Dobyns-Bennett brought home a second straight girls team championship and the host Trailblazers notched yet another regional boys title.
The Lady Indians’ Sasha Neglia, with an effort of 17:20, eclipsed the course record to win the girls individual title — and Science Hill’s Jeb Jones took the boys crown in 16:23.
The top three teams and individuals in the top 10 not on a qualifying team advanced to Nashville.
NEGLIA BLAZES TO VICTORY
The marquee matchup going into the race was the individual head-to-head battle between Neglia and Science Hill freshman Jenna Hutchins.
Both had been the fastest two girls in the state the entire season and some of the fastest in the country. It was going to be the second time this season that they would be on the same course racing each other. The other was at Cherokee Farms in Knoxville, where Hutchins nipped Neglia by two seconds in September.
The pace was quick from the gun as the two went stride for stride through the first mile in 5:18. Neglia was leading and Hutchins was drafting like in a NASCAR race, waiting to make a move. It was great theatre, playing out in three acts.
Coming up the hill into Pride Park, it was still close and the two had already separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
At the crossings behind Boone’s baseball field, near one and a half miles, Neglia made a surge around the turn and saw daylight. The break had come and Neglia had gained nearly 15 yards in a matter of a few seconds.
Coming through two miles at 11 minutes, Neglia’s own course record of 17:53 set last year was in jeopardy of being shattered. Coming up “Moody’s Hill” and the final stretches of the course, spectators could see a slight grin on her face as she knew that her third consecutive regional title was secure.
Hutchins did finish second in 17:47, which is still the second-best time ever run on the course, but Neglia had avenged her loss earlier in the year and it was sweet.
“I was really happy with my race,” Neglia said. “This is definitely my favorite course, so I just channeled all that energy into my run today.
“Everyone ran really well today and we’ve kind of started to reach our potential. We started out a little rough, but we’ve definitely gotten better as the season progresses.”
The Lady Indians picked up the regional team title with a slim 10-point win over Daniel Boone (41-51).
Emma Russum, who has been consistent all year, finished third in 19:13, which is a personal best for her on the Trailblazer course.
Science Hill finished in third place with 55 points, but did not run the second-best runner on the team due to sickness.
“I think I had a great time for this course,” Hutchins said. “The reason I ran that time is because I ran against Sasha. She’s a great competitor. I’m proud of the efforts of everyone on the team. We missed our number two runner, but everyone else stepped up.”
Taylor Roy (4th; 19:30) and Rachel Dulaney (5th, 19:31) of David Crockett will be going to state as individuals along with Elizabethton’s Lauren Pilkton (6th, 19:55) and Cherokee’s Harper Russell (9th, 20:21).
“We really competed out there,” Tribe head coach Bob Bingham said. “I don’t know if it made a difference or not, but Cordell Morgan passed four runners in the last 250 meters. She was really determined. We can get better this next week.”
JONES CRUISES IN BOYS RACE
Jones took the lead from the gun on a course that he has been running since the fourth grade. In the end, he took home his second consecutive regional title.
The matchup was going to be in the team race as Daniel Boone was trying to back up the conference title it won last week on the sixth runner over Science Hill.
With the Hilltoppers running out front with Jeb and Aaron Jones in first and second secured, all Boone needed was to put as many runners in front of Science Hill’s fourth and fifth to make sure the region title would stay in Gray.
The outcome proved decisive as Boone finished with 46 points while the ’Toppers totaled with 62 in a distant second. Boone placed all scoring seven in front of the fifth runner for Science Hill and all of the Trailblazer runners broke 18 minutes, which is quite a feat even if it is their home course. Morristown West was third place with 77 points.
The individual qualifiers were Cherokee’s Austin Kirkpatrick (3rd, 16:45) and D-B’s Tyler Mays (8th, 17:06). Mays qualifies for the fourth straight year as an individual for the Tribe.
“It was a fun time out there today,” Jones said. “It was really nice going around the course for the last time. It was like a movie coming up because everyone was cheering me on. I guess it’s because I’ve been running for so long.”
Boone was led by freshman Conner Wingfield in fourth place with a time of 16:47. He has been steady for the ’Blazers all year in his first year on varsity.
“He had another great race and he’s very composed,” Boone head coach Len Jeffers said. “He runs within himself and he listens. The boys ran great today without one of our top runners and they did a good job of making it nerve-racking up front with Science Hill having the low sticks. Today, our guys ran in close packs and ran well as a team. That’s the best I could’ve asked.”
The TSSAA cross country state championships will be next Saturday at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. eastern time.