Thirty years ago, Len Jeffers was a runner on Daniel Boone’s first state championship cross country team.
This season, the Trailblazers’ sixth-year head coach is trying to lead Daniel Boone to a third state title and its first since 1998.
To become a true title contender, however, Jeffers pointed to one key area where ‘Blazers need to improve.
“We have an extremely strong team, but the thing which would benefit us the most would be to have a closer pack,” Jeffers said. “We need a few of our runners to close up on each other and cut the time gaps down.”
It’s something Boone has done well on occasion, particularly earlier this season at the Bluegrass Cross Country Festival race in Elizabethton when their top four runners were only separated by 50 seconds and it was another 50 seconds back to their sixth runner.
That day, the Trailblazers, led by Roderick Bowman at 16:20 and Chad Whitehead at 16:25, packed together like a college team to beat the likes of Class AAA frontrunners Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill and Class A-AA powerhouses Greeneville and University High.
“We’ve been fortunate that we always seem to have a little pack of two or three and another pack of two or three and another pack behind them,” Jeffers said. “The meet at Sycamore Shoals was the best meet we had as a team. The top five was closer than at any other meet.”
Bowman and Whitehead head up a group of talented juniors, which includes track standout Jordan Roth.
The Boone roster also consists of senior co-captains, Adam Whitfield and Tyler Starnes, along with sophomores Caleb Cutshall and Jacob Cutshall, and freshmen, Adam Barnard and James Garst.
Other team members include: Vas Bennett, Peter Mermilliod, TJ Merendino, Connor Davenport, Skyler Horton, Chase Royston, Curt Haaland and Christopher Hull.
It’s been a successful season for Boone so far with victories at the Bristol Cross and the prestigious Hagan Stone Cross Country Classic in North Carolina.
However, the meat of the season is still to come with the 39th annual Trailblazer Invitational scheduled for October 15, the Big Eight Conference meet on October 20 and the Region 1 championships on October 27.
There should be plenty of tough competition, especially at the region where Morristown West, along with the aforementioned Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill, are expected to battle the Trailblazers for bids to the state championship meet.
“Right now, it appears there are four teams in contention for those three spots,” Jeffers said. “That’s where you have to run in a pack because if there’s too much separation, there are too many places in between which break up the scoring. You want to close the gaps up enough where there aren’t too many places breaking it up.”
To keep the team in line, Adam Whitfield, the senior captain often takes over with a role as a vocal leader. Others in the junior class like Bowman, who made to the state as an individual last season, and Whitehead bring a competitive nature that rubs off on the rest of the team. Jeffers will tell you, however, it’s not just two or three athletes, but a total team effort which has gotten the ’Blazers to this point.
“A lot of them have come a long ways and really helped us out,” he said. “But, it’s been the team as a whole. It all goes back to their summer training. They all put in the time to gain so much strength and so much stamina.”