Lauren Barnes is more than one of the fastest kids in town.
With times consistently under 21 minutes for 5 kilometers, the Heritage Middle School seventh-grader is faster than many of the areas competitive women.
Barnes left a strong field in her wake in racing to victory in the middle school division of the Volunteer Cross Country Invitational last weekend at Victor Ashe Park in Knoxville. The win invitational title is the latest in a string of big wins for the budding star. The Lady Mustang flyer was crowned AAU region champion in the 1500 and 3000 meters while competing for the Knoxville Track Club this summer.
AAU Region III encompasses three states Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina.
The invitational triumph, won over a 2-mile distance, was a special one, Barnes said.
"That felt really good," she said.
Breaking 21 minutes for 5K, though, was better. Barnes personal-best time 20 minutes, 38 seconds is competitive with many area high school runners.
"It was pretty hard," the 4-foot-11 Barnes said, "but you just have to train a lot."
Heritage Middle cross country coach Robbie Bennett said there arent many around quite like Barnes. Home-schooled until this fall, Barnes, who has athletically-induced asthma, was already one of the countys fastest newcomers last year as a sixth-grader. Competing with the Maryville Middle School club team, she challenged for last seasons county middle school title.
Maryville High track coach Mac Pickle runs a satellite program for KTC during the summer months. Pickle soon introduced Barnes to KTCs competitive program.
"They have some really great coaches that work with young kids," Kelli Barnes, Laurens mother, said.
In practice at Heritage Middle, not even the boys can hold Barnes pace, Bennett said.
"Shes by far the best Ive ever coached," he said. "I dont think theres anybody that can get close to her times.
"She runs competitively for AAU. She can compete! She gets a good pace and just keeps that pace throughout."
Jerry and Kelli Barnes werent thinking they had a prodigy on
their hands when Lauren took seriously to running at age 9.
They learned of the asthma while she played with a youth soccer team that year, said Jerry, one of the teams coaches.
Running, he said, helped to keep the asthma at bay.
"She would always ask me if she could run more laps (after soccer practice)," Jerry said.
Another of the teams coaches took notice.
"When I was doing soccer, I just loved to run," Lauren said, "and coach Patty Burchfield got me interested in running."
Burchfield convinced Barnes to enter the Blount County Run for Education, a charity fund-raiser, three years ago. She was immediately a challenger for the overall, placing second in the event a year ago. Barnes consistently finishes among the leaders for women at the Ruby Tuesday Triple Crown of Racing series.
Barnes talent on the middle school level is obvious, Bennett said.
"Shes pretty good," he said. "I think the worst shes ever finished was sixth. She always finishes in the top five."
Watching her daughter come home the winner last weekend was one for the books, Kelli Barnes said.
"If youd had a video camera on me when she was finishing, it would have been hysterical," she said. "I was running in one spot."
Laurens winning dash did wonders for Jerry, too.
"Seeing your own kid do something like that, theres no comparison," he said.
Volunteer Cross Country Invitational
At Victor Ashe Park, Knoxville
Girls middle school 2-Mile Run
1 Barnes, Lauren Unattached 14:40.29
2 Yinger, Sadie Karns Middle 14:57.69
3 Henry, Brittany Murphy Middle 15:08.10
4 Craven, Emily Murphy Middle 15:29.41
5 Iles, Dimi Pleasant Hill 15:40.31
Boys 5k run, high school
1 Dubin, Josh TC Roberson 16:34.32
2 North, Andrew Asheville 16:39.03
3 Hamilton, Daniel Franklin 16:44.95
4 Sonnenfeldt, Matt Knoxville West 16:46.71
5 Conroy, Colin Mill Creek 16:57.22
Other area top 20 finishers
16 Floyd, Zach William Blount 17:47.31
17Wilson, Travis William Blount 17:48.78
Girls 5k run, high school
1 Voyles, Markie White County 19:11.6
2 Tithof, Kristen William Blount 19:48.92
3 Gaddy, Jordan Enka 20:19.93
4 Kane, Kelsey Knoxville West 20:30.78
5 Willner, Madeleine South County 20:45.49
20 Sharp, Morgan William Blount 21:56.84