Janelle Wigal won her third straight region cross country title on Tuesday morning at Woodland Park, but she may have had to work a little bit harder this year than in the past two.
Wigal crossed the finish line in the 3.1-mile race in 20 minutes, 59 seconds to lead her CSAS Lady Patriots to a second-place finish in the Region 3-A/AA event and qualifying for the state meet, which will be held at Nashville's Percy Warner Park on Nov. 2.
Wigal's win was eight seconds faster than runner-up Danielle March of Sequoyah. Loudon's Bre Snow was third while Polk County's Shelby Moyers and Red Bank's Lynn Fults completed the top five.
Loudon's Mark Rupinski was the winner among the boys as he crossed the line in 17 minutes, 25 seconds, finishing 26 seconds ahead of runner-up Will Vineyard of Sweetwater.
Daniel Mihaescu of Collegedale Academy, Red Bank's Austin Wingo and Boyd-Buchanan's Hank Warren completed the top five.
Polk County won the girls race with 48 points while CSAS was second with 55 and Sequoyah third with 59. Sweetwater was first among the boys with 42 points while Red Bank and CSAS followed with 67 and 73, points, respectively.
The top three teams and individuals in the top 10 not on one of the top three teams qualify for the state meet.
Wigal played chase for most of her race, but when the chips were on the line and the possibility of a third-straight region title, she put the hammer down.
As the field made its way up the biggest hill for the second time, Wigal made her move and March couldn't keep the pace.
"I just wanted to go out with a bang," the 17-year-old Wigal said while chatting with March after the race ended.
"I didn't know the course very well, but that was my best time ever. My goal was to win today and I'm hoping that my team qualified for the state again as well.
"I told myself that I didn't want to lose this race today, but she led for the entire race. I caught her at the top of the hill and I think I started my kick too soon, but I'm definitely tired right now," Wigal said.
March is a 16-year-old junior who had her second-best time of the season. She was caught totally by surprise when Wigal came whizzing by in the final mile.
"I took the lead for the first time with about a mile left, but I was surprised when she caught up with me. She snuck up on me on the downhill. I tried to keep up, but she was just faster than I was," March nodded.
Loudon's Rupinski got into a smooth rhythm early and maintained it the entire way, pulling away from Sweetwater's Vineyard and Collegedale's Daniel Mihaescu in the second half of the race.
"I was really pushing the pace through the woods as I thought I had somebody on my heels, but I guess I was just hearing my own footsteps," Rupinski said afterward.
"I've had a cold for the last week or so and haven't done much running, but this is the first race I've every won. This will be my fourth year to run at the state meet," he added.
Vineyard was happy with his best time ever as he led his Wildcat teammates to a first-place finish.
"I ran my best time ever today, but I had good support from my coaches and my teammates. I passed three runners on the way down that hill and I took over second place in the final mile. I'm just thankful that God gave me the strength to run well today," Vineyard added.
Rupinski, Justin Schoetzel of Polk County and Boyd-Buchanan's Rainer Zarzour all qualified for the state as individuals while Sweetwater's Kayla Conner and Boyd-Buchanan's Jada Hale were individual qualifiers among the girls.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)