By Maurice Patton
NASHVILLE – Imagine if he’d been trying.
Columbia Academy junior Connor Henson set meet records in each of his three events during this week’s Division II-A Middle Region track and field championships at Franklin Road Academy – outcomes that were hardly the objective for the reigning DII-A cross country state titlist.
“I didn’t even know what they were,” Henson said Friday regarding the region’s previous bests in the 3200 meters, the 1600 and the 800. “These races, I did not worry about time whatsoever. I ran 9:37 in the two-mile; if I’d ran 12 minutes and won, I’d have been just as happy.”
The top two region finishers in each event qualify for the state championships, which will take place as part of the TSSAA Spring Fling beginning May 25 in and around Murfreesboro. In Division II-A, two wild cards will complete the eight-person state meet field in each event.
Along with Henson, CA junior Collins Malone qualified for the state meet with his second-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles. It marked just the fourth race for Malone, a first-year competitor who ran a 41.96.
“I’ve been improving every day in practice,” said Malone, an all-state football selection and a starter on the Bulldog basketball team. “I didn’t really start this till after basketball season. I’ve had great coaches, my parents have been pushing me. My coaches have really built me to where I am.
“Coach Brady (Henson) told me I had a chance for state. I came out Wednesday in preliminaries and broke my (personal record) by three seconds, I came out (Friday) and PR’d again.”
Finishing behind Franklin Road Academy’s Payton Culp, who ran a 40.59, Malone’s time stands to be among the top half of the state championship field.
“He’s really put in the work the last three or four weeks. It’s made a huge difference,” Brady Henson said. “His first (race), it looked like he was trying to dunk a basketball at the top of the hurdle.
“I couldn’t be happier for a kid. It’s his first year to run track and he’s going to the state championships. I’m excited for him.”
The younger Henson, meanwhile, took an eraser to the region record book, starting with his Wednesday performance in the 3200 as he beat the mark of 9:48 set by University School of Nashville’s Nick Sieders in 2018 with a 9:37.35. In his first race Friday, he won the 1600 with a 4:25.34 – again, 10 seconds better than Sieders’ 2018 effort of 4:35.89.
In his final run Friday, Henson posted a 1:56.97 time in the 800, almost five seconds ahead of the 2:01.39 USN’s Pelham Bergesen ran two years ago.
“We thought he could probably get the 800 record,” the coach said. “We thought the 1600 (race) might be slower than what it was, but it wasn’t.
“When you’ve got good weather, you get fast times. The wind died down, which helped it a lot. The temperatures were perfect. That plays a big factor into running fast, completely.”
Records and times aside, securing the state berths was all Henson wanted to do.
“This is the week I’m just relieved to be done,” he said. “I felt smooth, I felt good. We’re qualified, we’re good, we’re healthy. Now it’s just about practicing what we’re doing.”