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University High boys, Dobyns-Bennett's Neglia look to defend state titles

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Oct 31, 2018 at 2:24 PM

University High looks to defend its TSSAA Small-Schools boys’ state cross country championship on Saturday, while the girls’ team looks to join them atop the podium after a perfect score at regionals.

For the Large Schools, the major storyline is whether Dobyns-Bennett’s Sasha Neglia can capture a third straight state title or if a talented newcomer from Science Hill can spoil her plans.

Action begins Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern with the Small-School girls’ race at the Percy Warner Park steeplechase course in Nashville.

The Bucs raced to a 62-101 win over L&M Stem Academy last year to win the school’s second boys’ state championship.

Senior Porter Bradley, who finished sixth individually at the state meet, is back to lead the team. He has plenty of momentum following an upset win at the Trailblazer Invitational and then winning the Region 1 race with a 17:01 time a couple of weeks later.

Other leaders for UH heading into the meet are Bracken Burns, Hayden Charles, Nick Daniel, Brant Hare, Thomas Johnson and Blake Ryan.

LARGE-SCHOOL BOYS

For the large schools, Daniel Boone is the local favorite on the boys’ side coming off wins over Science Hill in the Big 7 Conference and Region 1 meets. It was the Trailblazers’ third straight Region 1 title.

The Trailblazers will be without top runner Chance Bowman, who is sidelined with nagging injuries. Boone’s highest finisher at the region was freshman Conner Wingfield, who was fourth overall at 16:47. The largest success comes from the Trailblazers’ ability to pack together.

Others on the list to represent the ’Blazers at state: are Max Austin, Evan Bruce, Matt Huff, Graydon Hull, Mason Lewis and Keaton Smith. 

Science Hill’s Jeb Jones and Aaron Jones went 1-2 individually at the conference and region meets. Jeb Jones ranks in the top five of the state with his best time this season at 15:26. The Jones boys will need help from the other ’Toppers — Akshay Bakshi, Anderson Fickley, Jonah Harris, Ray Richardson and Tony Smith — if they are to crack the top five in the team results.

Tyler Mays of Dobyns-Bennett and Austin Kirkpatrick of Cherokee also qualified for the state as an individual.

LARGE-SCHOOL GIRLS

The race features two of the top runners in the state with Dobyns-Bennett junior Sasha Neglia, who won last year’s state meet by 20 seconds, and Science Hill’s heralded freshman Jenna Hutchins.

Neglia, the two-time defending state champion, has been at the top of her game recently. She set course records of under 18 minutes at Steele Creek Park, and 17:20 at Daniel Boone’s course. Hutchins, who was held out of the conference meet, ran 17:47 in the Region 1 championships.

Dobyns-Bennett, which won its third straight Region 1 title, also has Emma Russum, who finished third individually with a 19:53 time. Gracie Allen, Annika Cleven, Morgan Cordell, Julianna McReynolds, and Macee Pickup round out the Lady Indians’ lineup.

Daniel Boone’s girls also made the state meet for a second straight year. The Lady ’Blazers defeated D-B at the Big 7 meet and feature sisters Judy and Patricia Chellah, along with Marley McCoy, Gracie Murray, Grace Sheldon, Erin Bruce and Alanna Cloud.

Science Hill qualified as a team with Katy Neubert, Ashley Doyle, Katherine Flynn, Destiny Haller, Haley Miller and Taryn Seeley expected to join Hutchins.

Taylor Roy of David Crockett finished fourth individually at region, and she will be joined by teammate Rachel Dulaney, who finished fifth to qualify for the state meet for a second straight year. Elizabethton senior Lauren Pilkton and Cherokee’s Harper Russell will be also headed to the state meet as invididuals.

SMALL SCHOOL GIRLS

University High, which won five girls’ state championships in the 2000s, has a shot to finish amongst the top teams in the small schools race after posting a perfect score at the Region 1 meet.

Ali Burns, who ran a 21:13 at the region, leads the way for the Bucs, who also feature Anna Bader, Anna Davidson, Kirsten Day, Isabelle Johnson and Camilla Rivas.

Happy Valley also qualified as a team with Olivia Absher, Chelsea Arnold, Aubrie Caldwell, Emily Fisher, Holly Moore, Kalee Roark and Madison Wagner representing the Lady Warriors.

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