Clint McKelvey knew it was going to be close.
The Maryville High School junior checked the World Wide Web the night before. There, he saw the Rebels were tied for first as favorites to win the 1AAA sectional track and field championship, based on qualifying marks.
When the title was finally clinched late in the meet last Thursday at Oak Ridge, McKelvey, fellow distance specialists Jordan Chaney and Hunter Tipton and Lady Rebel sprinter Julia Petree knew what to do with the trophy. As Maryville track coach Mac Pickle came forward to accept the hardware for Maryville’s first-ever sectional title, the quartet sprung into action.
“We took it and tried to run off with it,” McKelvey said, “and he made us give it back.”
Not, however, before Pickle would corner the group at their getaway car, driven, unwittingly, by Petree’s father, Stanley.
“He (Pickle) laid down behind the wheels,” Tipton said.
Real or imagined, Pickle can be forgiven for ensuring the trophy made it safely back to the school. Chaney, McKelvey and Tipton were good bets at the distance events, but the Rebel coaching had entered the meet largely looking to qualify as many as they could for next week’s state meet. The sectional championship was welcome and uplifting surprise.
Chaney, first at 800 meters, second at 1600, McKelvey, second at 3200, third at 1600, and Tipton, second at 800, delivered points in bunches. By the time the 4x400 relay hit the track, McKelvey, Tipton and Cheney knew Maryville had enough points. They just didn’t let on.
“We told our 4x4 they couldn’t lose or we’d lose the meet,” Tipton said. “It actually wasn’t that way, but we didn’t tell them that.”
With an historic sectional crown now on the books, focus now shifts to next week’s state meet at Middle Tennessee State University. There, the fireworks could proved substantial at the distances events, Maryville assistant coach Tim Carnes said.
“It’s going to be an absolute showdown,” he said.
McKelvey and winner Matt Sonnenfeldt of Knox West both got in under the previous sectional record for the 3200, with Sonnenfeldt first at 9 minutes, 17.14 seconds, McKelvey a second back at 9:18.76. Both bettered the previous mark by seven seconds. Chaney’s win at 800 was a quick 1:56.95, with Tipton in his draft at 1:58.17. Sonnenfeldt, Chaney and McKelvey were within three seconds of each other for first, second and third, respectively, at 1600.
When they meet in Murfreesboro next week, with heavy competition expected from the west end of the state, there’ll be no surprises, McKelvey said.
“Before we race, we know what each other is going to do,” he said. “Before the race, we say, ‘What’s your plan?’ I think we help each other.”
Sonnenfeldt likes to go out fast, McKelvey said, something Chaney, a converted sprinter, thrives on in the latter stages.
“He (Chaney) will let you take it out because he can out sprint you at the end,” McKelvey said.
Tactics will largely decide things on race day. McKelvey is one of the best at that aspect of racing, Rebel senior Scott “Scooter” McAmis said.
“Clint is one of the smartest runners I’ve ever run with,” he said.
Then there’s the matter of that neat, James Bond-style GPS watch McKelvey often uses in training to time his splits.
“It’s one of those watches that do everything but tell you the time,” McAmis said.
“It tells you the time,” McKelvey quickly shot back. “It just takes a while to learn how to do it.”
Chaney, Tipton and McKelvey will have plenty of supporting firepower next week. Senior Tyler Martin ran to second place finishes in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, setting a new Rebel record of 15.32 in the shorter distance along the way. Adam Brown will join Martin at the 110 hurdles after a fourth-place sectional finish.
The Rebels would claim a pair seconds in the 4x200 and 4x400 relays as well, with senior and Mr. Football lineman Justin Smith finishing fourth in reaching state in the boys shot put.
There’s little question, though. The show at state should prove how well Maryville’s distance kings fare, especially at 1600 meters.
“It going to be unbelievable,” Carnes said. “I am so excited for that race. It’s going to be something.”