By Maurice Patton
Brady Henson called it: Cool weather and hot times.
As the meet director predicted, both were in existence for Tuesday afternoon’s Maury County Championships cross country event at Ring Farm. Overcast skies and mid-60s temperatures combined with a firm course to result in some personal-best performances for area runners.
None were faster, or better, than Columbia Academy junior Connor Henson – the son of the Bulldogs’ coach and meet director, who put up a scorching 15-minute, 54-second effort over the 5K course to set a PR and a meet record.
“I just wanted to give everybody a good, fast race to watch,” said Henson, the three-time county champion. “With everything that’s going on, you never know when it’s going to be your last race. I wasn’t going to go into quarantine knowing I didn’t run my best in my last race.”
Henson, a top-10 finisher in consecutive state championship meets, was set on improving his 2019 outing, when he ran a 16:50 to win by more than a minute.
“Sub-16 was the goal,” he said. “I know I can run 15:30-something. If I’d been in a race with guys up there with me, it may have been possible (Tuesday). But there’s still plenty of racing left. This is a step in the right direction, but I’ve got so much potential to run faster.”
A fast takeoff had Henson clear of the pack before the first turn, and he never looked back. Spring Hill senior Michael Gerhart finished second with a 16:38 – also a PR, as was senior William Craig’s 17:32 for third place for Zion Christian.
Columbia Central’s Trace Schoeberl (17:58), winner of last week’s all-comers meet at Ring Farm, and Lions teammate Sunny Quinn (18:20) completed the top five.
“There were ideal conditions for running,” the elder Henson said. “I’m really happy with all the results. I’m happy for the kids from some other schools that got PRs.
“Nobody’s ever broken 16 here. For Connor to go out and run by himself and break 16 – that’s significant.”
CA’s Drew Butt (18:36) and C.J. Durrough (18:40) turned in top-eight finishes as well, helping the Bulldogs to the team title. Columbia Academy scored 39 points, with Spring Hill totaling 53 behind Gerhart and freshman Tyson Peters (18:25, sixth place).
“For him to get in the 16:30s, that’s what we wanted,” Spring Hill coach Jeremy Paisley said of Gerhart. “Hopefully he can get down to the 16:20s over the next couple of weeks. That may give him a shot (at a state berth).”
Columbia Central’s Gonzalo Chamorro (18:47) and Mt. Pleasant’s Jackson Gary (18:52) rounded out the boys top 10.
In the earlier high school girls race, CA junior Annabelle Cothran took the same approach as the younger Henson – clearing the pack early and running solo to a 21:36 finish. Teammate Jaelyn Hickerson placed second with a 23:08.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” Cothran said. “(Coach Henson) said to go out hard and leave ‘em as soon as possible. I looked around and nobody was pushing me. I was shocked. I had nobody around me by the first half-mile.”
Cothran won last year’s meet with a 21:07.
“My time’s not where I wanted it to be, but nobody was pushing me, so there was no sense in expending any extra energy,” she said. “We’ve got another race in a couple of weeks, so there was a little self-preservation there.”
Zion Christian, with three top-10 finishers – junior Hayley Keys (24:01, fourth place), freshman Elizabeth Wood (25:35, seventh place) and junior Aria Davis (26:11, 10th place) – won the team competition, finishing with 56 points to edge Columbia Academy by one.
“I honestly thought we’d be in second place, but I’m thrilled with the opportunity,” Zion coach Christion Brewer said. “They worked hard. We’ve only got five total runners, two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors.”
Agathos Classical, also with a trio of top-10 runners, was third with 65 points. Freshman Lillian Quinn finished third overall with a 23:12, with sister Katherine (24:31) placing sixth and Lia Grippo (26:04) ninth.
Santa Fe’s Marilyn Trout (24:14) placed fifth and Hampshire’s Hailey Potts (26:02) eighth to round out the top 10.
Columbia Academy’s Pressley Miller (13:24) won the middle school girls individual competition, with Battle Creek taking team honors. Battle Creek’s Kyle Nielsen (12:35) won the boys race and led his team to the title.