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Hutchins, Neglia return to nationals

Tanner Cook • Nov 30, 2019 at 6:29 PM

With bids to their respective national meets on the line, Northeast Tennessee’s two best runners took to 5-kilometer cross-country courses once again on Saturday morning in North Carolina.

In the Foot Locker South Regional at McAlpine Creek Greenway Park in Charlotte, Science Hill’s Jenna Hutchins had a huge bounce-back race, winning in 16:53.1.

It was her second time under 17 minutes this season and it came just one week after running Tennessee’s second-fastest time ever for 3,200 meters at 10:15.

Later on in the morning, Dobyns-Bennett senior Sasha Neglia repeated as the Nike Southeast Regional champion in Cary with a huge personal best of 17:02.5.

The Lady Indians also ran as a team at the regional meet and finished in fourth place. They needed top two to automatically qualify for Nike Cross Nationals next weekend in Portland, Ore. They will be entered into an at-large bid pool consisting of other third- and fourth-place teams from the region meets across the country.

A committee will decide the Tribe’s fate, but Neglia has qualified for her third straight trip to Nike Cross Nationals regardless.

RETURN TO SAN DIEGO

Hutchins, who finished ninth in the nation last year as a freshman at Foot Locker Nationals, started out the race fairly conservatively. She was fourth at one mile, going through at 5:12.2, just off the leaders.

In the second mile, which includes the only hill in the course, Hutchins bolted into the lead and went through two mile in 10:49, running well within herself as the lead pack had already separated into two distinct groups.

“After we went down the hill, the group started to spread out a little bit,” Hutchins said. “Ava and I kind of separated ourselves and we ran all the way to the three-mile mark together. She’s such a great competitor and everyone out there ran a great race today. I was really happy to get the win.”

Hutchins and South Carolina’s Ava Dobson were well ahead of the field and duked it out all the way to the end.

“I made my move with about 100 meters to go,” Hutchins said.

This race was a big statement for the super sophomore, who after finishing third at state and being a bit under the weather, believes this reaffirms her status nationally.

“I really wanted to come out and have a good race to show that I really am as good as I have been,” Hutchins said. “After state and being sick, I felt like the time trial last week was a good step to getting back to full strength.”

Also going to San Diego will be Virginia High’s Kelsey Harrington, who finished fourth in 17:05.3. She led after the first mile and dropped back to fourth during the second mile, but held strong.

The Virginia Class 2 individual state champion is the first individual qualifier from Virginia High since Elizabeth Hester was fifth in the Kinney South Regional in 1982.

FOUR LADY INDIANS RUN TO PERSONAL BESTS

Neglia, per her usual style, led through the first 2,000 meters in 6:39 and went on to win in a personal-best 17:02.5. Her previous best was 17:18.0 from Jesse Owens Classic in her junior year.

The three-time individual state champion and Morgantown (W. Va.) senior Athena Young were together for most of the race until Neglia pulled away at the end.

“It was a great race and I’m really happy to be going back to nationals again,” Neglia said. “That first mile is all downhill, so I was just trying to push it. I knew we still had to run the hill twice and that’s where I knew I was strong.”

The Lady Indians were in eighth place at the first split at 2K, amassing 171 points. However, thanks to personal bests from seniors Emma Russum (30th in 18:30.3), Julianna McReynolds (45th in 18:42.6), Gracie Allen (67th in 19:04.4) and a good showing from freshman Autumn Headrick (118th in 19:35.3), the Lady Indians finished fourth overall with a score of 162.

Loudoun Valley (Va.) and Pine Crest (Fla.) were the two auto-qualifiers, finishing first and second, respectively.

D-B, along with third-place Chapel Hill, will be placed in an at-large bids pool. There are four at-large team bids up for grabs that will be decided by a committee and announced later in the week to determine which teams go to Portland.

“If I could make a case, we’ve been consistent all year and we’ve run some pretty tough courses,” Neglia said. “I’m so proud of how my team ran and this season. We’ve been together for so long and this has been a great four years.”

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