Bradley's Harold Smith and Cumberland County's Kassidy Sommer were the individual winners in the Chattanooga Cross Country League's first race of the season on a muddy but flat course at Camp Jordan Park in East Ridge.
Smith is a cross country and track veteran for the Bears who posted a time of 17 minutes, 23 seconds for the 3.1-mile course while Sommer, a 16-year-old junior who is running cross country for the first time, was the class of the ladies field with a time of 21 minutes, 15 seconds.
Tuesday's temperatures certainly weren't cool and the humidy wasn't as low as it could have been, but there were some pretty good times, considering it was the first race of the season and considering it's still late August.
While there were some pretty quick feet at the front of the pack, the finish line clock doesn't lie. It was also very obvious who among the hundreds of competitors had been training this summer and who had not. But for a sport that doesn't have the glitz and glitter of other spectator sports, there were young people competing in a new venue for the very first time and should be congratulated for having the courage to toe the starting line in the first place.
For Smith and Sommer, it was a race all to themselves as Smith beat runner-up Garret Flores of Ooltewah by 14 seconds while Sommer's margin of victory was 29 seconds over Allie Anderson, a 16-year-old junior who set the pace for the Chattanooga Patriots, the local home-schooled team.
Kathryn Vradenburgh, Anderson's teammate, was third in 21:52 as she edged GPS senior Lucy Whitfield by a second at the finish line. Sarah Buckler of Heritage completed the top five with a time of 21:59.
While Smith was all by himself for much of the way, there was a nice battle for the runner-up spot between close friends Flores and Baylor sophomore John Carlson with Flores winning by a nose in 17:37. Carlson was a step back in 17:38.
Judd Bates of Heritate was fourth in 18:10 while McMinn County's Logan McKenzie was fifth in 18:16.
"It was really hot out there today and I was hoping to break 20 minutes, but there was nobody to push me," Sommer said while sipping on a cup of water just past the finish chute.
"I was really nervous before the race started as this is one that actually counted. I almost psyched myself out, but I went with what felt good and had a pretty good day," she added.
Anderson and her teammates were told ahead of time by their coach to run easy in the early stages. She did exactly that, but picked up the pace as the race progressed. She was more surprised than anyone when someone told her that she was in second place as she approaced the finish line.
"Coach wanted us to take the first mile slow, so we started out toward the back. It certainly wasn't my best time, but it was hot like this at the jamboree last week. I didn't realize what place I was in until somebody told me as we were almost finished," Anderson added with a smile.
Smith has been a cross country and track standout at Bradley for several years now, but he's ready to step into his own after racing in the shadows in recent seasons. He averaged 5:34 for the distance on Tuesday and he didn't even appear to be tired or winded when he finished.
"It was hard, hot and fun," he began while looking back to see who was following him at the finiish line.
"I could have done better, but I'll accept it. This was my first time to run on this course and it was muddy in places, but that's cross country. I tired out a little bit in the second mile, but I was doing my best to not lose the lead that I had built," he continued.
Flores was certainly happy with his time.
"I think we all did pretty well, but John and I pushed each other the whole way. I felt good at the end. I'm not as happy with my time as I am my place, but I did more training this summer than I ever have and that helped. The mud slowed us down some. I beat John today, but I'm sure that he'll be faster than me later in the fall," he said matter of factly.
Carlson was happy with his time, but he was quick to admit that some of the other fast guys in the league were not present for Tuesday's race.
"I felt good for the first couple of miles and I'm really happy with my time as that's a personal best for me," he began.
"I was happy to be up front, even though McCallie and Dalton was not here today. I hung with Garret as long as I could, but he outleaned me at the end. I'll get him next time," he concluded with a smile.
Baylor scored 61 points to take first among the guys while Northwest Whitfield and Ooltewah followed with scores of 129 and 164, respectively.
Anderson and Vradenburgh led the Lady Patriots to a first-place finish with 56 points. Heritage was second with 65 while GPS was third with 75.
There will be no league meet next week, although most of these teams will be at Chattanooga State on Monday for the annual Labor Day FCA 5K. Also, several teams will be headed to Moccasin Bend on Saturday, Sept. 7 for UTC's PowerAde Invitational.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)