High jumper Cornett serves as Longhorn catalyst

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- With the Johnson County Longhorn basketball team going deep into the postseason, track and field has probably been the last thing on Matt Cornett's mind.
   Once he begins thinking about his chances to win the state in the high jump, the senior should be pretty excited.
   Cornett finished third in the state in the high jump last May after finishing fifth as a sophomore. If the improvement trend continues, there could be a Longhorn victory party in Memphis this spring.
   Cornett jumped 6-2 last year in the state. The winner jumped 6-4.
   Johnson County track coach Mike Atwood is hoping Cornett can bring back the gold medal.
   "We certainly hope so," Atwood said. "We're looking forward to him improving. He's gotten stronger, so I feel like he should go a little higher. We feel like he has as good a chance as anybody."
   Cornett's success in the sport, particularly the high jump, has created more interest in a young track program.
   "He's gotten us noticed," Atwood said. We won't be able to field a whole team, but his success has helped bring more kids out."
   Cornett just missed qualifying for the state in the long jump last year, so he could add a second event to his state meet resume.
   Cornett will be joined in the high jump and long jump by another talented athlete. Tommy Short, who is a teammate of Cornett's on the basketball squad, could also do well in those events.
   "I feel like Tommy has a good chance to go far in the high jump and the long jump," Atwood said.
   Another basketball player, Adam Johnson, will be competing in the shot put.
   Cornett, Short and T.R. Smith will be sprinters for Johnson County.
   "Smith is probably the fastest kid in the school," Atwood said about the freshman.
   Aaron Payne will be the go-to-guy for the Longhorns in the 400 meters.
   On the girls side, Courtney Shaw and Nikki Davidson return for their fourth year running track.
   Shaw and Davidson will join Ashley Howard and Laura Peters for a very strong 4X100 relay team.
   Peters also plays softball, so when she's not available, Ashleigh Maize will fill in.
   Atwood has several athletes playing other sports in the spring, so it will be tough to try and get the team of 10 girls and 12 boys all there at the same time.
   "We have to let them do everything in Mountain City," Atwood said. "But track will help you in every other sport."
   Tionna Silsby is expected to be solid in the shot put for the Lady Longhorns.
   "She's been fairly competitive," Atwood said. "This is her third year on the team, and we're hoping she will have a big year."
   The Longhorns are still building a program, and they're hoping to one day be right up there with Happy Valley and Elizabethton in the Watauga Conference.
   "We would like to get to that point," Atwood said. "We have a coaching shortage. Most teams have four or five coaches, and until we get more personnel, it's going to be hard.
   "The lack of facilities also hamper the track program. We do the best we can with what we've got. We're adding a shot put platform, so we're building slowly but surely. Happy Valley has told us anytime we want to use the high jump pit, we can. We're grateful to them for that."