Talent shines through for local athletes

By Matt Hill
Star Staff
mhill@starhq.com

    A group of athletes kept making very creative chants during the Class A/AA boys high jump competition in the TSSAA State Track Meet Saturday afternoon, but some athletes from our area have made a lot noise as during last few days as well.
   Carter County saw three state champions crowned in track, and also had some tennis players that turned some heads in action at the Spring Fling in Chattanooga.
   Carter and Johnson Counties had nothing to be ashamed of during the Spring Fling. There may not have been a baseball or softball team there, but the two counties were still well represented.
   Elizabethton High's Valnessha Redd and Tara Benfield, along with Elizabethton resident and Dobyns-Bennett standout Morgan Hyatt all took home state championships on Friday in the girls meet.
   Redd won in the long jump, Benfield won in the shot put, and Hyatt took wins in the Class AAA shot put and discus throw.
   Redd is only a freshman, and the sky is the limit for her. With her winning the title at just age 14, Redd could be decorated with many medals by the time she is a senior.
   Benfield will also be back next year, as she is only a junior. Benfield had to practice her throws at night because of a part-time job, but the hard work paid off with a state championship.
   Hyatt's wins were no surprise. She won the shot put last year, but this time she was determined to bring home two gold medals in 2002.
   These three ladies weren't the only track participants that accomplished a lot this weekend. There were several people that came just shy of winning first place.
   Happy Valley's Matt Dalton and David Hughes, along with Elizabethton's Lester Bailey each finished second in events on Saturday.
   Dalton placed second in the pole vault, Hughes finished second in the 1600 and 3200, and Bailey came within a hair of winning the 100 meter dash.
   The accomplishments by Johnson County's Matt Cornett, Happy Valley's Katie Williams and Elizabethton's Andrew Presnell are also worth mentioning.
   Cornett cleared 6-2 in the high jump for a personal best, Williams ran a personal best in the 3200 meter run, and Presnell had his career best throw in the discus.
   Cornett, Williams and Presnell each finished third in those events.
   The Elizabethton High girls tennis team also competed in the Spring Fling, and it also has nothing to be ashamed of.
   There was a time not too long ago that the Lady Cyclones would struggle to win a match. But EHS has turned it around under the leadership of Danny O'Quinn, and the Lady Cyclones made it to the show.
   The Lady Cyclones lost to Chattanooga Christian in the state semifinals last Tuesday, the team that went on to win the tournament.
   EHS played well in the match, and it can also make the claim that it was the only public school in the final four of the Class A/AA state tournament.
   The next day, Elizabethton's Amanda Pike and Liz Dove gave University School of Jackson's Jill Butler and Ashley Helms a tough match in a 7-6 (7-5 in tiebreaker) 6-3 loss in the Class A/AA individual state doubles tournament.
   Pike and Dove will be back next season, and will probably be even tougher to deal with.
   Overall it was a great week for sports in Carter and Johnson Counties. Three state champions in one day is an amazing accomplishment that doesn't happen very often.
   These athletes also accomplished these feats in sports that don't get a lot of recognition. I can tell you for a fact that these kids work just as hard as football, basketball and baseball players, and they deserve the same attention from the fans and the media.
   Congratulations to all the athletes from our area who made it to Chattanooga. After watching you guys all week, I can say that all of you represented our area with class.
   So in the words of an old party song, let's Celebrate. There were definitely some good times in Chattanooga last week.