At the one-mile mark, one boy said, “Man, she’s way ahead.”
Gracie Faulkner stayed there, too, taking the first place finish in the two mile run at Victor Ashe Park on Tuesday night.
Faulkner, an eighth grader, finished the middle school cross-country meet with a personal record 13:46. The closest runner to her was 16 seconds back, as Rebecca Story of Christian Academy of Knoxville took second with 14:02.
“I expected her to finish in the top 10, even the top five, but I really didn’t expect her to be first today,” head coach Anne Browning said. “When she came to the one-mile mark in a big lead, I was just floored. It was amazing.”
The feat was definitely impressive, as Faulkner took down a field of 251 runners. For the young harrier, it was nothing but pride and excitement.
“I’m excited,” Faulkner said. “I’m really proud of myself. I’m glad I got first, because I’ve been training really hard and working for it.
“It makes me happy. Every time, I ask how many runners there are. It always makes me proud of myself, because there’s always a lot.”
However, the prize didn’t come without hard work.
According to Browning, Faulkner became a year round runner just two years ago. She even goes the extra mile, literally.
“She works hard,” Browning said. “She does a lot of 5Ks in the summer, up until we start practicing. A lot of times, she’ll run when the rest of us aren’t practicing. She puts in a lot of miles.”
Gavin Cooper also had a top 10 performance on the men’s side of competition. The seventh grader topped many eighth grade runners on his way to an eighth place finish.
His two-mile time came in at 12:53.
“It’s a great finish for a seventh grader,” Browning said. “That was his goal, to finish in the top 10. It’s hard for boys sometimes, because there’s such a size difference between seventh and eighth grade. That was a really good finish for him, and I think it will give him a little confidence boost to push him up into the top five.”
All of the Campbell County runners will have a confidence boost at the state meet on Oct. 20. That state-wide race will be ran at Victor Ashe Park, the same course the Cougars will see three times before the state finals.
In order to qualify, the teams must have a top five finish. Individually, runners can qualify with a top 25 performance in the Oct. 9 race at the same venue.
“I fully expect several of them to be competing at the state meet,” Browning said with a smile.
The boys took fifth place in Tuesday’s race, which is impressive in a field of 365 runners and 25 teams.
Following Cooper’s finish, Blake Kibbler and Dawson Hembree came in with top 50 spots, running 14:28 and 14:30. Dallas Griffith (15:25), Tristen Gillum (15:41), Jared Bane (16:19), and Riley Smith (25:25) all helped in the scoring efforts.
With Faulkner leading the way, the women took a solid eighth place finish with 19 teams at the meet. Campbell County fell only six points behind Maryville. Brynn Griffith finished forty-fifth with a time of 16:55, while Kasi Phillips (17:28), Emily Russell (18:07), Tavia Moore (21:30), Emme Younce (21:57), Taylor Wilson (23:02), and Rachel Howard (23:02) all placed in the top 200. Girls were still finishing 12:00 later.
“I was so proud of everybody,” Browning said. “Some of them, this was their first race running, so they didn’t know what to expect. They were a little nervous. However, speaking with them after the race, they were all proud of what they’d done on a tough little course. So, they did a great job.”