By Jeff Keeling
They’ve run number two for their respective teams most of the year, but Daniel Boone junior Ben Varghese (15:49.3) and Science Hill senior Lydia Lee (19:28.8) stepped it up Saturday at Boone’s 43rd Annual Trailblazer Invitational.
Varghese’s individual championship helped lead Boone to the team title by a comfortable margin on a day that saw normal Boone frontrunner Josh Routh, a senior, finish third overall in the mud and mist.
Lee, who plans to run for the University of Tennessee-Martin next year, won the girls’ race and helped Science Hill to a third-place overall finish.
Science Hill’s boys were second but a full 44 points behind Boone in the first matchup of the season between two of the state’s best teams. The Toppers were missing a couple of runners coming off a week of fall break.
The Science Hill girls, who also had runners absent, were 33 points behind second-place Morristown West, a region rival, in a meet won by Myers Park of Charlotte, N.C. Lee was a few seconds better than West’s Makenzie Jones, but West packed all five of its scoring runners into the top 18. It was Lee’s first time besting Jones, a junior who finished ninth at state last year (Lee was 19th).
A continually improving and young Boone girls’ team came in a respectable fourth on its home course, nipping district rival Dobyns-Bennett by two points and coming in just 12 points behind Science Hill. Boone was led by junior Makayla Shaw, who finished fifth in 20:11, 16 seconds ahead of Science Hill junior Halle Hausman, who was eighth but has normally led the Toppers this year. Boone freshmen Erin Bruce and Gracie Murray both finished in the top 30, as did sophomores Maria Chellah and Rachel Campbell.
Science Hill and Morristown West are expected to take the top two spots at girls’ regionals later this month, leaving one more team slot for state, and Boone now looks to be a legitimate contender for that despite having no seniors. Science Hill’s scoring was rounded out by Taylor Canfield (22nd), Casey Miller (25th) and Sarah Fleckenstein (37th).
The boys’ matchup produced a bit less drama than expected despite Routh clearly looking (and likely feeling) less than 100 percent. He led at the mile mark, but at two miles, Varghese had moved to the front with Sullivan East’s Luke Meade on his heels and Routh a few seconds back. In the home stretch, Varghese stayed several seconds ahead of Meade, while Routh was clearly spent as he labored up the final hill to finish in 16:17.
Science Hill’s top duo, junior Alex Crigger and senior Noah Charles, were fourth and fifth (16:28 and 16:50), while Boone senior Mitch Bronstetter finished just three seconds behind Charles in sixth. Boone was also helped by super freshman Chance Bowman’s 17:08, good for 10th.
Senior Malick Gemechu clocked a 17:06 to finish ninth. Junior Zac Branham (17:23) rounded out Boone’s scoring with a 17th-place finish, while the Toppers four and five, senior Alex Grajeda (17:35) and freshman Thomas Seeley (18:34), were 20th and 45th overall.
The teams will meet again at Boone Oct. 29 for regionals, with those trips to state on the line.