Junior Class Leads McCallie To Another State Cross Country Title

Blue Tornado Nip Brentwood Academy For Fourth Championship

Friday, November 9, 2012 - by John Hunt

There are state championship events in every sport for the state of Tennessee, but none are captured any faster than cross country.

It's a 5K footrace where each team puts their best seven runners on the line.  The first five are the ones who score, but the sixth and seventh runners can be critical if they happen to finish ahead of another team's top five.

It took the McCallie Blue Tornado just under 17 minutes to win their fourth state championship in cross country at Nashville's Percy Warner Park.

 

Derek Barnes finished second in 16:24 while Tommy Ellis was McCallie's fifth runner, taking 10th place just 35 seconds behind Barnes.

McCallie's margin of victory was three points over Brentwood Academy.

While McCallie's overall places included a 2, 5, 8, 9 and 10, the Eagles countered with a 3,4,6,11 and 13.  Team totals were 34 for McCallie and 37 for Brentwood.  The total time for McCallie's five runners was 1:23:48 while the Eagles countered with a 1:23:50.

It just doesn't get much closer than that.

McCallie had finished second in 2011, so the motivation was to run a little stronger and faster while being just a bit smarter along the way.

All of that pre-race strategy unfolded as planned as the McCallie runners walked away with the biggest trophy and smiles on their faces.

"I had a great time," said Barnes, a three-time All-State runner from Miami.

"The real race was in the third mile, but we took the kick out of them at that point.  I knew I had to go hard with a half-mile to go, whether I felt good or not.  It was a pretty awesome feeling.

"We finished second last year and knew it would be a battle on Saturday.  I had one of my best races ever," he added before a training run on Thursday afternoon.

Ramsay Ritchie was fifth in 16:35.

"We were excited going in as we know that Brentwood Academy has a great team.  It was more fun going in as the underdog, but obviously, it was a close, close race," Ritchie remembered.

"We did exactly what we needed to do as we stayed with our pre-race strategy.  I didn't really have the race I wanted as I got passed by two Brentwood runners at the end, but that's just more motivation for next year," he said.

Matthew Jones was eighth in 16:53 and earned All-State honors for the third time.

"Our team pulled it off.  I was confident that we could do it, but it definitely wasn't easy.  It wasn't my fastest time, but that's not a fast course.  My main goal was to do all I could to help our team win.

"I was overjoyed when they announce the results as it was a big deal for us," Jones smiled.

Will Moore finished right behind Jones in ninth place with a time of 16:56.

"I'm not one of our top runners, but I just wanted to keep the top three within reach.  It wasn't my personal best, but I had the race of my life on Saturday.  It was really cool to win after coming so close last year," the junior from High Point, N.C. said.

"It was a difficult race and I was dead at the end, but I had a good time.  I felt a lot better when I realized that Tommy (Ellis) had finished right behind me.  I had a good idea that we won, but I didn't want to jump to conclusions," he admitted.

Tommy Ellis may have been the unsung hero in this group.  He finished 10th in 16:59 and earned All-State honors for the second time after finishing 13th a year ago.  It was his personal best by a whopping 23 seconds, but the fact that he was even on the starting line was a victory in itself.

Ellis suffered a concussion in a wakeboarding accident during the Labor Day weekend and missed several weeks at the start of the season.  Then when he came back, he was plagued by pulled muscles.

"I had three or four solid weeks of training before the state meet and it all worked out well," he remembered.

"I was nervous before the race began, but I just wanted to do well as I was running for all the hard work my teammates had put in.  I didn't want to leave anything on the course.  I knew that if I ran my best, I'd be pleased regardless of whether or not we won," he nodded.

McCallie coach Mike Wood is an experienced cross country coach.  He knew what results from other meets meant and he knew exactly what kind of team that Brentwood Academy would be bringing.

He outlined the plan for each runner in the days leading up to Saturday's race and he was ecstatic when it all unfolded as planned.

"We knew that on paper, we were the underdog going in, but it's hard to compare times when they come from different courses," Wood said Thursday afternoon.

"The race was nerve-racking to watch with a group of guys in red jerseys followed by another group in blue.  We knew it would come down to the final hill and our guys held them off at the end.  If you had scored that meet at any point during the race before the finish line, we wouldn't have won, but our top five guys ran a fantastic race," he continued.

McCallie claimed first place in every meet they entered this fall, including the Chattanooga Cross Country Festival at Chickamauga Dam, the McCallie Invitational at the Greenway Farm, the Front Runner Invitational at Baylor and the Hoover Invitational in Alabama the week before the state meet.

Ritchie, Barnes and Jones went 1-2-3 in that final tuneup and that was a nice confidence booster right before the season's biggest race.

"We had a very successful season, regardless of the outcome at the state meet.  It came down to one race on one day, but I knew we had an opportunity to do well.  We challenged them on several occasions throughout the season and they always came through.

"We weren't concerned with Simon (Baylor's Holden who won on Saturday), although he really helped us during the season.  We did our best to stay with him in earlier races and that made our job a lot easier on Saturday.

"We have a team philosophy that we want to have fun.  We have fun by winning.  These guys are committed to each other and the team concept we've developed.  They all had a job to do on the same day and they came through.

"The nice thing is that they will all be back next year," Wood concluded.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)


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