By Maurice Patton
After winning the TSSAA Division II-A boys cross country state championship, Connor Henson didn’t go to Disney World.
But it was close.
“We’re going to Dollywood for a weekend getaway. Then it’s back to work,” said the Columbia Academy junior, who was dominant in Friday’s title race – running a 16-minute, 8.33-second time over the 5K Sanders Ferry Park course at Hendersonville to finish 39 seconds ahead of the runner-up, Harding Academy’s Andy Henton (16:47.41).
“I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous for this one. I knew I’d have a lot of supporters come out and I had a big target on my back. There were multiple guys that it could have gone either way if I’d had a bad day. But I knew I was going to have a good day.”
Henson finished 10th in the Division I Class A state meet as a freshman, then placed sixth in last year’s DII-A competition.
“Last year we learned a lot,” Henson’s father, CA coach Brady Henson, said. “We felt like he was really strong, and we just felt like it unraveled at the last meet. This year, watching his poise and sticking to a game plan was just an unbelievable thing, to see it all come together.
“He executed the game plan we had for him and it was to win the last half of the race – hold steady with whoever was leading the first half take over and apply pressure for the rest of the race.”
The younger Henson said it played out just that way.
“After the first half, I dropped the hammer,” he said. “I said to myself, if they’re going to win, they have to go with me. I really wanted to put the race away. When I crossed the line, I didn’t know how close he was because I didn’t look back like I usually do.
“I couldn’t have asked for any more. I’m going to celebrate and enjoy this one and then get back to work. I’m not going to get cocky or complacent. Hopefully I can continue this into track and it’ll be the first of many. It’s a really addictive feeling.”
Zion Christian senior William Craig placed 18th with an 17:45.29.
Led by junior Annabelle Cothran’s eighth-place individual finish, Columbia Academy’s girls finished fifth in the DII-A team competition.
“I had hoped for a top five (team) finish,” Henson said. “I felt like our team was strong enough to get there and finish fifth. I didn’t think we ran one of our better races at regionals, but I didn’t think we ran one of our better races (Friday).”
St. George’s won the team championship, with Knoxville Webb taking runner-up honors followed by University School of Nashville, Christ Presbyterian Academy and CA.
Cothran’s 20:48.13 – two minutes off the pace of Webb-Bell Buckle’s Anna Faith Cheeseman (18:45.90), who won the race – was followed by CA eighth-grader Presley Miller (17th place, 21:49.67) and sophomore Jaelyn Hickerson (27th, 22:43.73). Lila Pulley (47th, 24:35.09), Kaitlyn Oakley (57th, 25:42.85), Caroline Graham (63rd, 27:14.83) and Sadie Gray (64th, 27:19.10) rounded out the Lady Bulldog lineup.
“I think Annabelle was exactly where we thought she’d be,” Henson said. “Her field scattered out early on; the top three went out, and then she hung back with the next four and they got each other through the race. We were very pleased with the effort she gave us.
“Presley has really solidified this team for the next couple of years. She did an amazing job in middle school, we felt she was strong enough to compete at the high school level and she truly did.”