Getting in position

McKelvey, Barnes ramped up for regions

Barnes leaves the field in her wake at the KIL meet.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Barnes leaves the field in her wake at the KIL meet.

Rebel senior Jordan Cheney puts in the intervals during a training session on Tuesday.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Rebel senior Jordan Cheney puts in the intervals during a training session on Tuesday.

Heritage High School freshman Lauren Barnes leads the field at the KIL invitational earlier this season.

Photo by Kevin Hancock

Heritage High School freshman Lauren Barnes leads the field at the KIL invitational earlier this season.

Maryville High junior Clint McKelvey gets in a workout on the campus at Maryville College earlier this week.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville High junior Clint McKelvey gets in a workout on the campus at Maryville College earlier this week.

The wrist watch for racing with the global positioning satellite link is real James Bond stuff.

It can get like that when you sweat the details.

Make no mistake, though. When it comes to the thing that matters most in cross country racing — lots and lots of miles in your legs — Maryville High School junior Clint McKelvey is as old school as they come.

“Honestly, the thing that makes Clint as good as he is is he’s worked really hard and he’s very disciplined,” Rebel coach Tim Carnes said. “His competitive spirit is unmatched. I’ve been around a lot of athletes, and he just refuses to accept anything less than his absolute best in races.”

McKelvey and Heritage freshman sensation Lauren Barnes will set the pace for Blount County runners at the Region 2 cross country championships next Wednesday at Victor Ashe Park in Knoxville. McKelvey, with a personal-best time of 15 minutes, 51 seconds at 5000 meters, is rivaled by only a handful of area racers. After placing second at the Furman Invitational last week, the Rebel leader, who uses the GPS system to time his run splits to an almost scientific level, appears on pace for next week’s showdown.

“I’m trying to get in the low (15) 30s by the end of the year,” said McKelvey, who earned All-State honors after finishing 13 at last year’s state meet.

The former middle school phenom Barnes has slipped seamlessly into the front ranks of high school racing this fall. The Lady Mountaineer rookie ran a personal-best of 19:52.60 in winning the invitation portion of the KIL Invitational and Championship late last month.

For McKelvey, the road to next week’s region meet began with a decision he made two years ago. He’d played football, basketball and baseball in middle school, using cross country, primarily, as a way to stay fit. His frame — currently 6-foot-2, 155 pounds — worked well with any of the four.

At cross country, though, McKelvey’s king-sized power plant and leg turnover could wear down all but the fittest runners over distance.

“He’s a big kid for a middle distance runner,” Carnes said.

After a freshman basketball season where the minutes came sparingly, McKelvey said he began wonder what could happen if he concentrated on running full-time. At the state track meet the spring of his sophomore year, he got his answer.

“When he saw how good he’d done relative to his freshman year and relative to the rest of the field, he got pretty excited,” Carnes said.

McKelvey finished third in the 3200 at the state meet that spring. He would come back later in the day to add a fifth-place finish in the mile.

Trimming basketball, baseball and football from his schedule provided more time to train. McKelvey said he’d run only the bare minimum for cross country prior to that.

“I’d run, come home and just be done,” he said.

The Rebel All-Stater is now covering 55 miles per week during the season, a dogged approach to improving not lost on his Maryville teammates.

“His main thing is he’s so focused,” Rebel senior Jordan Chaney said. “He spends so much time on mile splits. He’s always researching it.”

McKelvey served notice just how much of a player he would be this season with a win in the Volunteer Cross Country Invitational last month. The victory was the latest entry in a growing resume this season that includes a run to second in the ultra-competitive Cherokee Classic to open the fall.

The GPS watch is great for keeping track of how far he’s run during a race, McKelvey said, and at what pace.

“It keeps me honest,” he said. “It gets me something out of every run, instead of just jogging.”

When it comes to pacing, Barnes has hit the high school scene at a dead sprint.

Making the adjustment from running two miles on the middle school level to the 3.2-mile high school distance is not an easy one. Barnes was matter of fact in how she approached the challenge.

“I just bumped up the mileage,” she said.

There’s also the matter of matching times with an older, more experienced field. It can be a lot for a freshman to handle. Barnes said she compensates by running within herself.

“I just try to focus on the place I get and the race,” she said. “I don’t focus on the times because different courses have different times. I target the people who are in front of me.”

There are fewer and fewer of those competitors with every race. At the Tennessee Sports Medicine Classic in August, the Lady Mountaineer newcomer ran to a fourth-place finish in 21:30, an impressive showing for an inaugural high school meet. A week later, she’d trimmed nearly 30 seconds off that time, hitting the line in 20:03 at the Cherokee Classic.

A month later, Barnes powered through the 20-minute barrier at the KIL meet, a finish that took race officials so by surprise they initially thought she was a fan who’d simply run onto the course.

“I think they’d forgotten I was out there,” Barnes said. “They looked at me kind of strange.”

Barnes went so fast that day for a reason. Big on setting goals, she’d hoped to earn elite status among state-ranked runners, a cutoff time she missed by a mere seven seconds.

“She pushed and pushed,” Jerry Barnes, Lauren’s father, said.

Far from being disappointed, Barnes, who runs 30 miles per week during the season, has turned the near-miss into motivation for next week’s region meet.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I just can’t wait for it. That’s been a target all season. Plus, I want to go to the state meet as a freshman.”

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