The McCallie cross country team has won some big races this fall, but none were any bigger than the one at Nashville's Percy Warner Park last Saturday afternoon.
Sparked by Derek Barnes' runner-up finish, McCallie had three runners in the top 10, four who earned All-State honors by finishing in the top 15 and all seven who finished ahead of Brentwood Academy's fourth man.
In a nutshell, it was a dominating performance against their middle Tennessee rival that wasn't nearly as close as the 13-point margin of victory might indicate.
This same Brentwood Academy team had come to town for the McCallie Invitational a couple of weeks earlier and finished second to the Blue Tornado by a single point.
McCallie coaches knew that Saturday's race would be close, but that running a tactical race was far more important than a fast one. Each runner in McCallie's lineup had their own individual assignment as to which Brentwood Academy runner they were focused on and what they needed to do to prevail.
The results were better than ever expected as McCallie won its fifth state title in coach Mike Wood's 13th year as their leader.
There are five seniors on McCallie's team this year, so winning for them meant going out on a positive note.
Derek Barnes is one of those seniors who has been the leader of the team all season. He finished as the runner-up on Saturday for the second time in two years with a time of 15:56. MBA's Eric Anderson took off like a bullet from the start, but because Barnes was more concerned about team results than individual honors, the lead was too big by the time Barnes made his move.
"I was conservative for the first two miles, but Eric took off from the beginning," recalled the senior from Miami who has been All-State the past four years.
"I'm honored to be the state runner-up and I'm pleased with how I ran on Saturday. We had a target on our back, but our guys stepped up big and we went out with a bang. It was an awesome experience," Barnes expressed on Monday afternoon before a training run began.
Dylan Carmack is a junior from Mt. Juliet who really came on strong at the end. He's no stranger to running fast, but he's been known to fade in the final stretch of big races. That wasn't the case on Saturday as he finished seventh in 16:26.
"It was pretty exhilarating on Saturday as I felt strong the whole way. I was with the leaders at two miles, but I was a little nervous as I just tried to hang on until the end. The state meet was definitely my best race of the year, although it wasn't my fastest time," he said, noting that his 16:12 at the Front Runner Invitational was his season's best.
Matthew Jones is another senior from Chattanooga who finished 10th in 16:47. He's been at McCallie for the past seven years, but what an exciting finish to a memorable career for the Blue Tornado.
"It was awesome as I was so excited for our team," he began.
"It was a good race for me personally as I was happy with my kick at the end. That's where I normally struggle, but Percy Warner is a brutally slow course. I'm just happy with what our team did. That's what was more important," Jone added.
Ramsay Ritchie is another senior from San Francisco. His parents made the trip from the West Coast to see their son run, but he didn't have one of his better races as he was sick and struggled to finish 12th in 16:55.
"I had a virus last week and probably had a fever when the race started, but it went about how I hoped it would go. My legs felt heavy in the last mile and my body just shut down as I don't remember the final 800 meters. It was a victory for me just to be able to cross the finish line.
"I spent quite a bit of time in the medical tent and felt really bad, thinking that my performance had cost us the team title. I felt a whole lot better when one of the coaches came in to tell me that we had won," Ritchie smiled.
Reed Oscar, Tommy Ellis and Will Moore finished in 16th, 17th and 18th and didn't earn All-State honors, but their times of 17:07, 17:09.4 and 17:09.5 put the final nail in the casket for Brentwood Academy as these three all finished ahead of the Eagles fourth man.
"I'm normally the low man on the totem pole, but I just focused on running as fast as I could," Oscar recalled before Monday's workout began.
"I got passed in the final stretch as I just got outkicked. I was really disappointed in myself as that kept me from being All-State," he added.
Ellis is another senior from High Point, N.C. He walked away from the state meet disappointed that he had not run faster. He was All-State the past two years, but didn't make it this time.
"We just wanted to place well and winning meant a lot for the five seniors, but I was disappointed with my time and place. I went out way too slow and I finished, knowing that I had too much left.
"We knew what we had to do and we did it," Ellis said.
Moore is another senior who has been at McCallie for the past four years. Like Ellis, he wasn't really happy with his results on Saturday.
"We started off slow by design, but with 800 meters to go, I was struggling and got passed by a lot of people as that last mile wasn't very much fun.
"I did what I was told to do, but I had a better time last year. I put everything I had into it, but as long as we got it done as a team, that's all that mattered," Moore nodded.
There is a tornado siren that is located nearby that is blown every Saturday at noon for testing purposes. Coach Wood knew it was coming, but some of his runners were caught totally off-guard when the loud noise erupted.
"I think that tornado warning siren was totally appropriate for us as we were just getting off the bus, but what an incredible group of young men," Wood praised.
"All are awesome as this is a special group. Our top five runners had the fastest 5K average we've ever had," he noted that time just barely over 16 minutes.
"Our strategy was keying on Brentwood Academy as we knew they were our biggest challengers. That's who we wanted to beat. Derek, Dylan and Matthew all had great races, but I was sorry that Ramsay was sick and didn't have a good day. I was just thankful he was able to finish," the coach continued.
While a lot of high school runners will head to Charlotte at the end of the month for the FootLocker Championships, McCallie's team will head to Cary, N.C. on Nov. 30 for the Nike regional race.
The Blue Tornado will face some of the best teams from across the southeast and the top two teams will advance to the National championship at the Nike headquarters in Portland.
""We'll be facing some really tough competition there, but it's just an honor to be in such a race. But this is a great group of young men who are super smart and have a lot of character. But most importantly, they really love and care for each other as we have a real brotherhood on this team," Wood concluded.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)