Drake Uselton (Photo submitted)
Some of the best Rutherford County cross country runners will face off Saturday in the Sharp Springs Invitational and County Championships in Smyrna.
So far this season, they have competed in several meets across the regions. However, this tournament is giving them one of the few chances to compete against each other on a fast-paced five-kilometer flat course at Sharp Springs Park.
“We look forward to facing many strong county programs,” longtime Riverdale High School head coach Stephen Williams said. “Some of these teams are just now beginning to emerge as challengers, and we do not overlook anyone we line up against.”
Riverdale comes in with top-ranked senior Brandon Harvey. Harvey, who finished second to Central Magnet School runner Andre Hillsman in his home meet on Sept. 7, has several Division I programs looking to sign him in 2014.
Siegel High School is looking to senior Drake Uselton, who finished 11th at a recent meet in Alabama, to make a run at first place. While Alex Termon, who is coming off a 12th place finish at the Warrior Invitational, is hoping to improve his rankings on behalf of Blackman High School.
This season comes on the heels of the longtime success of Oakland runners Brock Baker and Connor Thompson.
Now that they have graduated, many area runners are looking to take the top spot this season – in a year that has recently seen talented young athletes take to the sport due in large part because of their success.
Siegel head coach Phil Young said he believes their recent success has improved the cross county scene throughout the area.
“Running has really taken off in the past six years, and this is a direct result of the success of the top boys, Baker and Thompson, and the national attention that has gone with their success,” he said.
As for the ladies, defending state champion junior Nicole Gardner is back for Siegel. So far this season, she has raced to two top 5 results at meets in North Carolina and Alabama.
Gardner will be joined by teammate Kiera Weems, another top runner who has two top 20 finishes under her belt.
Central Magnet School will be led by Claudia Smith, who won the Warrior Invitational in the ladies division. At that same meet, the Blackman female duo of Isabelle Legrain and Micadia Hawkins each had top 10 finishes.
All of these top results in 2013 have proved Rutherford County has some of the best runners around, who could compete for a state title this November in Nashville.
Recently, that success has started to crop at the local middle school level as well.
“Unlike other sports, which have seen natural growth along with the county, cross country has seen explosive growth,” said Williams, who has enjoyed a long coaching career in Rutherford County.
“When I started the program at Central Middle (before it was a magnet school,) we were the only middle school in the county,” he said. “Now, there are not only 15 to 16 middle school teams in the county, and there are large numbers of participants on each team.
“This has greatly increased the popularity of the sport, as more and more young kids and parents get involved. All of this synergy can only make the high school teams stronger as well.”
Fans are invited to come and watch the action this weekend in support of their favorite schools. Competition begins at 9:30 a.m. at Sharp Springs Park, located on Espey Drive in Smyrna.
Correction: In the Sept. 22, 2013, print edition of The Murfreesboro Post runner Andre Hillsman credited with being on the Oakland High School cross country team when he is actually a Central Magnet School student.The Post apologizes for this error.