If things go right, the Science Hill and University High girls’ cross country teams could see a repeat of 2008.
That year, both of the Johnson City schools won state championships. When asked about the lofty expectations placed on their teams, both Science Hill head coach Jennifer Brockett and University High head coach Dee Perry embraced the challenge.
“That is our goal — what we are shooting for,” Brockett said. “They know it’s possible, so it’s a matter of getting out there and doing it. There is a lot of good competition this year.”
The Lady ’Toppers are expected to be the class of the Big Eight Conference and lock horns with teams like Morristown West, Hardin Valley, Brentwood, Ravenwood at the state meet.
Despite a small squad of just seven varsity runners, University High believes it has a just as good a chance of building on a tradition which includes five straight state championships from 2005-09.
“My girls’ team this year is small in numbers but we have two seniors, Landry Loving and Sterlin Elliott, who were on state championship teams in the past,” Perry said. “Landry was injured last year but is running strong now. Sterlin was our only state qualifier last year and it’s the first time in three years both of them are healthy.”
Two girls dominate the action for Science Hill — juniors Molly Foster and Martha McCoy. They finished 1-2 in both the Big Eight and Region 1 meets a year ago, followed by Foster placing second at the state meet and McCoy finishing ninth.
”They’re the dynamic duo, and we’re working on making it the trifecta to get Sarah Fickley up there with them as well,” Brockett said. “She’s been practicing well with Martha.”
With sophomores Courtney Keith, Olivia Greeley, Alicia DeVos and Fickley all returning, the Lady ‘Toppers certainly look to have the speed to match up with anyone in the state.
Besides the aforementioned, Science Hill also has three seniors — Ellis Linder, Ashley Hamati, Savannah Garland — and several more underclassmen.
At UH, Taylor Rice is a returning junior and Kirah Elliott is a returning sophomore. New additions include sophomore Lauren Snyder and freshman Micaela Tucker. However, the biggest impact could come from eighth-grader Olivia Augsburger, who will move up to the high school team after the middle school season is over.
“She is very strong and usually runs third on the team in practice,” Perry said. “The girls are all running great for this early in the season and no one has any injuries or problems other than the usual distance running aches and pains.”
On the boys’ side, where Brockett serves as an assistant to Buddy Thomas, Science Hill is expected to battle Dobyns-Bennett and Daniel Boone for Big Eight Conference supremacy.
The Hilltoppers’ hopes start with senior Brennon Nelson, who ran 16:49 at the state meet one year ago.
“We’re looking at Brennon Nelson as a leader,” Brockett said. “He previewed well so we’re looking at him to really shine this year.”
Senior Nik Hopkins, along with juniors Sterling Rollins and Davon Woodmancy, are transitioning back to cross country after having success in track. Junior Adam Montano has been a surprise this early part of the season, while Brockett described freshman Bradley Tongco as a young man with a lot of potential.
Science Hill has the luxury of having several other seniors — Joe Dunham, Tyler Hutchinson, Caleb Hodge, Jose Mejia, Andreas Montano, Tyler Shannon and David Snapp on its roster.
The Hilltoppers are scheduled to be in a meet with D-B and Boone later this week which Brockett said will be a good indicator of where everyone stands.
Returning juniors Seth Hilbert and Gabe Perry should pace the University High boys, although freshman Noah Jones showed up both at this past Saturday’s Eye Opener Meet in South Carolina.
Jones, the defending state middle school champion, earned all-region as an eighth-grader last season and was the Junior Bucs’ No. 2 finisher behind Perry at the state high school meet.
“Noah Jones has really surprised me,” coach Perry said. “I knew he was good and would be one of my top three, but he cut through the boys that last mile Saturday and could have gone under 17 (minutes).”
University High has just one senior, Jeffrey Kennedy, a baseball player who has not run cross country in two years. However, Perry said that Kennedy, the Jr. Bucs’ No. 5 finisher on Saturday, is getting stronger every day.
Talented freshmen, Tucker Rosenbusch and Levi Carter, and returning junior Jackson Colvett have been consistently among the top seven in practice.
Other runners vying for the top spots are junior Ben Page and sophomores Jonathan Burke and Tanner Smith.
Like the Science Hill boys, the Junior Bucs will likely find some of their toughest competition inside the region, especially defending state runner-up Greeneville.
“It’s going to come down to depth,” Coach Perry said. “Greeneville really surprised me. Wesley Pectol has taken Dylan Jones’s place, and he’s stepped right into that No. 1 runner’s spot. They lost three of their best runners from last year but they've come back just as strong.”