Weather that would turn a football or soccer game into an ugly mess and cancel tennis or baseball altogether was perfectly fine for the cross-country runners from across Blount County on Saturday morning.
Temperatures dipping into the 50s, chilly winds, overcast skies and even wet ground from earlier rains caused no problems for the athletes from five different schools competing in the Blount County Cross Country Championship hosted by Heritage High School.
“The temperature was great, the wind felt great, and being overcast was fantastic so the sun wasn’t hitting you in the face,” Maryville senior Andie-Marie Jones said.
Jones, with a time of 18:43 over the 5-kilometer course, won the girls race with an 83-second gap between her and second-place finisher and teammate Gracie Franklin (20:06).
Abdul Jaber, of Alcoa, was the top finisher in the boys race, covering the new course laid out by Heritage coach Alex Morgan in 16:19.
“This is the best conditions all season when it comes to weather,” Jaber said. “We’ve been in humid and hot races until now, so this was perfect.”
Over 100 racers, 43 girls and 61 boys, completed the mildly hilly course wrapping around the Heritage campus by crossing the finish line set up in front of Jack Renfro Stadium.
Maryville finished as the top team in both girls and boys races. The Lady Rebels top five finishers, in addition to Jones and Franklin, were Ellie Graham (seventh, 22:21), Heather Gardner (eighth, 22:26) and Emily Workman (12th, 23:26).
The 30-point total for the five Lady Rebels bested second-place finisher Heritage, which finished with 54 points. Leading the Lady Mountaineers was Grace Adams in third place (20:18).
Alcoa finished fourth with 57 points and William Blount tallied 89.
Lily Bridges led all Lady Tornadoes with a time of 21:57 for fifth place. Sydney Sims paced William Blount with a fourth-place finish at 20:24.
Ava Graves was the only finisher for Clayton-Bradley Academy, finishing 31st with a time of 28:03.
The top seven finishers in each race were honored as All-Blount County performers in medal ceremonies inside the stadium after both races completed. In addition to those above, Heritage’s Maggie Hope, who finished sixth (22:04), was recognized.
Jaber, an Alcoa senior, was 36 seconds faster than Maryville’s Macguire Jones (16:55), but the overall Maryville performance placed the Rebels well ahead of the pack in the boys team competition.
Brady Broome (17:10) was third, Lance Hatcher (17:26) was fifth, Bryce Bohaan (18:03) was sixth and Nathanael Barnett (18:26) finished 11th to give Maryville a total of 27 points, well ahead of Alcoa’s 51 points.
One of the tightest finishes saw Sam Bridges of Alcoa edge out Hatcher of Maryville for the fourth-place medal. Both runners recorded a time of 17:26 and both were sprinting furiously down the final stretch with the minimal separation putting Bridges ahead.
William Blount’s Warren McKinley (18:11) finished in eighth while Heritage’s Noah Jinks (18:18) came in ninth.
Robbie Soulier of Alcoa rounded out the top-seven finishers honored as All-Blount County with his seventh-place time of 18:03.
Clayton-Bradley Academy had the required minimum five runners for the boys event. Dustin Henderlight (18:58) led all Blazers, coming in 19th overall, and the lone private school participating ended in fifth place (134 points), behind William Blount (97) and Heritage (64).
Morgan, in his first year leading the Heritage program, created a new course for this year’s run, the first true Blount County championship race in many years.
Morgan said that the previous course pushed runners through two sharp hills. Even though the course was still hilly given the terrain of the campus, his desire was to create a flatter course for faster times.
“The first half is pretty cut and dry, pretty flat, but the second half is pretty hilly,” Morgan said. “You have to be mentally focused that second half, because it’s rough.”
The next big event in the cross-country calendar for public schools will be regional championships on Oct. 26. Alcoa will compete in Region 2-A/AA races at Victor Ashe Park in Knoxville while the Region 3-AAA event will be held on a course at Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga.