The first official unofficial cross country meet of the year was held at Baylor Tuesday afternoon with Baylor's Grace Carlson and East Hamilton's Nick McCormick earning victories in their respective 5K races.
No times were kept and there weren't even any bib numbers for the runners. As you might expect, there were no team scores, but plenty of coaches on the course and at the finish line busy with pen and paper as they recorded times for members of their teams.
Baylor senior Haley Chandler, who has earned All-State honors in cross country each of the past four seasons, was the leader for most of the race among the girls.
Carlson was a distant second -- probably about 50 yards behind -- when they passed the halfway point, but the heralded 14-year-old freshman made her move on the shaded segment down by the Tennessee River in the second mile and she never looked back as she crossed the finish line with a time of 20 minutes, 17 seconds.
Chandler was the runner-up five seconds later while Rhea County teammates Mady Garland and Gloria Pascual were third and fourth with times of 20:30 and 20:31, respectively. Mallory Edwards of Heritage was fifth in 21:21.
The boys race saw McCormick take the lead from the opening whistle and he never looked back or even slowed down.
He was all alone in first when he crossed the line in 16 minutes, 42 seconds.
Collegedale Academy's Seth Ruhling had been in second place the first time around, but all of that changed by the time the second loop had been completed.
McCormick's place hadn't changed, but Northwest Whitfield's Brody Cook outsprinted Heritage's Judd Bates to capture the runner-up spot with times of 18:46 and 18:47.
Soddy Daisy's Joe Kirk and Northwest Whitfield's Parker Cook followed in fourth and fifth.
Carlson had phenomenal success in middle school and she proved on Tuesday that she will be force to be reckoned with on the high school level.
"It was a hard race, but it was my first high-school race and it's nice to win the first time out," Carlson said moments after crossing the finish line.
"Haley really pushed me. She had the lead from the start, but I finally caught her in the woods on the second lap. It was perfect weather and my coach told me to go for it, so that's what I did," she added.
Chandler had a smile on her face at the end and nothing but good things to say about Carlson and the rest of her Lady Red Raider teammates.
"This is definitely a good start to our season. My goal was to just stay with Grace. I think I got comfortable with the lead on the second loop, but I heard footsteps and then she passed me.
"Today's time is about 30-40 seconds faster than at this point last year, so I'm excited. I'm just really proud of Grace for her win and the outstanding effort of all my teammates," the 17-year-old Chandler said.
Pascual is a junior who spends more time playing soccer than running cross country. She had third place all to herself for most of the race, but Garland finally caught and passed her in the final stretch.
"Gloria plays soccer so we don't see her that much. I'm so glad to have a teammate who I can run with. I wanted to win today and to get under 20:20, but 20:30 is a great start.
"I think I slowed down in the second mile, but I really had to push hard at the end to catch her and I wasn't running slow. I'm sure it was personal best time for her.
"My goal is to finish in the top five at the state meet this year. I finished 16th last year, which was heartbreaking, but my goal is to finish in the top five," Garland nodded. The top 15 finishers in the state meet all earn All-State honors.
McCormick was the state runner-up in cross country last year with a personal-best time of 16:32. His goal on Tuesday was to go under that.
"It was kind of hard running all by myself out there," he began.
"I tried to keep up with the lead guy on the bike. I was hoping to run faster than 16:32, but it was a little warm today. I'm somewhat pleased as I tanked a little in the last mile. I'm sure I didn't drink enough water today and was a little dehydrated.
"It's really hard to tell just how well I ran today with so many of the top runners not here today," McCormick concluded.
The Cook brothers are identical twins who Bruins' coach Tom Sell can't tell apart until he identifies the kind of shoes they're wearing. Brody wears Brooks while Parker is an Asics man.
"I think I did pretty good place-wise and I feel like my time was decent at this point in the season," Brody said later.
"My goal was to beat my brother. It's always back and forth with him as we're extremely competitive, but we have a pretty good team this year and we're looking forward to doing well," he concluded.
There were at least 19 schools running on Tuesday and possibly more, but those included Rhea County, Boyd-Buchanan, Bledsoe County, GPS, Baylor, Ringgold, LFO, Northwest Whitfield, Signal Mountain and Central.
Other representatives included Soddy Daisy, East Hamilton, Polk County, Heritage, Sale Creek, Hixson, Tellico Plains, Van Buren County and the Chattanooga Patriots, the home-schooled team.
While Tuesday's meet didn't count, the first meet for the Chattanooga Cross Country League will be held next Monday, Aug. 27 at Chickamauga Dam.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)