father Ryan group looks like they are going to be the ones to get spoiled here. With Grace Feltner (18:58) and Stella Harrison (19:34) leading off the team, result is going to be in the hands of the other girls to stay close to the lead pack at this race. A task that is very difficult with the level of competition in this division.
And even though I may have hinted at it (ha) earlier, the Brentwood Academy girls team is not one you ever want to count out at these big races. Kylie Wittman has run 19 flat and to set a new PR in early October and very familiar with front running and no way you can count her out to get near the top of this division. Of course, Helen Webb of Baylor (18:59) comes into this race setting that new PR and no doubt will help spur this team to near, if not on, to the top of the podium Saturday. Like I said, this division is very competitive and anything can happen here.
The individual competition in the girls D2 large school could very likely see a one-two sweep by the Knoxville Catholic duo of Callie Tucker (18:28) and Eleanor Mancini (18:55). Callie is a University of Tennessee commitment and sure to want to seal that off with a win here at State. These two have gone head to head this season with Callie coming out on top. At the KIL championships, Callie won and Eleanor was second. Not a bad team! Eleanor ran the TN Classic in a time faster than she ran at the State championships last season and so she is certainly prepared to bust out a strong race Saturday on this course.
Well folks, it's time for the State championships to get started! Hope to see you at the Steeplechase course cheering on your favorite athlete! I've been to this event for several years now and it always amazes me how gracious the spectators AND the teams are to ALL the athletes! I've seen competing teams cheer on each other... cheer on that last finisher... hug and embrace that one athlete that beat them... there certainly is a comradery in this sport... and it shows at the end of the season at these Championships! You just gotta love it!!
See you on the track... and the grass!