NASHVILLE—Led by senior Jake Etheridge, the Oak Ridge Wildcats finished third in the state boys’ cross country meet on Saturday.
Etheridge finished 11th among the 181 top male runners from across Tennessee in the large Class AAA high schools. His time was 16:18.72.
The other top four runners among the seven Wildcats who competed were:
- sophomore Dalton Morgan at 26th with a time of 16:50.17,
- junior Jose Villegas at 34th with a time of 17:00.59,
- junior Reid Dukes at 38th at 17:02.56, and
- senior Will Jeter at 59th at 17:13.72.
The scores of the top five runners on each team are included in the team score.
Oak Ridge finished as state runner-up last year. The Wildcats had five seniors on that team, and Coach Allen Etheridge said at the time that 2016 would be a rebuilding year. The only two runners to run last year and compete again this year were Etheridge and Villegas.
So, third in the state is good for a rebuilding year, right?
“At the beginning of the year, I was thinking fifth would be a pretty good year,” Allen Etheridge said after the boys’ 5,000-meter, or 5k race, on Saturday afternoon at Percy Warner Park in Nashville.
The team has worked hard and played hard, and the runners are close as a team, Etheridge said.
“They’ve surprised me,” he said.
Jake Etheridge, Coach Etheridge’s son, improved from 22nd last year to 11th this year. He went out and did the hard work, mile after mile, Allen Etheridge said.
“Jake made himself into an All-State runner,” Allen Etheridge said.
Brentwood High School, the Class AAA champion last year, finished first again this year. Brentwood junior Brodey Hasty, the fastest runner as a sophomore last year, was first again this year. He finished in 15:09.07, about 26 seconds faster than last year.
Etheridge improved his time almost as much as Hasty, running the hard, hilly course about 24 seconds faster this year than he did last year. He had planned to start conservatively because of the unusual November heat on Saturday.
But the fast starting pace changed that strategy.
“The race got out really fast,” Etheridge said.
But it’s the state meet, he said.
“You have to run fast,” Etheridge said. “You can’t leave anything.”
Etheridge has raced at state four years. He said he’s moved up in the standings each year. He was pleased with the team’s performance this year.
“We put it all out there,” he said. “We’re happy with what we got.”
Etheridge’s time was about a second faster than the best time for an Oak Ridge runner last year. Gashaw Duhamel, who finished 10th last year, crossed the finish line in that race with a time of 16:20.01.
Brentwood had the top two runners and four of the top six on Saturday. Their fifth runner was 15th overall, and Brentwood had a low score of 29 points. In cross country, a lower score is better.
The second-place individual runner this year, Brentwood senior Taylor Vroon, was third last year. This year, Vroon crossed the finish line at 15:10.71. He shaved about 40 seconds off his time.
Allen Etheridge said the Brentwood team, which had been the favorite coming into Saturday’s meet, is the best he’s ever seen.
With 132 points, Wilson Central finished second this year. The top three Wilson Central runners finished eighth, ninth, and 10th.
Oak Ridge ended with 145 points.
The Wildcats finished first in the Region 2-AAA meet about a week before the state meet, on October 27 at Victor Ashe Park in Knoxville, and after that meet, Allen Etheridge said Villegas would have to have a good run for the Wildcats to do well at state.
“I feel like I had my best race of the season,” he said after the state boys’ race.
Overall, he’s not had a great season, Villegas said. But the team did well, and that helped him in his third trip to state, Villegas said.
“They’ve all been encouraging me,” he said. “I just went out there and ran. I didn’t really think of the pressure. I just wanted to do good for the team.”
The Wildcats will have five of their top seven runners back next year. They’ll lose Etheridge and senior Christian Borden, who finished 75th Saturday, with a time of 17:29.79.
Rounding out the seven Oak Ridge runners was junior Daeton Byars, who finished 67th at 17:21.12.
Asked about highlights of the race, Allen Etheridge said he did not anticipate that Morgan, the sophomore who finished 26th, would end the season on such a high note. He was glad to see Villegas, who has struggled this season, finish with a good race.
“I feel like he knew the pressure was on,” Etheridge said. “He showed up and did what he needed to do.”
Etheridge said Jeter had the best race he’s run, and Saturday was a good step back for him.
Two other area teams finished in the top 10 at the state meet: Maryville was ninth with 314 points, and South Doyle was 10th with 316.
Hardin Valley Academy was 21st. Hardin Valley was fifth last year, and Maryville was sixth.
The Oak Ridge girls’ team did not race Saturday. The team just missed the cut-off, finishing fourth at the Region 2-AAA meet in late October. But junior Genevieve Schwartz qualified for state by finishing in the top 10 at the regional meet. She finished 47th at state on Saturday with a time of 20:26.03.
“The girls’ race just went out so fast,” Etheridge said. “You could see she (Schwartz) was gunning, but she couldn’t pass anyone. The race was just going so fast.”
He said Schwartz had a good time and effort, and her time in the state meet was comparable to her best time on a flat, fast course.
Etheridge said the season, which is now over, has been fun and delightful.
“(Assistant coaches) Ed Wright, Tom Sauer, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team or better atmosphere,” Etheridge said. “This is what high school athletics is all about.”
See more photos here.
See the complete Class AAA boys’ results here.
See the complete Class AAA girls’ results here. We will follow up with a story on the girls’ race, which included a top 16 finish by an Anderson County runner and a top six finish by the Farragut team.
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