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Local runners Hutchins, Neglia qualify for national meet

Tanner Cook • Nov 24, 2018 at 8:52 PM

The terrific cross country seasons for Science Hill freshman Jenna Hutchins and Dobyns-Bennett junior Sasha Neglia will be shifting to the west coast as both girls qualified for the national meet in the Foot Locker South Regional and the Nike Southeast Regional on Saturday morning.

FRESHMAN PHENOM MARCHES ON

In a wet and muddy morning race at McAlpine Creek Greenway Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hutchins scored a personal best of 17:25 to place eighth in the Foot Locker South Regional seeded girls race.

She also punched her ticket to the national meet to be held on Dec. 8 at Balboa Park in San Diego, California.

“It’s an awesome feeling and I’m still really excited,” Hutchins said. “My whole plan was to stay with the front pack and hang on as long as I could.”

The top 10 finishers, including six runners from Texas, two from Florida and a South Carolina girl, qualified for the nationals.

Hutchins was the only freshman in the top 10 and the only one in the top 40. Having lived in Texas for a number of years, she’s familiar with some of the girls that were with her — London Culbreath (1st; 17:12), for example — in the front pack

“I was comfortable running with those girls because I had raced them before a few years ago,” Hutchins said. “I was really comfortable going into the race after running 10:26 at the two-mile time trial a few weeks ago. I knew I could hold a pace like that for an extended period of time.”

Hutchins was coming off a “Dash for Doobie” track time trial victory in North Carolina against a loaded field with a sprint finish in the last 150 meters of the race.

“I felt like the mud did slow me down today, but I was still really happy with a personal best,” she said. “I’ve never been to California, so I’m really looking forward to it. I just want to go out there and try to stick with the middle of the pack. I know it’s going to be the best 40 girls in the country, so I’m just going to do my best against a great field.

“I’m honored to be a part of the history being made with two girls going. I was really happy to hear Sasha is going and it’s really cool that we’re both going.”

NEGLIA BACK ON TOP

In her first race back since being disqualified at the state meet, Neglia reasserted her dominance by winning the Nike Southeast Regional at the WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary, North Carolina in 17:37. She finished second in the same race last year.

“The state meet gave me some motivation,” Neglia said. “I had a really good three weeks of training and I have cut down on the swimming, so I knew today was going to be good. Today did feel a bit like a swim, though.”

By winning the race, she punches her second consecutive ticket to the Nike Cross Nationals meet at Glendover Golf Course in Portland, Oregon on Dec. 1.

“I was really happy to get the win this year after just barely missing it last year,” Neglia said. “The mud didn’t change my game plan any, it just really slowed my time down. I still wanted to go out and lead, but I just had to watch for places with water like near the start.”

Neglia — like she typically does — sped out to the front of the race, leading at the two-kilometer mark in 6:49 in what was a downpour of Biblical proportions.

She ended up winning in a near-personal best on a sloppy day by seven seconds over Tsion Yared in 17:44.

“This has been a great season and it’s awesome that the two of us are going to nationals,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a big help that I’ve seen the course before at nationals. I just want to try to improve from last year. That’s the initial goal.”

Neglia finished 24th at nationals last year in 18:14 on the rolling and muddy course in Oregon.

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