By Jeff Keeling
Daniel Boone’s boys cross country team showed early season strength Saturday, winning the team title by 22 points over 2015 state runner up Oak Ridge at the Cherokee Classic meet.
Senior Ben Varghese, among the favorites for an individual state title, came across the line first in 15:11, a full 32 seconds ahead of runner up Carter Coughlin of Knox Webb.
Boone’s girls finished seventh, with the team’s lone senior, Makayla Shaw, leading the way in 19:57, 21st overall.
With their hearts heavy following the death a week earlier of sophomore volleyball player Kaylee Rabun in a car accident that also seriously injured football player Ryan Sanders, Boone’s runners felt an extra purpose at the meet, which featured a third strong boys team in Maryville. The boys team did a good job of minimizing the gaps between their top runner and their fifth-placing competitor – a key to team success – head coach Len Jeffers said.
“We hadn’t run (competitively) in three weeks, and we were just going out there to gauge where we were at, but we’re always trying to close any gaps and encourage them to run up closer to the one in front of them,” Jeffers said. After Varghese, senior Zac Branham and sophomore Chance Bowman came across in seventh and eighth, both at 16:23, while sophomore Matt Huff was just 20 seconds behind them in 15th overall. Senior Caleb Sells clocked a 17:04 that was good for 30th.
While he cautioned that it’s early in the season, Jeffers – who was a member of the 1981 Boone team that won the school’s first state title and was inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame last week – said the 2016 squad seems to be coming into its own. The 2015 team, which placed third at the state meet 23 points behind Oak Ridge, featured individual runner up Josh Routh and 13th-place Mitch Bronstetter, who are competing this fall at East Tennessee State University and Milligan College, respectively.
“We thought we might be a little tighter packed back through the field than we’ve normally been, and that’s been the case so far,” Jeffers said.
Maintaining that pack running style and continuing to narrow gaps will be key as Boone moves further into the season. In addition to Oak Ridge and perennial power Brentwood, which won last year’s championship and has captured four of the past five, Jeffers said Wilson Central was looking strong. Boone will get a good look at regional teams when it hosts its annual Trailblazer meet Oct. 8.