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Large Class girls highlight state XC meet on Saturday

Tanner Cook • Oct 31, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Championships will be on the line Saturday at Percy Warner Steeplechase Park when the TSSAA state cross country meet returns to the grounds for the 44th year.

The Large Class races will be the first to take the course as the girls event is slated for an 11 a.m. Eastern start time and the boys are to follow at 11:45 a.m.

The Small Class races will be the last two on the docket. The girls go off at 2:50 p.m. and the boys begin at 3:35 p.m.

The steeplechase course at Percy Warner is a deceptively tough course with some slight undulations in the two loops, but there is nothing on the course that Northeast Tennessee runners cannot handle. In fact, runners from the area have been known to have personal bests at state if given even fair conditions.

LARGE CLASS GIRLS

On paper, this race should be down to two runners quickly and it will be the pair that has dominated headlines all year in the area for girls cross country.

Science Hill sophomore and defending state champion Jenna Hutchins comes in as the clear favorite, having averaged 17:08 for her five 5-kilometer races this season and having a personal best of 16:38.97 at the Desert Twilight XC Festival on Sept. 27.

Hutchins’ personal best this season is also the second-fastest time ever produced by a high school girl from Tennessee, standing only six seconds behind 2006 Foot Locker national champion Kathy Kroeger.

Dobyns-Bennett senior Sasha Neglia will be looking for her third individual state title in four years. She will also be looking to redeem herself from last year’s controversy over cutting the course with less than a quarter-mile to go in the race.

Neglia has averaged 17:33 for her five 5K races this season and has been incredibly consistent even on the tougher courses.

Between the Hutchins and Neglia, the two have a combined three losses on the season and both rank inside the country’s top 25 by time. Neither have run over 18 minutes this season in any race.

Cookeville junior Landri Wilcox and Fred J. Page junior Leigh Walters should be the only other challengers in the Large Class race to Hutchins and Neglia. Both have broken 17:45 this season and both did at Jesse Owens Classic in Alabama.

The course record and best time for high school female runner on Tennessee soil is Kroeger’s 16:59.45 set in 2006.

It will be interesting to see what strategy Hutchins will go with in Saturday’s race. She could take the field out blazing like she did at regionals or she could hang back and burn everyone late with the long, 300-meter straightaway to finish up the race.

In the team race, Dobyns-Bennett has been running like the strongest team in the state all season and they will look to bring home the first team title since 1997. Brentwood will be the main challenge for the Lady Indians as the Lady Bruins have their top five all have season-bests under 20:10.

Science Hill is a strong contender for a podium finish if the Lady Hilltoppers can run one of their better races of the season. Going into the state meet, Science Hill is currently predicted fourth.

LARGE CLASS BOYS

Science Hill senior Aaron Jones has one of the better chances to make the top 15, as he comes in with a season and personal best of 15:34, which he ran at Great American in early October.

He could be considered amongst the runners to challenge the heavily-favored Silas Winders (Henry County), who has a season-best of 14:29.32.

Franklin comes in as the heavy favorite with a season-best average of 16:04 for the top five scorers and an impressive spread of just 17 seconds between the first and fifth runners.

Siegel — which has been the top team for most of the season — currently is predicted second with Canaan Anderson spearheading the attack for the Stars. He is the projected runner-up based on time with a season’s best of 15:05.

Daniel Boone is currently predicted outside of the top 10, but with the way the Trailblazers ran at the regional meet and defended home turf, do not be surprised if they make some noise at Percy Warner on Saturday.

SMALL CLASS GIRLS

University High won yet another region title last week, but it will tough to win defend the state championship on Saturday.

Signal Mountain is the heaviest favorite in any of the girls races and the Lady Buccaneers are currently predicted third. The Lady Eagles have a team average of 21:00 and a spread of just 1:23.

UH’s team average is 23:07 and has a spread of nearly two and a half minutes.

Both of the Lady Jr. Bucs top runners in Anna Bader and regional champ Isabelle Johnson have good chances of making the All-State team, based on projections.

SMALL CLASS BOYS

Much like the girls race, Signal Mountain is a huge favorite to take the title away from University High on Saturday.

The Eagles have an impressive team average of 17:16 and the spread is just over 40 seconds. Projected runner-up Union City is not even in the same ballpark with a team average of 18:02.

The Jr. Bucs could have a good race as a team if everyone runs at or near their personal bests. The projections currently say that UH is ninth, but after the first two teams, third place is wide open for five teams.

Regional champion Nick Daniel is projected 11th based on his season’s best of 17:25.

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