“It’s been a good run,” was Cleveland cross country head coach Casey Price’s closing thought during an interview Thursday afternoon.
The emotional response was aimed at a special group of Cleveland seniors, who along with the entire Blue Raider boys’ team, have set their sights on the state cross country race Saturday in Nashville.
Cleveland’s runners will be joining a small contingent of local student-athletes at Percy Warner Park’s Steeplechase Course.
Bradley Central’s Harold Smith Jr. and Paul Patterson, along with Walker Valley’s Patrick Shultz, will be joining the Raider’s Beka Day and the entire CHS boys team for the crowing race of the Tennessees high school cross country scene.
“Beka is a four-time state competitor for us. She’s a 4.0 student, great kid, hard worker and has all the future ahead of her. She has amazing parents that have been with me as far back as middle school,” explained a proud Price.
“On the guys’ side, Justin Jones and Nate Brownfield ran at the middle school level. Grant Currin didn’t even start running until he was a freshman. Those three are very different in many ways, but they are similar in the fact that they are great academically and are going to go places.”
Day, a four-year state competitor, cashed her ticket to Nashville by running a 19:36.56 at the Region 3-AAA race at Fort Bluff Camp near Dayton. She earned runner-up honor at the race.
Currin and Jones, also carrying state experience, finished seventh and 10th respectively. Currin notched a time of 17:09.52, while Jones finished with a 17:22.06.
Raiders Rosmel Gallo (18:13.83) and Nate Brownfield (18:15.69) also grabbed Top 20 finishes for the Cleveland boys on route to the team’s third place finish, qualifying it for the state meet.
“We had a great race. I kept telling the kids that our breakout race was soon to come, and that they needed to believe and keep pushing. I could see the workouts were indicators that we were going to have a great race. At the region they really came through and had an amazing race. It was pretty incredible,” stated Price.
“I think we are going to surprise some people at the state meet. I think Saturday we can be the best team in our region. I would love for us to get top 15. That would be a major accomplishment for this team. No one even considered us at the beginning of the season as a team that would even make it to state. I feel like everyone will have their best race of the season Saturday.”
For their part, his seniors are just excited about one last run at glory.
“We’ve had a lot happen and change. It’s been a progression over the last four years,” said Cleveland senior Justin Jones. “Everything that has happened has helped us get here. We are excited.”
“Making the state meet is always the biggest highlight that stands out in my mind,” added fellow senior Currin.
“State always gives us a chance to make some new friends with the competitors from other regions. That’s one of my favorite parts of the experience,” said four-year state qualifier Day.
Price won’t just miss his seniors, but also the strong support structure they brought with them.
“I can’t say enough about our senior parents. They are driving to every meet; helping set up and doing all the little things that sometimes get taken for granted. I don’t, because I really appreciate all the hard work effort our parents put in behind the scenes,” he related.
“I appreciate this team so much. This is a great group of kids. I can’t stress how great these kids our academically. This group will be sorely missed.”
A few miles away at Bradley Central, coach Larry Cotton is going over a few of the final preparations with some of his own repeat state runners.
During the regional meet, Bradley’s Smith and Patterson finished 1-2 with times of 16:26.51 and 16:28.03.
“We have two excellent guys. They are both very good students, hard workers and talented athletes,” related Cotton.
“Looking at the times from the other region races in the state, I feel we can make a really strong push at Nashville. Both these guys are going to be aiming for All-State, and I feel like they have a pretty good chance at that.”
According to their coach, both Smith, a junior, and Patterson, a senior, have received interest from a number of institutions about running at the collegiate level.
Walker Valley’s Shultz came in fifth at the regional meet with a time of 17:06.93. Attempts to reach Mustang cross country representatives were unsuccessful.
In addition to all three Bradley County school having representation at Nashville Saturday, both Polk County boys’ and girls’ squads will also be making the drive to Steeple Chase to take part in the meet’s A-AA run.
During their Region 3 A-AA race at Chickamauga Dam, Polk’s girls took second place and the Wildcat boys’ runners finished third.
The state meet kicks off tomorrow with the DII-A girls kicking things off at 10 a.m. The first local runner will take to the course at 1 p.m. with the start of the AAA girls’ race. AAA boys will follow at 1:45, then the A-AA girls at 2:30 and the A-AA boys finishing the meet at 3:15.