Warriors flourishing in cross-country

By Jeff Birchfield

   Legendary Happy Valley cross country coach Don Verran is at it again. His Warrior runners loom as the favorites to take the Watauga Conference crown in a few weeks thanks to their early season performances.
   Heading the list of the Tribe members on the boys' side is senior David Hughes, whom Verran describes as a "dedicated runner." Hughes had won four of the last five races he entered at press time, including taking wins in high profile events at Western Carolina and the Tennessee Classic in Nashville.
   His winning time in Music City was 15:35 over the three-mile course, enabling him to better his own school record time. Hughes was the runner-up in the state last season for the Maroon and White.
   The ensemble cast that makes up the rest of the Warrior 2002 team includes seniors Jonathan Cochran and Wesley Craft, juniors Landon Maupin and Andy McKinney and freshman Dustin Greene. Coach Verran was quick to point out that all the Happy Valley runners had improved from the first day to now despite some tough obstacles.
   "We've had some sickness and tendonitis that has plagued us," said Verran. "Now, as we all get healthy, I look for the team to run better."
   On the girls' side, junior Katie Williams continues to pace the Warrior squad. She has been an All-State selection the last two years, finishing third in the state meet last season. Williams has scored wins in meets at Daniel Boone and Sullivan North this year, posting a best time of 20:03. Still early in the season, it is expected she will beat her personal best of 19:26 before the year is over.
   A boost to the Lady Warrior efforts has been the return of Kortney Goulds, an all-state runner her freshman year. She is back now as a junior after an injury made her miss her sophomore season.
   Verran pointed out that Goulds has gotten stronger and stronger each race, occupying the number two slot on the team.
   Another junior, Jeannie Hawkins, has also been running better each time out, which is good news for the HV squad. More than any other runner, Verran says that Hawkins needs to come on if the Lady Warriors are to have a successful season.
   They have already taken one team trophy at the Pepsi All-Comers Meet over at Kingsport's Sullivan North High School.
   In cross-country running one of the big strategies is to get the runners close, together in a pack. That looks to be a major strength with this Lady Warrior squad.
   Freshman Shanna Rains, sophomore Jennifer Osborne, sophomore Kate Powell and junior Jenny Neagle have best times all within three minutes of each other. In fact, the separation of best times from first place to last place on the team is still within five and a half minutes.
   Many of the runners competed at Bristol's Steele Creek Park on Saturday, while Hughes went across the mountains to Charlotte to run in the Great American Shootout race. Before they head into the conference meet, the team still has scheduled a trip to Kentucky as well as a local meet at Daniel Boone.
   Verran feels his team is doing the right things to secure another trophy atop Warrior Hill.
   "We're working hard and everybody on the team has good work ethics," said the veteran mentor. "We're getting that family atmosphere, all enjoying it and having a good season."