They always say that in the sport of cross country, a team is only as good as its fifth runner.
Team scoring is based on places for the first five runners and that certainly came into play Saturday morning at Moccasin Bend for the annual McCallie Cross Country Invitational.
Collins Hill earned the team title for the girls while McCallie was crowned the winner among the guys and both margins of victory was a scant one point.
Collins Hill had three runners in the top 10 to finish with 60 points while the Maryville Lady Rebels were second with 61 points, despite having the second and third finishers.
McCallie nipped Brentwood Academy by a 52-53 score as the Blue Tornado won for the second year in a row.
The individual races were pretty close as well, at least for the guys. Luckily for all the competitors in all the races, temperatures were cool, the humidity was low and it was basically a perfect day for a cross country race.
Emma Sloan, a junior running as an individual from Ensworth, put the hammer down in the second and third miles to win the 5K race in 18 minutes, 24 seconds while Maryville's Avery Franklin was a distant second in 19 minutes flat after leading the pack at the first mile.
Delaney Markham, Franklin's teammate, was third in 19:17 while Reagan Freeman of Harpeth Hall and Peighton Meske of Knoxville Webb were fourth and fifth with times of 19:21 and 19:25, respectively.
While Sloan was all alone when she crossed the finish line, that wasn't the case among the guys as MBA's Eric Anderson had an all-out sprint to the line with McCallie's Derek Barnes before winning with a time of 15 minutes, 44 seconds.
Barnes was two seconds back while Brentwood Academy brothers Garrett Bull and Andrew Bull were third and fourth with times of 15:55 and 15:57, respectively.
Daniel Ellis of Collins Hill was several steps back in 16:04 to round out the top five.
Maryville's Franklin had a slight lead when the girls passed the first mile with Sloan not a factor at that point.
By the time the runners reappeared just past the two-mile mark, the Ensworth junior was all by herself and she cruised to the 36-second victory. It was her second win in a row as she was victorious in the Gold division of the Tennessee Classic at Nashville's Percy Warner Park last Saturday in 19:59.
"I went out hoping to have a fast time, but I just tried to maintain a steady pace while getting faster with each mile," Sloan said after catching her breath and getting a drink of water.
"I think I was tenth at the first mile, but I wanted to stay focused throughout the race. I'm not a big fan of hills, so this was a really nice course for me. It was a personal record by more than a minute,so I feel good about that. I never turned to look back, but there were a few times when I wanted to," the slender 16-year-old concluded with a smile.
Franklin recorded her personal best of 18:41 last November at the FootLocker Regional in Charlotte. She wasn't expecting to run that fast on Saturday.
"I may have gone out a little too hard, but I was hoping to break 19 minutes today," the petite Maryville senior after posting an official time of 19:00.37.
"I went for it and it was my fastest time this year. Emma passed me right before we got to the two-mile mark. I tried to stay with her, but I just couldn't," Franklin said in a quiet tone.
MBA's Anderson was listed as the fastest guy in the race with a best of 15:47 coming in. The 18-year-old senior improved that by some three seconds, but there's a really good chance that he had to work a whole lot harder this time.
"It was a blur," Anderson said when asked to comment on his race.
"Somehow I found another gear at the finish. I probably shouldn't have, but I turned around to look as we came around the last turn. I could hear the footsteps at the end, but this is my fastest time by three seconds and I couldn't be any more excited," he added.
McCallie's Barnes has made a name for himself as one who normally finishes with a strong kick. He had a strong finish on Saturday, but Anderson was just a little to strong for the Blue Tornado senior.
"I'm wiped out as the kick at the end killed me," Barnes said while watching other runners cross the finish line.
"I'm fairly happy, but Eric had another gear. I got up there right next to him with about 30 meters to go and still thought I could pass him, but he just wouldn't back down. I gave it all I had and I can't be disappointed with a personal record," he continued, noting that his previous best of 15:53 came two weeks ago.
McCallie coach Mike Wood knew long before the first race started that he had organized a talented field with lots of good teams and many lightning-fast individuals.
"It should be an interesting team score," he commented before finding out what the final team scores were.
"Eric Anderson had the best time before today and he ran a great race, but I'm really pleased with Derek Barnes. I'll have to look at the results before I comment on the rest of the team, but I still feel like we can get better and I'm hoping that we can take it to another level in a couple of weeks when we go to a big race in Tallahassee," Wood suggested.
While Barnes was second for McCallie, teammates Ramsay Ritchie and Dylan Carmack were eighth and tenth, respectively, with times of 16:20 and 16:31.
Matthew Jones was 14th in 16:39 while Will Moore finished 18th in 16:50 to complete McCallie's scoring.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)