Spectators, coaches and everyone at the TSSAA cross country state championships on Saturday at Percy Warner Park witnessed a bizarre situation in the large school girls race that determined not only the individual title, but the team race as well.
After everything was sorted out, Science Hill freshman Jenna Hutchins was awarded the individual state title.
LARGE SCHOOL GIRLS
The penultimate race of the day was set up to be round three of Dobyns-Bennett’s Sasha Neglia and Hutchins that had the makings of a “Thrilla in Manila” in cross country.
Neglia, going for a third consecutive state title, led from the gun and took the first quarter mile out in 68 seconds. Hutchins sat back and decided to conserve energy to slowly reel in Neglia.
Hutchins’ strategy worked to perfection as she had caught her opponent on the second inner loop at Iroquois Steeplechase. Both runners were putting the pedal to the metal, going through two miles at near course record pace.
Coming into the final stretches of the race, the two were side by side and in top gear.
With less than 400 meters to go, there was a slight right bend in the course leading into the home straightaway around a large evergreen tree. There were spectators in that turn, and there was no lead golf cart after the first half mile of the race.
Neglia was in the lead and cut in front of the tree when she was supposed to go behind it. Hutchins followed briefly, but cut back on the real course just in the nick of time. Neglia eventually got back on the course after having cut 20 meters or so.
A TSSAA race official said he saw the girls veering in front of the tree, and stepped out in front of Neglia and Hutchins — directing them back onto the course. The official said Hutchins went back onto the course, but Neglia cut the course.
Neglia crossed the line first in what was estimated to be 17:25, but Hutchins was declared the winner in 17:37 after a lengthy officials discussion that resulted in Neglia being disqualified for cutting the course and gaining a clear advantage.
“I think it was a good race,” Hutchins said. “I tried to start out slower and conserve some energy, and then pick it up later in the race. My freshman season has been really awesome and it’s something to build on.”
Without Neglia, the Lady Indians finished in eighth place and were led by Emma Russum, who made the all-state team by finishing 12th in 19:18. The Tribe would have finished in second place by calculations with the low stock from Neglia.
The Lady Hilltoppers finished sixth in the team race while Daniel Boone was seventh.
Other notable local finishers were David Crockett’s Rachel Dulaney in 18th (19:28), Taylor Roy in 23rd (19:49), Elizabethton’s Lauren Pilkton in 24th (19:50) and Boone’s Judy Chellah in 26th (19:55).
Knoxville West won the team title with 130 points while Farragut finished second with 155.
LARGE SCHOOL BOYS
Science Hill’s Jeb Jones finished out a strong senior campaign with a fifth-place finish in a fast final race of the day. He crossed the line in 15:48.
“I was working the downhill, and I ran really hard today,” Jones said. “I was trying to stay focused. I think my next race after the Hoka One One time trial is going to be Foot Locker South. I just have to keep myself in the race if I want to qualify.”
Boone had another solid showing at state, finishing in sixth place. The Trailblazers were led by senior Matt Huff in 37th at 17:02. Freshman Conner Wingfield took 43rd at 17:10.
Knox Catholic’s Jake Renfree won the race in 15:25.
Other local finishers included Science Hill’s Aaron Jones in 20th (16:34), Cherokee’s Austin Kirkpatrick in 33rd (16:57) and D-B’s Tyler Mays in 104th (17:48).
Siegel successfully defended its state title with 73 points, winning over Bartlett with 145. Science Hill was 13th.