By Mike Blackerby
Anybody up for an eight-peat?
Webb’s girls posted their seventh Division II Small Class state cross championship in a row Saturday on the Steeplechase Course at Percy Warner Park in Nashville.
The Spartans dominated like never before, scoring 29 points to take the team crown by a whopping 64 points over second-place St. George’s.
The largest previous margin of victory at the state meet for the Spartans was 47 points in 2012.
“It’s an honor for the program and it has been a great run,” said Webb coach Bobby Holcombe.
“We honestly don’t think about it (the streak) during the season. Every year is a new year. We just address the current year and the current situation.”
Webb senior Niki Narayani, after finishing in second place individually the last four years, finally broke through for the win.
Narayani toured the 5K course in 18:20.43 to win handily over runner-up Allison Newman (18:56.59) of St. George’s.
It was quite the day for Webb, which placed five runners in the top 12.
“It was a really good effort,” said Narayani, who clocked her all-time best on the course.
“My big focus was getting the team title. The thing I’ll remember most is being part of an amazing group of girls, and just being able to be a part of it. There’s really an awesome energy surrounding everybody that runs.”
Narayani left the state stage in fitting fashion after previously playing second fiddle to all-time great runners like Rebecca Story of Christian Academy, Niamh Schumacher of The King’s Academy and Peighton Meske of Webb.
“It has been a long time waiting (for Narayani),” said Holcombe.
“She has done a fantastic job of being patient. She has worked hard to beat the competition the last few years, but she has never given up.”
Also for Webb, Lindsay Holliday (19:02.76) was third, Taylor Cosey (19:10.76) fourth, Kamryn Krishnan (20:47.78) ninth and Caroline Ross (21:00.55) 12th.
Katlyn Ray of Grace Christian finished in 15th place (21:46.92) to also claim all-state honors.
With heavy losses to graduation, Holcombe admitted it will be tough to run the streak to eight next season.
“We graduate five seniors, so I don’t know how much longer (the streak) will last,” he said.
“It has been a heck of a run. We’re going to just try and enjoy this as best we can.”
Division II Small Class boys
Webb’s Bannon Evans was the top local finisher, placing eighth in 17:16.21 as the Spartans (117) took fourth in the team race.
Andrew Cox of Franklin Road Academy was medalist in 16:24.74 and Chattanooga Christian (61) claimed the team title.
CAK, led by Ryan Cross’ 16th-place (17:41.42) showing, was seventh (152) in the team race.
Also for Webb, Will Miller was 18th in 17:43.14.
Division I Small Class boys: G-P’s Emerson Fulton is state champion
Emerson Fulton’s track speed came in handy Saturday at the boys’ Division I Small Class state cross country championships.
The Gatlinburg-Pittman senior, the defending state Small Class track and field champion in the 800, used a strong kick to pass three runners down the stretch and claim the state title in 16:41.02.
Fulton was fourth for much of the race, behind Porter Bradley of University School of Johnson City, Alex Ponce of Merrol Hyde Magnet and Seth Jinks of L&N Stem Academy.
“With about 1,000 meters to go it was weird, I didn’t think I was going to win,” explained Fulton.
“There were three other guys 10 to 15 seconds ahead of me. I made a big kick and was able to get even with most of them with about 400 meters to go. The last 150 meters was an all-out sprint to the finish.”
That’s when Fulton’s speed took over.
“I’d say I have a pretty good kick. The 800 is my favorite race during track and my speed gave me an edge today. In cross country, I’m usually not in a position where I have to sprint to the finish or go one-on-one with somebody.”
Highlanders coach Phillip Chaney said Fulton cobbled together a heady race plan.
“He ran a really smart race,” said Chaney.
“He was right in the thick of things the entire race, but never led until the final 200 meters or so.”
After finishing fifth at the state cross country meet a year ago, Chaney said Saturday’s victory was 12 months in the making.
“All year that has been in the back of his mind – to get back (to state) and win it,” said Chaney.
Fulton easily established a new personal-best time Saturday and broke 17 minutes for the first time.
“I’m really happy,” he said.
Bradley (16:42.57), Ponce (16:45.52) and Jinks (16:53.77) wound up in the next three slots behind Fulton.
Five other local runners finished in the top 15 to earn all-state honors, including Jackson Sparks of L&N Stem (6th, 17:35.87), T.J. Martin of Alcoa (7th, 17:37.15), Nick Holloway of Alcoa (11th, 17:57.97), James Defreese of L&N Stem (12th, 18:03.87) and Jordan Blacker of Northview Academy (15th, 18:07.58).
US-Johnson City was team champion with 79 points. L&N Stem (123) was third, Alcoa (125) fourth and G-P (212) sixth.
Division I Small Class girls
In the Small Class girls’ race, G-P freshman Lily Stinnett (7th, 20:51.27) was the top finisher from the 5Star Preps coverage area.
L&N Stem’s Deja Griffin (22:15.13) was 18th and Alcoa’s Jenna Martin (22:19.50) was 21st.
Signal Mountain totaled 44 points to win the girls’ team championship. Alcoa (244) and G-P (248) were eighth and ninth, respectively.