The top three teams in each race and top-10 individual finishers not on a qualifying team automatically qualified for next week’s state championships at Percy Warner Steeplechase Park in Nashville.
THE MAIN EVENT
In the girls race, Science Hill All-American sophomore Jenna Hutchins won a much-anticipated matchup with fellow All-American Dobyns-Bennett senior Sasha Neglia for the individual title. Her winning time of 17:12 was a new course record, beating Neglia’s time of 17:20 from last year’s regional meet.
Neglia was runner-up in a still-quick time of 17:27.
The Lady Indians were able to take home the team title again with 25 points and Science Hill was the runner-up with 67. Daniel Boone placed third and qualified for its third consecutive state meet.
“I decided that I wanted to start out my race today like I have been in my other ones,” Hutchins said. “I just wanted to go out by feel and have enough energy to get through the rest of the race.
“I enjoy this course and the back part has a lot of rolling hills, but I just wanted to improve on my time from last year. I was really proud of the team today. They were really working hard out there and they wanted to get those spots.”
The first mile of the race was scorching fast, coming through at 5:17. The two were a stride’s length apart and were already well ahead of the rest of the field.
Going up the hill after the mile and into Pride Park, Hutchins saw daylight and went for it, leaving Neglia behind. It was almost a mirror image of last year where Neglia gapped Hutchins.
From then, Hutchins hit the two-mile split in 10:51 and Neglia was already 11 seconds behind at 11:02. Hutchins pulled away up “Heartbreak Hill” on the backside of the course, but Neglia was able to close well and narrow the gap from what was 20-plus seconds at one time.
“I felt pretty good about my race today, even though it wasn’t the result I wanted,” Neglia said. “In previous years, we’ve done better at region than we have at state and I think this year will be different. We’ll improve from this.
“The team did awesome and everyone crushed it out there today. … Emma (Russum) has really come along since her freshman year and she’s gotten even better this year. There were a lot of negatives coming out of state last year and I’m just trying to go into it with a positive mindset this year. I’m going to stay on the course this year.”
Russum had a personal best and finished in third place at 18:51.
“We ran really well today. We are one of the best teams in the state and we ran like one of the best teams in the state,” D-B head coach Bob Bingham said. “All the girls ran very smart today. They ran well as a pack and ran with the Boone girls like we had talked about.”
The individual qualifiers out of the girls race were Tennessee High freshman Zoe Arrington (fourth in 18:59), David Crockett’s Rachel Dulaney (seventh, 19:45) and Morristown West’s Julianne Dodson (10th, 19:57).
JONES PULLS AWAY WITH LATE SURGE
On the boys’ side, an exciting race for the individual title put an exclamation point on an already stellar day for the home standing Trailblazers.
Science Hill senior Aaron Jones pulled away in the final half mile of the race to take the individual honors in 16:05, holding off Daniel Boone sophomore Conner Wingfield, who was runner-up in 16:12.
The two were stride for stride through two miles at 10:20 and even beside each other going around the backside of the course, but the senior had a little bit more left in the tank in the final stages.
“I wanted to try to stay conservative on the first part of the course,” Jones said. “I knew in the second half was where everyone would be hurting and it would pay dividends if I made good moves there. Conner is a heck of a runner and he really made me work for it.”
Daniel Boone won its fourth consecutive regional championship and seventh in the last eight years. The ’Blazers finished with 29 points, easily outdistancing runner-up Science Hill with 83 points. Dobyns-Bennett stole the third and final qualifying spot, finishing with 103 points. Morristown West was fourth with 109.
“My plan was to do a surge on the hill and try to pass him,” Wingfield said. “I passed him, but I just didn’t maintain. For the most part, I executed pretty well. The team did awesome and it feels great to be a part of another regional championship.”
“It’s always great to get to go back to the state meet. We take a lot of pride in the region and try to compete for it every year,” Boone head coach Len Jeffers said. “This will be the girls’ 11th appearance at the state and it will be 24 on the boys side. This team has a lot of pride in the uniform that they wear and how good the chemistry is on this team. It’s always fun to take both teams and we’ve been lucky enough to do it now for three years.”
The qualifiers for the boys meet next weekend are Cherokee’s Austin Kirkpatrick (third in 16:38), Sullivan Central’s Mason Sanders (seventh, 17:14) and Sevier County’s Alex Ogle (10th, 17:19).
Sullivan South senior Dillon Youngblood missed the final individual qualifying spot by four-tenths of a second, running 17:20.1 for 11th place.