EHS harriers peaked at right time

By Ivan Sanders

   Some say that winning a state championship in any sport during a prep career is like finding the critical piece of a 2,500 piece jigsaw puzzle at a crucial stage in its development, and with a lot of luck allowing all the other pieces to fall into place one right after another.
   For the 2003 Elizabethton Cyclone boys cross-country program, the puzzle came up two seconds shy of a title, but being runner-up to Franklin Road Academy, winners of the last four events, was a monumental advancement that will bring much-deserved respect to a program that is on the rise.
   "We were fortunate to qualify in the regional meet without having to reach our peak, which we was hoping would occur at the state meet and did," said Coach Jim Presnell. "This was more about team than anything else because we realized that we didn't have an individual that could win it outright, so we just stuck to our gameplan and ran smarter than some other teams did on a very warm day."
   Riding a ninth-place finish by Adam Green, a sophomore running in only his tenth meet of the season, the Cyclones received top 20 performances from 12th place John Ross and 18th place Matt Young to miss the elusive state title by a mere two-second difference.
   "I was hoping to have a good time, but I really didn't expect to have a top 10 performance," said Green. "It was awesome to run with these guys this season because they are so great. I plan on working even harder during the off season to place high next season."
   The entire season has been one of many first for the cross-country program. According to seniors Ross and Young, the season has been one where hopes of a legacy will be created to make the program grow bigger and better over the seasons ahead.
   "Beating Central probably was bigger to me than the second-place finish because we had not been able to take them all season," said Young. "I feel like I may have helped start a franchise program here at EHS for future runners to help keep Cyclone cross country at the top over the next few years."
   Added Ross, who in finishing 12th equaled his brother, Andy, from last year's meet: "This season wrapped up beautifully. We gave the guys next year a challenge to knock the two seconds we needed off and take the championship. There is a lot of talent coming up and Coach Presnell is a great coach who will push them. I predict there will be a state championship team in the next few years here at EHS."
   With five of the top eight runners set to return next season, the state meet has barely finished and already the team is laying a foundation of off season work to perform in getting ready to improve on that two second differential.
   "The kids are already walking the halls looking for kids who can come in and make us a better team next season," quipped Presnell. "I am extremely proud of this group of kids because it was always about being a team rather than one person reaching a personal achievement."
   Added Presnell: " A lot of people have said I did a good job with these kids, but the bottom line was they gave me their heart and soul. We were a good combination for each other. I really think that we will be even better next year than we were this season."
   The one thing that will forever characterize this team was its unselfishness at helping each other out without the envy of one teammate outdoing the next.
   An example shared by Presnell was that of Young who told Green before the state meet that he didn't care if he beat him, just don't do it in the first mile.
   Said Presnell: " Matt told the other guys that he would pace them through the first two miles and then it didn't matter who finished where. The main thing was that the team needed to stick to its game plan of running smart in the heat and win it in the last mile. We had four number one runners this season, but it didn't matter who finished where, we just did it together as a team.
   Hopefully next season we'll get another chance because even though we finished second in the state, it was bittersweet to lose by only two seconds."
   For the Elizabethton girls, Jessica Carpenter capped a successful season with a 12th-place finish, designating her an all-state performer, in the girls run. Carpenter recently set the Lady Cyclone school record for fastest time.