G-P girls, Pigeon Forge pair reach states

Oct. 24, 2013 @ 06:29 PM

 A pair of first-timers and a veteran are headed to the state championships.

“It’s awesome,” said Pigeon Forge senior Sara Caldwell. “I love going. It’s my senior year and I’ve gone all four years.”

Caldwell, who finished ninth on Thursday at the Region 2-A/AA cross country championships, will be joined in Nashville by freshman teammate Gavin Hutchens, who was fifth in the boys race and the Gatlinburg-Pittman girls, who were third in the team standings at Victor Ashe Park. Lindsey Myers, another freshman, paced the Highlanders, finishing third overall with a time of 20 minutes, 24.27 seconds on the 5-kilometer course.

“I was just hoping I’d make it,” Myers said. “I could hear (the other runners) when we were coming around on the edge. I could hear their feet from their spikes. I just ran fast because I knew I didn’t want them to catch me.”

No one did catch Myers. The freshman held onto third throughout the race to easily qualify. The top 10 individuals and top three teams automatically move on to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s state meet on Nov. 2. The championships are slated for the Steeplechase Course at Percy Warner Park. 

Christian Academy of Knoxville’s Rebecca Story won the girls crown in 19:53.27, helping the Warriors to the girls team title ahead of Catholic and G-P. Catholic’s Joe Bindner was the boys champion in 17:18.32. Catholic and CAK were 1-2 in the boys team standings.

The Tigers’ Hutchens set a personal best to book his ticket to Nashville. The freshman was surprised to finish fifth in the region meet. He ran an 18:55 earlier this year on the same course but finished in 18:17.61 on Thursday.

“That’s the fastest I ever (ran),” Hutchens said. “Just motivation to win. I ran harder.”

Caldwell had to run hard in a neck-and-neck finish with Gatlinburg-Pittman’s Claire Ballentine for ninth. Caldwell matched her sprinting rival at the finish, eventually pulling away to finish in 21:29.88. Ballentine, who just wrapped up her soccer season with the Highlanders on Tuesday, was still in qualifying position but gets to go to Nashville anyway with G-P’s third-place finish. She had a time of 21:31.35 on Thursday.

“It feels really good,” Ballentine said. “It’s a good sense of accomplishment, especially coming off of soccer season.”

Highlanders coach Rick Cross was happy as well after qualifying a team for the state meet for the 16th time in his career.

“My top seven ran a really nice race today,” Cross said. “Sometimes you just run into a team that has a couple more horses. That’s what happened. 

“But hey, we qualified for the state. We’re happy.”