By Dave Ongie
They stood together at the starting line in Clarksville, filled with excitement and fighting nerves prior to the state cross meet.
By the time Liberty Bell’s seven runners reconvened beyond the finish line, the Lady Patriots were state champions.
Jenna Hutchins was the cornerstone of the team this season. The eighth grader entered the state meet having won all six regular-season races as well as the sectional. Her third-place result went a long way toward bringing the team championship home to Johnson City.
For Hutchins, running behind the two race leaders was something she was unaccustomed to, but she showed great discipline while pacing herself.
“It was tough,” Hutchins said. “It was really good to have people push me during the final race. I tried to stay with them as long as I could, and there was definitely a fast start. I stayed with them for about the first three-quarters of a mile, but afterwards I just tried my best to keep third as long as I could.”
Trinny Duncan also ran a good race, and she credited her teammates for the support.
“They’re all nice,” she said. “We’re all really close. They’re really supportive.”
Staying loose was a huge key to Liberty Bell’s success. Reagan Guess said that started during a Friday lunch outing.
“I was really nervous and excited,” Guess said. “They were really nice, and they made me laugh. We were talking, and they were saying things that were funny to me.”
Like Guess, Jordan McIntosh was competing in her second state meet. She credited team unity for allowing Liberty Bell to best the competition.
“Last year, I was more focused on myself as an independent,” McIntosh said. “This year it was about the whole team and for us to stay together. It made me feel a lot more confident because I had everybody there to support me.”
Trinny Duncan also credited her teammates for motivating her.
“They’re all nice,” Duncan said. “We’re all really close. They’re really supportive.”
Two sixth graders, Hannah Dawson and Morgan Mahoney, were recruited to run by Indian Trail teacher and coach David Nutter.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, but Coach Nutter was persuading me,” Mahoney said. “At the end, I’ve been proud of myself of the commitment I’ve made and how well I’ve done.”
By the time the state meet rolled around, Dawson was glad she accepted Nutter’s offer to run for Liberty Bell.
“I was nervous for the hills, and there were a lot of great runners there,” Dawson said of the state meet. “It just made me happy I was there for the first time as a sixth grader.”
While the Lady Patriots accomplished a lot, they all agreed they owe a lot to their coaches. Donna Wilkinson has coached for 19 years, and Nutter has 11 years of experience.
“I’m really going to miss Coach Wilkinson and Coach Nutter,” Taryn Seeley said. “We really couldn’t have gotten this far without them.”