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Neglia, Hutchins to square off at state cross country meet

Tanner Cook • Oct 30, 2019 at 9:32 PM

Championships will be on the line Saturday at Percy Warner Steeplechase Park when the TSSAA state cross country meet returns to the grounds for the 44th year.

The Large Class races will be the first to take the course as the girls event is slated for an 11 a.m. start time, and the boys will follow at 11:45 a.m.

The Small Class races will be the last two on the docket. The girls go off at 2:50 p.m., and the boys begin at 3:35 p.m.

The steeplechase course at Percy Warner is a deceptively tough course with some slight undulations in the two loops, but there is nothing on the course that Northeast Tennessee runners cannot handle. In fact, runners from the area have been known to have personal bests at state if given even fair conditions.

LARGE CLASS GIRLS

On paper, this race should be down to two runners quickly, and it will be the pair that has dominated headlines all year in the area for girls cross country.

Science Hill sophomore and defending state champion Jenna Hutchins comes in as the favorite, having averaged 17:08 for her five 5-kilometer races this season and having a personal best of 16:38.97 at the Desert Twilight XC Festival on Sept. 27.

Hutchins’ personal best this season is also the second-fastest time ever produced by a high school girl from Tennessee, standing only six seconds behind 2006 Foot Locker national champion Kathy Kroeger.

Dobyns-Bennett senior Sasha Neglia will be looking for her third individual state title in four years. She will also be looking to redeem herself from last year’s controversy over cutting the course with less than a quarter-mile to go in the race.

Neglia has averaged 17:33 for her five 5K races this season and has been incredibly consistent even on the tougher courses.

Between Hutchins and Neglia, the two have a combined three losses on the season, and both rank inside the country’s top 25 by time. Neither have run over 18 minutes this season in any race.

Cookeville junior Landri Wilcox and Fred J. Page junior Leigh Walters should be the only other challengers in the Large Class race. Both have broken 17:45 this season.

The course record and best time for a high school female runner on Tennessee soil is Kroeger’s 16:59.45 set in 2006.

It will be interesting to see what strategy Hutchins will go with in Saturday’s race. She could take the field out blazing like she did at regionals or she could hang back and burn everyone late with the long, 300-meter straightaway to finish up the race.

In the team race, Dobyns-Bennett has been running like the strongest team in the state all season, and they will look to bring home the first team title since 1997. Brentwood will be the main challenge for the Lady Indians. The Lady Bruins’ top five all have season-bests under 20:10.

Science Hill is a strong contender for a podium finish if the Lady Hilltoppers can run one of their better races of the season. Going into the state meet, Science Hill is currently predicted fourth.

LARGE CLASS BOYS

Science Hill senior Aaron Jones has one of the better chances to make the top 15, as he comes in with a season and personal best of 15:34, which he ran at Great American in early October.

He could be considered among the runners to challenge the heavily favored Silas Winders (Henry County), who has a season-best of 14:29.32.

Franklin comes in as the heavy favorite with a season-best average of 16:04 for the top five scorers and an impressive spread of just 17 seconds between the first and fifth runners.

Siegel, which has been the top team for most of the season, currently is predicted second with Canaan Anderson spearheading the attack for the Stars. He is the projected runner-up based on time with a season’s best of 15:05.

Daniel Boone is currently predicted outside of the top 10, but with the way the Trailblazers ran at the regional meet and defended home turf, do not be surprised if they make some noise at Percy Warner on Saturday.

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