Johnson City Press: Hutchins, Neglia steal show at state meet
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Hutchins, Neglia steal show at state meet

Jeff Birchfield • May 23, 2019 at 9:42 PM

MURFREESBORO — The latest showdown between Jenna Hutchins and Sasha Neglia had the crowd in a frenzy at the TSSAA large schools state track and field championships.

Hutchins, the Science Hill freshman, fended off an all-out sprint by Dobyns-Bennett junior Neglia to win the 1,600-meter race on the Middle Tennessee State University track to win by just .09 of a second.

The final times were 5:00.09 for Hutchins and 5:00.18 for Neglia. They weren’t their fastest of the season, having to battle other tough competitors and temperatures in the 90s.

Hutchins, who ran behind Neglia for most of the race, made her winning move with 200 meters to go. It led to the incredible finish between two of the nation’s top-ranked runners.

“I love racing her because it helps me improve,” Hutchins said. “It’s great to have two of us in such a close area. You don’t see that much. We enjoy talking to each other before and after the meet, have become friends on and off the track. I like having her because she’s just as fast as me and it makes a great race.”

Neglia hadn’t been in front long, staying with the pack until 500 meters to go to take the lead. She wasn’t sure about the outcome when she crossed the finish line.

“I didn’t really know if I won. I was just trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible,” Neglia said. “I didn’t know who won until they put it up on the board. Either way, it was a good race and you have to be happy with it.”

The two weren’t done.

Hutchins took the lead from Eleanor Mancini of Knox Catholic in the 800 with 100 meters to go and raced to a time of 2:13.24 for her third state championship of the season. Harper Russell of Cherokee finished fifth.

Neglia dominated the 3,200 and won at 10:46 by four seconds over Andie-Marie Page of Maryville. It was Neglia’s second state track championship after she won the 1,600 the previous year.

COWAN’S TRIPLE PODIUM

Sullivan South’s Madison Cowan tripled up with third-place finishes in the girls’ long jump (18-01.25), triple jump (37-04) and high jump (5-feet-4). Despite the trifecta, Cowan doesn’t believe she’s reached her potential. She likes the high stakes at the state meet.

“It’s been a good year, but I’m looking forward to next season. I think I can improve on what I’ve done,” Cowan said. “I think the pressure down here actually helps me. It gets me focused.”

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

Science Hill's Ekeminiabsi Eno-Ekefre finished a surprising third in the boys' triple jump after being seeded 11th coming into the meet. He went 43 feet and 10 inches.

“Being my first year, I thought I might be a decent jumper, but I didn’t think I would make state,” Eno-Ekefre said. “With the help of my coaches, I was able to jump 43 (feet) successfully. So many practices, he would yell at me with things like, ‘Circle your leg and all.’ With all that, there was progress. I’m in shock right now. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it.”

It was also surprising to see the Hilltoppers’ Jeb Jones take the lead from Jake Renfree, a national champion runner from Knox Catholic, with a lap to go in the boys’ 1,600. Renfree battled back to win in 4:14.30, while Jones finished fourth at 4:17.75.

“The race was kind of slow, so I was trying to take over and win,” Jones said. “The top guys in the mile are all competitive and it’s the fastest field it’s been in years.”

OTHER TOP PERFORMERS

Dobyns-Bennett’s Samuel Cleek was third in the boys’ pole vault at 14 feet. He tied with teammate Tanner Henry for sixth in the high jump as both cleared 6-feet-4. Henry was all-state in the decathlon and triple jump as well.

The D-B girls’ 4x800 relay team of Emma Russum, Juilianna McReynolds, Macee Pickup and Gracie Allen also finished third.

Daniel Boone’s Caitlin Cutshall cleared 9-feet-6 and finished fourth in the girls’ pole vault. Cade Salyers, a multi-sport star in football and wrestling, made all-state in track with his heave of 48-09, good for fourth place in the shot put.

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