High school cross country runners that gathered at Woodland Park Baptist Church on Tuesday morning for the Region 3-A/AA and 3-AAA meets couldn’t have asked for better weather.
It was cool – almost cold – for the first race and humidity was all but non-existent. It warmed up a bit for the final two races early in the afternoon, but it was still way better than runners in the Chattanooga area are accustomed to.
Signal Mountain swept both titles in the A-AA division while Maryville did the same in AAA.
The Signal Mountain girls, who will be shooting for their fifth straight state title next week, recorded a perfect score of 15 as they had the first five finishers and six of the top 10 to finish with 15 points. East Hamilton was a distant second with 61 while CSAS and Tellico Plains both qualified for the state meet with 104 and 114 points, respectively.
The Signal Mountain boys were almost as impressive as they had five runners in the top seven to win with 22 points. Sequatchie County was second with 59 while CSAS and East Hamilton also qualified with 109 and 126 points, respectively.
The Maryville girls won with 40 points while runner-up Walker Valley had 65. Heritage and Lenoir City also qualified with 86 and 109 points, respectively.
The Maryville boys tallied 36 points with four runners in the top 10 while Walker Valley against finished second with 92. McMinn County and Cleveland were the other team qualifiers with 95 and 122 points, respectively.
Signal Mountain’s Kelsey Thompson covered the three-loop, 3.1-mile course in 19 minutes, 16 seconds to win the girls A-AA race while teammate Ada Boyd was second some nine seconds later.
Maxine Richards, Hannah Laramore and Aubrey Lynch all followed as the gap between Signal’s first runner and their fifth was only a minute.
Sequatchie County’s Carter Bradford was the boys A-AA champ with a time of 15 minutes, 49 seconds as Signal’s Joshua Pote was runner-up by less than a second.
Signal’s Kaid Boehm and Jack Gibby were third and fourth while Sequatchie’s Grayson Kennedy was fifth.
Perhaps the most impressive individual performance of the day belonged to Maryville’s Andie-Marie Jones, who bolted to the front of the pack as soon as the horn sounded and kept stretching her lead before winning with a time of 17 minutes, 48 seconds.
Teammate Gracie Franklin was second some 76 seconds back while Lenoir City’s Sawyer Grace Simmons was third. Cleveland’s Estella Clemons and William Blount’s Sydnee Sims were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Cleveland’s Ryan Lovelace, who had a scary experience last Thursday when he collapsed 10 yards before the finish line in the Front Runner Invitational at Baylor, redeemed himself by winning the AAA boys race with a time of 15 minutes, 48 seconds as he finished 37 seconds ahead of runner-up Macguire Jones of Maryville.
Cleveland’s Garrison Rodgers was third while Ooltewah’s Chance Underwood and Maryville’s Lance Hatcher were fourth and fifth.
The Signal Mountain girls are pumped and ready to challenge for another state title next week. They all ran with energy and enthusiasm on Tuesday, but none were any more impressive than Thompson, who is only a junior but the oldest of her teammates who chased her the entire way.
“The weather was an advantage for us for sure, but I got a PR (personal record) by more than 30 seconds,” she said with a huge smile on her face after her winning performance ended.
“I had planned to stay with my teammates, but I took the lead about midway and just kept pushing. I slowed down a little in the final miles just to play it safe, but I had a great run today,” she added.
Boyd, who is a talented 14-year-old freshman, was equally as happy.
“It was nice and cold today and that helped a lot, but I just ran to the best of my ability and it all turned out just fine,” she expressed.
Sequatchie’s Bradford finished fifth at the state last year and is hoping to improve on that next week. He appears ready for the next big challenge after pulling away late to beat Signal’s Pote by 1.19 seconds.
“I just tried to run an even pace today, but I also wanted to be in the lead. I moved into first at the start of the second mile,” the 17-year-old senior explained.
“That was a good race for me,” said Pote, a 16-year-old sophomore.
“My game plan was to go out fast and finish strong. But I tried my hardest and I’m happy with the results,” he responded.
Maryville’s Jones posted an outstanding time, made more impressive by the fact she ran alone the entire way. This young lady has already committed to run for the Tennessee Lady Vols next year.
“I was going for a PR, but missed it by 18 seconds,” she explained after catching her breath.
“It’s tough to run hard when you’re running by yourself, but I just tried to stay focused. I wanted a 5:25 first mile and ran exactly that, but wasn’t able to maintain it the rest of the way. I did exactly what I was hoping to do today and I’m looking forward to next week,” she added.
Cleveland’s Lovelace has been a dominant runner all fall, but he was totally caught by surprise when he collapsed right before reaching the finish line on Thursday. He found out that he was suffering from a bacterial infection and wasn’t cleared to run this week until Monday by his doctor.
He was tremendously relieved as he wasn’t ready for his season to end.
“I’ll take it,” the 17-year-old senior explained.
“I was just cleared by my doctor yesterday to run and I was so pumped. I just wanted to establish a fast pace, but we had great weather and that helped a lot. I was right where I wanted to be and I feel great right now. It was a positive day for me,” he added.
Dustin Carpenter is the coach for both Signal Mountain teams. He knows better than anyone just how hard his kids have worked and he knows that next week will provide a tough challenge for both teams as they will face some tough competition.
“It’s been a good day,” he said after the boys race concluded.
“A perfect score was the plan for the girls, but we just had to execute. Our goal was to run up front and we were able to do that. Kelsey showed up big as usual and led the way for the girls. These kids are all ready to defend their titles as they never back down from anybody,” the veteran coach added.
While the top four teams all advance, the top five individuals in each race not on one of the top four teams also advance to the state meet, which will be held next Thursday and Friday in Hendersonville at Sanders Ferry Park.
The AAA races will be on Thursday with the girls racing at 1 Chattanooga time and the boys at 1:50. The A-AA girls will be Friday at 2:20 and the guys at 3:10.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)