(News and Neighbor article below)
University High wins state championship
Jeff Birchfield • Updated Nov 4, 2017 at 7:05 PM
NASHVILLE — A decade later, the University High boys are back on top.
University High won its second state championship Saturday at the TSSAA Small Schools state meet at Percy Warner Park. It came a full decade after winning the 2007 title.
It is the school's seventh cross country title overall — with the UH girls winning five straight state championships from 2005-09.
But this was about much more than history. It was about teamwork.
Five Jr. Bucs finished in the top 25 to give them a 62-101 win over runner-up L&M Stem Academy in the team standings. Signal Mountain was third with 107 points.
"This season has been amazing," UH coach Maggie Whitson said. "We've had some injuries at the beginning of the season and our No. 2 guy was out literally until October. He came up and stepped up in a big way today. Every single boy ran for something more than a personal goal. They ran to bring a state championship back to University School."
Pablo Rivas was the No. 2 guy whom Whitson referred to, and he ran 18:02 to finish 10th in the individual race and earn all-state honors. Porter Bradley was the highest finisher for the Bucs, sixth individually with a time of 17:40 to also earn all-state.
"It's such an honor to represent my school," Bradley said. "It's a real high for the school. We've been working really hard for this day and it all seemed to come together today. I'm really happy about that."
It came together the efforts of the No. 3 through No. 5 guys. The efforts included an 18th-place run by Caleb Strickler (18:47), 19th by Blake Rogers (18:48) and 23rd by Will Owen (19:10).
Bracken Burns (20:01) and Luke Bader (20:09) also ran Saturday, although their scores didn't count toward the team total. With so many low times, Whitson said it enforced the Bucs' long-standing tradition of being strong in distance running.
"University School is definitely strong in the distance," Whitson said. "It's nice that we're bringing a state championship back to University School. It speaks to their hard work. As coaches, we give them the tools and the opportunity to advance. But they went out there and did what they did. They deserve it."
There was even more reason for University High to celebrate, with the girls finishing third in the team standings. The Lady Jr. Bucs ended only five points (94-99) behind state runner-up White House-Heritage.
"The girls finishing third was a big improvement from last year coming off a 10th-place finish," Whitson said. "We started this journey on the girls' side five years ago and today, we finish in the top three of the state. There's nothing more you can ask for as a coach."
Bekah Owen led the way with an individual fourth-place finish (21:36). Other UH finishers were 17th Christina Fulcher (23:16), 33rd Cora Allison (24:31), Anna Davidson (24:49) and Ali Burns (25:01).
"I felt pretty good out there today," Owen said. "It's been a lot of teamwork, a lot of building and my team is my family. It's huge deal to make it this far. It's so emotional because we're like sisters and this is the end of it."
Two other local teams made it to the state meet, as Happy Valley finished 20th on the girls' side and Sullivan North 21st on the boys' side.
It was Happy Valley's first time back in the state championships in 14 years. Coach Matt Estep said it was a big step for the HV program, both for the present and the future.
"We haven't had a lot of interest in cross country in the last few years," Estep said. "It's the first year in a long time we've had a lot of kids out. It was a good learning experience and we will only grow from here."
The following article was printed in the Johnson City News and Neighbor:
Members of the University High cross country program pose with the boys small school state championship trophy last Saturday in Nashville. Contributed By Dave Ongie
UH boys bring home state championship
By NN Assistant on November 8, 2017 Featured, Local Sports
Two days after the University High boys brought home their first state cross country title in a decade, UH coach Maggie Whitson was still struggling to come to grips with the triumph.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet except for that trophy sitting down in my entranceway,” Whitson said on Monday.
Whitson has always been a big believer in pack racing, and that philosophy paid off in a big way last Saturday at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. The Bucs put five runners inside the top 23 to easily outdistance runner-up L&M Stem Academy in the TSSAA Small School State Cross Country Championships.
As usual, it all started with Porter Bradley, who has paced the team-oriented Bucs all season long. Bradley got off the line well, and his teammates did the best they could to keep pace.
“Porter got out and he set a very impressive tone,” Whitson said.
Bradley eventually settled for a sixth-place finish with a time of 17:40, good enough to earn all-state honors. Pablo Rivas – a senior who provided valuable leadership to the Bucs despite missing most of the season due to injury – finished 10th to earn a spot on the podium and a spot on the all-state team.
The depth the Bucs achieved with their pack-running philosophy was too much for the other teams to overcome. Caleb Strickler (18th), Blake Rogers (19th) and Will Owen (23rd) all stuck together and pushed hard through the finish line.
When Whitson looks back on this team, she said she’ll remember the way each runner embraced the team-first approach it took to win a championship.
“I’ll remember their heart for what they wanted,” Whitson said. “The goal was to win state. Once they got that mindset right, they started working together as a team.”