Despite near record-setting heat, over 1800 runners representing 58 teams converged on Unicoi State Park on Oct. 3 for the Runners Fit Mountain Invitational. Taking place on the same course as 7-AAA regional championship, the race offered the perfect opportunity for the Dawson County cross country program to assess their capabilities at the half-way point of the season according to head coach Charles Beusse.
“The experience gained in running the region course is very important, but it's sort of apples and oranges to compare ourselves to other 7AAA teams at Unicoi simply due to the size of the race,” Beusse said. “Region is much smaller and so scores can look much different than they did at Unicoi. The good news is that I think this will play to our favor for both the boys and girls at region.”
Led by seniors Ben McGinnis and Colling Kilgore the boys’ varsity turned in a top-five finish overall, finishing fourth out of the field of 32 teams. With his time of 16:37, McGinnis slipped just inside the top-ten runners at number nine, while Kilgore capped off the top ten with a time of 16:45. A solid showing from the three through five positions of Luke Hamby, Brendan Swafford and Ethan Smith, who finished within 30 seconds of each other, pushed the team to a final score of 162.
Separated by only one second, seniors Evion Reinhardt and Jenna LeCours led the Lady Tigers to a tenth-place finish, besting several regional opponents along the way. Juniors Celine Sapp and Molly Muenchen, along with sophomore runner Kathryn Menoche rounded out the scoring for Dawson County.
“I felt that both our boys’ and girls’ varsity teams raced well, but we still need to make that final step of improvement prior to region,” Beusse said. “As of now, it's looking like the region championship will be decided by only a few points with Dawson, North Hall, and Cherokee Bluff all being teams that possess the talent to win it.”
Junior Wiley Dennis looked fully recovered from a summer injury as he finished third overall in the JV boys’ race. First-year runner, sophomore Garrett Fillingame posted a personal best time of 18:59.80 to cross the line in eighth place overall. Together the duo led the junior varsity team to a solid third place out of 29 teams.
“I was very pleased with our boy's JV team at Unicoi. Wiley is looking stronger as he continues to come back from an injury over the summer and now looks ready to see some varsity action for the first time this season,” Beusse said. “Garrett also had a great race and did have somewhat of a breakout performance. As a first-year runner, I have been very impressed with him and believe he can be a strong varsity runner in the future.”
One of the few races to feature large-scale competition at the middle school level, the Mountain Fit Invitational was the perfect place for the Dawson County Middle School teams to round out their regular season.
Continuing with their near-perfect season, the reigning regional champion girls provided the highlight of the day for Dawson County as they captured their sixth first-place finish in a row on the strength of sixth-grader Hayden Hand’s ninth-place time of 13:02 over the two-mile course.
The middle school Lady Tigers tallied an even 100 points as all five runners, Hand, Bella Hunt, Ann Lecave, Elizabeth Knight and Jules Phillips finished in the top ten percent of the field.
With over 400 runners on the course, the middle school boys found themselves up against their toughest competition to date, but they stuck together to finish in the upper half of the field.
Crossing the line within one minute of each other, all five scoring members of the team, Chase Cofield, Luke Lowe, Noah Smith, Bailey Swafford and Tyler Tangle combined to give the team a solid showing as they look ahead to the state tournament.
“Our goal with the young runners is to give them a good experience with the sport, help them develop the basic fundamentals needed to be successful in the future, and teach them the training mindset we use at Dawson,” Beusse said. “Coach (Johnathan) Tinsley has done a tremendous job of coaching these young runners and it is certainly showing. Having a strong middle school program is critical to the development and future success of any high school program.”