The Oak Ridge boys and girls cross country teams have both qualified for the state meet in Nashville on Saturday, and the Wildcats had one runner finish second in the region and another finish fourth on Thursday.
It’s the first time since 2014 that both teams are going to state together.
Both teams finished third in the Region 2 Championships for the Division I Large Division at Victor Ashe Park in Knoxville on Thursday. The top three teams in the regional meets advanced to the state cross country meet at Percy Warner Park in Nashville on Saturday, November 4.
Oak Ridge senior Jose Villegas finished second in the region in the boys 5,000-meter run at Victor Ashe Park on Thursday, and senior Genevieve Schwartz finished fourth in the girls race.
“You always want to get at least one team to state, but ultimately, you want to get both,” Wildcats Coach Ed Wright said after the Region 2 Championships. “Today was a good day.”
Seven Oak Ridge boys and seven girls will run in the state meet, and scores will be based on the top five runners for each team in each race.
It’s at least the fifth year in a row that the boys team has made it to the state meet. The boys finished third in the state in 2016, and they finished second in 2015. The boys team placed third in 2014 and the girls were ninth. In 2013, the boys were sixth.
Five Oak Ridge boys who raced in the state meet last year will run again this year. Besides Villegas, they are Dalton Morgan, Reid Dukes, Daeton Byars, and Will Jeter. It will be the third year in a row that Villegas has competed in the state meet.
It will be the second trip to state for Schwartz. The girls team didn’t make it to state last year, when they finished fourth in the region. But Schwartz was 10th in the Region 2 meet in 2016, and anyone who places in the top 10 and is not on a qualifying team advances. So Schwartz competed in the state meet.
Girls cross country team
Here are the seven runners for the Oak Ridge girls and their performance at this year’s Region 2 championship meet on Thursday:
- Senior Genevieve Schwartz—19:53.19 (4th overall)
- Sophomore Jessie Strader—21:14.74 (16th)
- Sophomore Rebekah Joyal—21:30.38 (18th)
- Sophomore Eden Gee—21:32.38 (20th)
- Freshman Abby Hausladen—22:17.71 (28th)
- Sophomore Mollie Smith—22:31.95 (33rd)
- Freshman Isha Bhandari—between about 23:20 and 23:30. (Bhandari wasn’t wearing a bib, so she doesn’t appear in the official results. Teams were allowed to run 10 racers at the regional meet, but they were only give seven numbers. Oak Ridge ran nine, so they had two without the bibs, which record race times.)
Wright, who is in his first season as head coach, said the Oak Ridge girls were very focused on Thursday and performed really well.
Oak Ridge knew the Hardin Valley and Farragut girls were both really good, and it would be tough to beat them. So, the Wildcats tried to beat Maryville for third place, which would be enough to qualify for the state meet. Oak Ridge and Maryville were estimated to be within about 10 points of each other based upon previous races and matchups.
“We knew that it was close,” Wright said. “If we had a good day, we had a shot at beating them.”
Wright said Schwartz finished ahead of the Rebels’ top runner; Strader and Joyal came in ahead of Maryville’s number two runner; and Gee beat their number three.
Oak Ridge ended up beating Maryville 86 to 104.
Wright said Schwartz has been dealing with an iron issue. She was feeling sluggish and had it checked a few weeks ago. She’s been taking iron for a few weeks, and “it showed up today,” when she felt normal again, Wright said.
Schwartz, who finished fourth among the girls in the regional championship, ran a 19:53.19 on the tough, hilly course at Victor Ashe Park.
“That’s a really good time,” Wright said. “For her to run that was outstanding.”
Three sophomores—Jessie Strader, Rebekah Joyal, and Eden Gee—had the next three finishes for Oak Ridge in the 3.1-mile run.
Strader was fantastic, Wright said.
“She was consistent,” he said. “She is our consistent runner.”
Coaches tried to get Joyal to run with Strader. With other teams noticing her strong finish, Joyal passed other runners in the final 600-800 meters, Wright said.
“She had a fantastic finish,” he said.
The three sophomores, including Gee, ran as a pack and finished between 16th and 20th place overall, which “was huge,” Wright said.
“We gave them a goal,” he said.
Hausladen “hung on for dear life” even though she was suffering about 2.5 miles into the race, on her second time around the course, Wright said.
The team going to state includes seven runners and two alternates. The alternates are senior captain Robyn Wood and sophomore Claire Gibson. Alternates would race if another runner gets sick or injured.
Wright said Wood has been fighting an injury all year. She wasn’t able to run at the beginning of the season, and she has been on the bike and in the pool, he said. She has been working her way back to run, Wright said. Her goal was to run on the regional team and help the girls qualify for state.
As bad as she wants to run, she knows how cross country works, Wright said. He gave credit to Wood’s leadership and keeping the girls together, helping them stay focused on their goal.
The girls were ready to run Thursday, Wright said, and even if they had finished fourth, he would have been happy.
Among the top teams at the state meet will be Dobyns-Bennett, Ravenwood, Science Hill, and Brentwood. Nashville area teams are generally good, and so is Morristown West, Wright said. And both Hardin Valley and Farragut, which finished first and second at the Region 2 meet, will be in the mix, he said.
With the quality of this year’s teams, he would feel good about a top seven finish, Wright said.
“We’ll take the girls and see what happens,” he said. “We have nothing to lose.”
Hardin Valley had 41 points at the Region 2 meet, and Farragut finished with 62. Hardin Valley’s top three runners—Madison Grimm, Jenna Wall, and Ellie Bachmann—finished in fifth, sixth, and seventh, and the Hawks had two more runners in the top 15.
Farragut had four runners in the top 16, and Anna Delahunt of the Admirals was third overall at 19:29.35.
Coming in first in the girls race was Shila Kapaya of Knoxville Catholic with a time of 19:14.54. Maddy Moody of Anderson County was second at 19:23.97. Moody ran in the state meet last year.
Boys cross country team
Here are the seven runners for the Oak Ridge boys and their performance at the Region 2 championship meet on Thursday:
- Senior Jose Villegas—16:11.87 (2nd overall)
- Junior Dalton Morgan—16:49.72 (6th)
- Senior Reid Dukes—17:04.27 (11th)
- Senior Daeton Byars—17:41.38 (24th)
- Freshman Eli Cox—18:08.16 (39th)
- Senior Will Jeter—18:17.70 (43rd)
- Sophomore Jacob Norris—about 18:52 (about 49th-50th). (Norris wasn’t wearing a bib, so he doesn’t appear in the official results. Teams were allowed to run 10 racers at the regional meet, but they were only give seven numbers. Oak Ridge ran nine, so they had two without the bibs, which record race times.)
The boys competition was tighter than the girls, Wright said.
Oak Ridge ended up third, but at 82 points, the boys were only three points out of second place, behind Maryville at 79, and only 10 points ahead of the fourth-place team, Farragut, which finished with 92 points. In cross country, a lower score is better.
Knoxville Catholic was first with 51 points, and the Fighting Irish had a first-place and third-place finish: Jake Renfree at 16:05.52 and Devin Sullivan at 16:14.26. Catholic had two more runners in the top 15.
But Oak Ridge had three runners in the top 11: Villegas, Morgan, and Dukes.
Wright said Villegas ran a great race. He was with Renfree for most of the race, and ended up six seconds behind him.
“Jose without question is in contention for the individual championship,” Wright said.
Morgan had a breakthrough last year around October, and it’s been the same this year.
“He’s just getting better and better each time that he runs,” Wright said.
Dukes passed three to four boys through the finish to get points for Oak Ridge, Wright said.
Byars had an “okay day,” Wright said. “Daeton still really hasn’t broken out this year,” he said.
But there is still another race to go, Wright said.
Cox contributed as a freshman runner for the boys.
“We look for big things from him in the coming years,” Wright said.
Like Wood, Jeter has been dealing with body issues, Wright said. He’s not been hurt, but it’s been a bother for Jeter, a senior co-captain with Villegas and Dukes, Wright said.
He had a pretty good race Thursday, but not one like Jeter would like to run, Wright said. But Jeter is fighting through it, like Wood is, the coach said.
Norris, a sophomore, is still learning, but he’s getting better and better each race, Wright said.
The two alternates for the boys are juniors Kyle Wright and Dalton Davis.
“We gave them a job to do,” said Ed Wright, Kyle’s father. “Run hard for two miles and see what happens.”
Kyle Wright was ahead of Norris most of the race on Thursday, but Norris “nipped him” at the end, Ed Wright said.
He said Kyle Wright, Norris, and Davis have alternated in the number seven spot this year.
The boys team performed about as well at the Region 2 championship meet on Thursday as coaches thought they would. Region 2 is considered the most difficult, Wright said.
“You have to fight,” he said.
Usually a team that gets out of Region 2 will finish in the top seven, Wright said.
Catholic, which finished 28 points ahead of Maryville at the regional meet, could be the favorite at the state meet.
“But I feel like we’re in the mix,” Wright said, especially if Oak Ridge has good races by Byars, Cox, and Jeter, if he’s back to normal.
There could be five teams in contention, Wright said. Besides Catholic, other top teams at the state meet will include Maryville, which includes Seth Bowden, who finished fourth at the regional meet. Wright said Murfreesboro’s Oakland was good at the beginning of the season, but he’s not seen much on that team recently. Siegel looks pretty solid and similar to Catholic, Wright said.
The Oak Ridge boys have performed well at the Region 2 meet the last several years. In 2016, the boys finished first in the Region 2 meet, and Jake Etheridge, who was then a senior, was the fastest runner among the boys. That was the third regional championship in a row for the boys team and the second year in a row for Oak Ridge to have the top male racer. Gashaw Duhamel, who ran for Oak Ridge as a senior in 2015, was the top runner that year.
Classifications for high school sports changed this year, including for cross country. Oak Ridge was in Region 2 in Class AAA in Division I last year, but it’s in Region 2 in the Large Division in Division I this year. That region is slightly larger this year, with 20 high schools, compared to 17 last year.
Wright, who had been an assistant cross country coach, was approved as head coach in May. He replaced Allen Etheridge, who resigned as cross country coach in January after 13 years as head coach and six state titles. Etheridge, who is also an English teacher and track and field coach, was an assistant cross country coach for five years before he became head coach, and he remains an assistant cross country coach along with Tom Sauer.
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