BRISTOL, Tenn. – There were a few shouts of encouragement from teammates and coaches, but it was unusually quiet for the Bristol Cross on a muggy Saturday morning at Steele Creek Park.
For the first time in the 29 years of the event, there were no spectators allowed due to following COVID-19 guidelines.
“It was a little harder because you just had the coaches,” Tennessee High sophomore Zoe Arrington said. “Some of my teammates didn’t run and they were kind of cheering me on, but it was definitely harder because you didn’t have anybody there to cheer you on. It is a lot of self-talk, it is a mental game for sure.”
Arrington entered as the favorite among the girls, and didn’t disappoint, running out to an early lead with fewer competitors at the start line, finishing in 19:41.20, 13 seconds ahead of Daniel Boone sophomore Kamryn Wingfield (19:54.20). There were four varsity races, two girls and two boys apiece.
“I could kind of establish myself and get out there a little faster, not so many people trying to put themselves out there,” Arrington said. “I did have a girl beside me for a minute, I don’t know who it was, but she was right on my hip for a little bit. I wasn’t sure what she was doing, I was like ‘oh, no’. I guess it could have been a good thing to have somebody there to work with.”
After winning the Run for the Hills at South Holston Dam two weeks ago, Arrington took a week off due to some patella tendonitis and small tears in her right knee. That follows a foot ailment that bothered her over the summer.
“It set me back a little bit,” said Arrington, who is undergoing treatment for the knee. “I took a whole week off and this week my coach has kind of held me back. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming in here.”
Tennessee High cross country coach Frankie Nunn is working to get her back in prime shape.
“She missed a couple of workouts, but she is at a better place now than she was at this time last year, that is what we want to do,” Nunn said. “Each race we are improving and we have just got to get her healthy and back to 100 percent to where she can run to her capability and see where it goes from there.”
Daniel Boone junior Conner Wingfield followed up his win two weeks ago with another one, finishing in 16:30.80, defeating Mason Sanders (17:05.70) of Sullivan Central by 35 seconds in the boys race.
The Wingfield siblings led the Trailblazers to the team title in the boys and girls events. Science Hill was a distant second in girls, while Dobyns-Bennett was even further behind in boys.
“After about the first mile it was just Conner in his own race, his own mentality,” said Daniel Boone coach Len Jeffers, who had three of the top 11 girls and six of the top 15 in the boys. “That shows a lot of his maturity and a great effort by him, a great effort by the whole team. It was really cool to see them run with the effort they did and run as a team…
“It is a great bunch, they are coachable, they are eager to learn, they are eager to improve and it is a fun group, both of them, boys and girls, to be around and work with.”
Wingfield said he was able to overcome the lack of fans by physically locking in, knowing he would be running by himself for the most part. He also wore his “lucky” headband to victory.
“My sister bought it for me for Christmas and it half way matches the [school] colors,” said Wingfield, with a smile. “Not really, but once you wear something, it is kind of a superstition if you have a good race so it is more of that than anything.”
While Arrington ran clear of competition for most of the race, Sullivan East junior Mandy Lowery wasn’t lurking too far behind, finishing in sixth before collapsing to the ground, like several of the competitors, after crossing the finish line on a muggy day.
“It was a little hot and this course is a little hilly,” said Arrington, with a smile. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it. I was standing there sucking air.”
“I think I ran a good time,” added Lowery. “I just felt like I wasn’t in the competition very well.”
Lowery has motivation of her own, having missed out on the state meet last year by one position in regionals. She is determined that won’t happen again.
“I think I have to be really more mentally there,” said Lowery, who finished 16th in last year’s regionals, just 12 seconds from 15th and that cherished trip to state. “I definitely felt like I could have been there, but they just saw the gap and I didn’t have the push.”
Arrington will definitely be pushed next week at the Fender’s Farm Cross Country Carnival in Jonesborough, where Science Hill junior sensation Jenna Hutchins is registered to run, having set a new Tennessee record in the 5K on Saturday, having dropped her personal best mark from 16:38 to 16:25 in a meet in Alabama.
“I am hoping I will hold my own a little bit. I am running with Jenna so it will be nice to have somebody kind of ahead of me to work with,” said Arrington, who has raced Hutchins in the past. “I have, but she has been way ahead so I am hoping I will be able to close that gap a little bit, but I guess we will just see how it plays out.”
“She wants somebody to run with, but that little Boone girl [Wingfield] ran pretty good today,” added Tennessee High cross country coach Frankie Nunn. “Next week will be a good week to go down and run with Jenna. We don’t have anything for Jenna, but at least [Zoe] is in there with somebody that is going to push her anyway. For a little while, she might be able to run with her.”
Spectators are expected to be at Jonesborough, and Nunn certainly hopes they will be back at Steele Creek next fall.
“You can look out here and see. Normally you have got 1,500, 2,000 people running around here at least, but I talked to several coaches and they have really liked it today,” Nunn said. “It is really hard to come out here and run a cross country meet without spectators, but with all the stuff going on, it is a crazy world right now and we have just got to do what we have to do.”
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