Local athletes ready to prove their worth at state meet

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Local cross country runners will be eyeing a state championship on Saturday at the TSSAA Class A/AA State Cross Country meet in Brentwood.
   Happy Valley's boys and girls teams, Elizabethton's boys squad, and a Lady Cyclone individual runner will all be showing their talents.
   The favorite to win the state meet on the boys side might be Happy Valley's David Hughes. He finished second to Franklin Road Academy's Austin Weaver last season, but Weaver is gone.
   Happy Valley head coach Don Verran likes the Region 1-A/AA champion's chances.
   "He's certainly in contention," Verran said. "He will have to run his best. You never know what the competition is going to be. David has turned in some good times."
   The Happy Valley girls team figures to have a couple of runners in the state championship hunt with Katie Williams and Kortney Goulds.
   Williams has definitely asserted herself as one of the favorites. Last Thursday, she upset Sullivan Central's Anna Ringley to win the region title.
   "They've battled all year long," Verran said about Williams and Ringley. "Katie was the runner-up in the region last year, so she wanted to win."
   Goulds came in third in the region, and has defeated Williams once this season to make her a serious threat.
   "Kortney has come back from a knee injury," Verran said. "Kortney was all-state as a freshman, then she had knee surgery last year. But if you're right there at the line with her, she's going to beat you."
   Back to the Warrior guys, the team has enjoyed a strong supporting cast that includes seniors Jonathan Cochran and Wesley Craft.
   "They've done a good job," Verran said. "They've put in many hours. Both of them joined the national guard, so their summer was occupied by basic training. That really improved their shape."
   Landon Maupin, Andy McKinney and Dustin Greene round out the solid Warrior boys squad.
   "Landon has done a super job," Verran said. "Andy McKinney is running very well right now, and Dustin Greene improves each time on the course."
   The biggest surprise on the girls side for Happy Valley this year has been Shanna Raines. Raines has improved in almost every race in 2002.
   Raines came in a very solid fifth at last week's Region 1-A/AA meet.
   "Shanna is doing a super job, and she improves every week," Verran said.
   A couple of basketball players that have been helping the Lady Warriors are Jennifer Osborne and Brandi Dugger.
   "They're competing every day," Verran said. "They're just as important as the No. 1 and No. 2 runners."
   Another basketball player that has done really well is Kate Powell.
   "She's running fourth on the team," Verran said. "She's doing a super job."
   The Lady Warriors have also been getting production out of Jenny Nagle, who seems to have a lot of fun doing this.
   "She runs with a smile on her face all the time," Verran said.
   As for the Elizabethton team, the most intriguing story might be Jessica Carpenter's.
   Carpenter is the only girl running cross country at EHS, and this was also her first year doing it. She beat the odds to qualify for the state meet.
   "I never dreamed that a girl running in her first year of cross country would achieve that level of success," EHS head coach Lisa Watson said.
   As for the Cyclone boys, the top runner on the team this year has been Andy Ross. Ross came in third in the regional meet, and has been among the area's best all season long.
   Watson is extremely impressed with Ross' attitude.
   "Andy is all heart, and any athlete that's all heart will do well," Watson said.
   Watson says Ross reminds her of Sara Wallingford, a tennis player that she coached in the late 1990's.
   "They're well-grounded kids with a tremendous work ethic," Watson said.
   Elizabethton's Matt Young has had to fight through injuries to be the Cyclones' No. 2 runner, but Watson says he keeps on fighting.
   "He's done well," Watson said. "He has a toe that's broken and another one injured. He's been hampered, but he has pushed through."
   Jared Cakebread and Joseph Basconi are runners that have been very competitive for the Cyclones this season. Watson is very pleased with their success.
   "Jared is a cyclist, so most of his cardio-training comes from a bicycle," Watson said. "He's consistently come in third as far as our team rankings all year.
   "Joseph is our youngest runner," Watson said. "He's a lot like Andy. He will do whatever you ask him. I think that's why he has improved, and has done as well as he has."
   John Ross closes out the Cyclone squad. Ross is Andy's younger brother, and has made great strides in 2002.
   "This is his first year in cross country," Watson said. "The boys asked him to be our fifth runner. I don't know if he liked it in the beginning, but he has broken the 20-minute mark several times.
   "He's a good kid. Even though he's been our fifth runner, it's not bothered him. Although he's happens to be our fifth runner, he's still an excellent runner."
   Overall, both coaches are happy to be taking their teams to the state meet.
   "We're just fortunate to be going," Verran said. "David's been there many times. We're just hoping we he will do better than he has in the past. The boys team is inexperienced, so we're just hoping for a good showing. On the girls side, we've got some strong individuals. We're hoping the girls team will do well."
   Said Watson: "We're very proud. We lost three good runners out of our top six from last year. To have kids pick up the slack, and to have the new ones make such a big contribution, it's just been a blessing as a coach."