By Jeff Keeling
Daniel Boone’s boys cross country team is primed to “raise some eyebrows,” senior leader Ben Varghese said Friday before the team’s morning practice.
Varghese finished fourth at state last year as the team followed a 2014 state championship with a third-place finish. He said a committed corps of seniors and some strong underclassmen – including freshmen Max Austin and Keeton Smith, who have impressed during summer workouts – should help fill a void left by Josh Routh and Mitch Bronstetter. Routh, who was the state runner-up last year, is running at East Tennessee State University, while Bronstetter, who was 13th at state, is competing at Milligan College.
“I believe we can definitely get back to state and raise some eyebrows this year,” Varghese said. “We did lose two very big building blocks to our structure, but I believe we added more bricks to the wall.”
In addition to returning seniors Daniel Johnson, Zac Branham, Connor Loyd, Caleb Sells and Parker Chase, the team returns sophomore Chance Bowman, who was fourth-best among freshmen at state last year and 55th overall. Sophomore Matt Huff has made great strides as well, noted head coach Len Jeffers.
“He was okay last fall, but he had to deal with a midseason injury,” Jeffers said of Huff. “He’s really bought into the program.
“It’s going to be another excellent year,” Jeffers said. “We return a good nucleus.”
The coach is just as excited about the girls team, which became much more competitive last year despite having no seniors. The team’s undisputed leader, Makayla Shaw, is a senior this year and qualified as an individual for state last year, finishing 29th in 20:02.
Boone fell just short of a team state berth last year, finishing fourth at regionals behind traditional state power Morristown West, Science Hill and Dobyns-Bennett. Jeffers expects a fierce battle among those squads this fall to see which three will go to state and which one will be on the outside looking in, as Boone was last year.
Much rests on the shoulders of Shaw. Jeffers said she’s had a good summer, including on stepping further into a leadership role for a team that had three freshmen typically scoring (the top five runners score) last season. Shaw was sanguine after the girls’ Friday morning workout.
“As strong as we’re looking right now, all the returners we have and all the work we’re putting in, it should be smooth sailing,” she said. Among varsity runners, the team returns juniors Maria Chellah and Rachel Campbell and sophomores Gracie Murray, Marley McCoy and Alanna Cloud.
Individually, Shaw said she’d like to approach the 19-minute mark and is continuing to work on her speed on flat courses. Her personal best is 20:02. She hopes and plans to continue running in college. “My personal goal is to be very consistent and lead the girls to the best of my ability.”
For his part, Varghese – the state two-mile champion in last spring’s TSSAA track championships – has spoken with several colleges already and plans to run collegiately, but is focused on his senior year.
“I believe I can go out there and run my race,” he said. “It’s all a mental game, and I just need to tell myself every time I step out on the course to just go out there, have fun and do my best.”