By Maurice Patton
Three local teams and six individuals will be among the athletes participating in the TSSAA Cross Country State Championships beginning Thursday at Hendersonville’s Sanders Ferry Park.
Of those, Columbia Academy junior Connor Henson may have the best chance of bringing home a title. Henson won last week’s Division II-A Middle Region meet, posting a time of 16 minutes, 57 seconds over the same 5K course he’ll encounter Friday.
“It’s a big race. It’s what we’ve prepared for all season,” he said. “My only goal is to go out and win. I could care less, if I go under 16 or if I run 18. Whatever it takes to get the win, I’ll be satisfied.”
As a sophomore, Henson ran a 17:00.63 at the Iroquois Steeplechase to place sixth in DII-A, after finishing 10th in the Small Class state meet his freshman year with a 17:51.25.
“That was my worst performance (of the year); I’ve learned a lot from it,” Henson said of his 2019 state competition.
“This will be my third time on this course. I ran a 16:24 the first time. I know I’m in shape to run under 15:40. I’m not saying that means I’m going to do that, but I have my race plan my coaches and I have discussed. I’m out there on my own. I just have to be ready for anything.”
Henson and Zion Christian senior William Craig, who placed seventh in the DII-A Middle Region meet with a 17:58, will run at 2:40 p.m. Friday in the final race of the two-day championships.
Columbia Academy’s girls will run at 2 p.m. Friday, after the Lady Bulldogs finished third in the regional with three Top 10 runners – junior Annabelle Cothran (third place, 21:15), eighth-grader Presley Miller (fourth place, 21:16) and sophomore Jaelyn Hickerson (ninth place, 22;24).
On Thursday, Independence’s girls will run in the 10 a.m. Division I Large Class meet.
“It’s hard to get a read on the field, but we’re glad to have the opportunity to compete,” veteran Lady Eagles coach Luke Finley said. “We haven’t seen a lot of the teams from East or West Tennessee; a lot of teams haven’t been 100 percent when they’ve gone out and run. They haven’t had their full seven together. It’s kind of a Pandora’s box. We know a little less than we typically do, so you expect a little unpredictability.
“All you can do is go run your race.”
Freshman Jayne Halterman will set the pace for Independence, coming off a second-place regional finish at Sanders Ferry with an 18:09.33. Junior Julia Halterman finished fourth (18:23.62), with senior Emma Wilson (19:34.03) placing 10th.
“Our freshman has moved into that No. 1 role,” Finley said. “She’s running with some confidence. Freshmen, feeling their way into high school competition, have a pretty big learning curve, but she’s handled it well. She’s been consistent, pretty even keeled. Julia’s the older sister, she’s been around. Emma’s our only senior; she’s that ‘maternal’ figure. She’s been around a bit longer, she’s seen all this before. She holds it all together.”
Spring Hill’s Michael Gerhart (16:37.50) and Independence’s Nate Martinez (16:38.00), who placed eighth and ninth in last week’s regional meet, will run in the 10:40 a.m. boys Division I Large Class race.
At 2 p.m. Thursday, Summertown’s Alivia Riggs and Claire Woods will be among the girls Division I Small Class competitors, with Santa Fe’s boys team in the 2:40 p.m. competition.
Riggs finished sixth at Henry Horton a week ago, running a 22:55, with Woods finishing in 23:25 for 10th place.
Ryan Seltz (19th, 20:08) and Josh Martin (20th, 20:10) led the way for the Wildcats in the boys regional.
Thursday: 10 a.m. — Division I Large Class Girls; 10:40 a.m. — Division I Large Class Boys; 2 p.m. — Division I Small Class Girls; 2:40 p.m. — Division I Small Class Boys
Friday: 10 a.m. — Division II Class AA Girls; 10:40 a.m. — Division II Class AA Boys; 2 p.m. — Division II Class A Girls; 2:40 p.m. — Division II Class A Boys