By Maurice Patton
ROCKVALE – It wasn’t Connor Henson’s idea to try to win three Division II-A state track championships.
“I just wanted to win the (1600 meters). Throughout the season, I was running really well. In practice one day, my coach was like, do you want to try to win three?” Henson said after sweeping the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter events during Wednesday’s meet at Rockvale High School.
“It felt great. It was a dream come true. I was getting to race a lot of guys that kinda whupped me in cross country my sophomore year. I was so hungry. Over quarantine, I just grinded and grinded and grinded.”
Henson’s coach, Brady Henson – Connor’s father – came to the notion while observing the reigning DII-A cross country titlist’s work this spring.
“Just looking at the numbers, his fitness level, his training, what he’s gone through, and it just seemed like he could do it. It was a realistic expectation. And he did it,” Brady said after Connor achieved the 8/16/32 boys state meet triple for the first time since Oakland’s Brock Baker swept the three longest individual events at the 2013 Class AAA championships. Before that, Brentwood Academy’s Andrew Bumbalough won all three at the Division II state meet in 2005.
“Originally, we weren’t going to do the 32,” Brady Henson said. “But as I kept watching him and watching and watching, it just seemed logical. The thing that would bother me the most is, there’s not a lot of time between the 800 and the 3200.”
The younger Henson’s first win Wednesday came in the 1600 meters, as he ran a four-minute, 24.15-second time – coming from the middle of the pack to edge Battle Ground Academy’s Trace Alexander by more than two seconds.
It was more of the same in the 800, as he had to navigate through some traffic to get to the front of the field and finish in 1:55.39, ahead of University School of Nashville’s Neil Narayanan (1:56.69).
“Physically, the 800 was the hardest,” he said. “The last 400, I was a lot more behind than I thought. Guys were going nuts; I was confused at what they were doing. We went through at 57 (seconds), and I felt fine, I just didn’t know what was going on. When I made my move, they all started coming backward, I surged up to the lead and gritted out the last 200.
“Immediately after the race, I was trying to stretch out and get ready for the 3200. I couldn’t relax or celebrate. I just had to stay cool.”
Running a 9:53.96 in his final race, Henson won the 3200 by almost eight seconds over Harding Academy’s Andy Henton (10:01.83).
“I’m not proud of the time, but I did all I had to do to win,” he said. “That last event, I was just racing to win. Mentally, the 3200 was the hardest. (But) I leave from doing some of the track workouts I do feeling worse than I do from some of the races. I do those workouts twice a week, and that’s why I don’t get nervous before these races. I’ve got a lot of confidence because it’s not luck; I work very hard, and it’s paying off now.
“I just want to make running as entertaining as possible. I think running three (events) and trying to win three helps that a lot. I’m trying to make it a big thing at my school and in Columbia.”
Henson’s classmate, Collins Malone, ran a 41.53 in the 300-meter hurdles to place second behind Christian Academy of Knoxville’s Ethan Fulford (40.72).
“Second’s not bad,” Malone said. “I’ll definitely be back next year. Everybody’s juniors, just like me. It’ll be the same people next year.”
Columbia Academy eighth-grader Presley Miller placed eighth in the girls 3200, running a 13:02.59.