Clint McKelvey is laying plans for a big year.
Ironically, a third-place finish at last weekend’s Tennessee Classic in Nashville is tangible evidence the Maryville High School cross country machine is right on target.
In a race seen by many as a tune up for next month’s state meet, to be run on the same Percy Warner Park course, Rossview’s Jake Rainey, Science Hill’s Michael Mansy and McKelvey finished first, second and third, respectively, setting a pace that distanced the rest of the field by a comfortable margin.
Rainey covered the 5000 meter course in a winning time of 15 minutes, 51.21 seconds, with Mansy, 15:57.89, and McKelvey, 16:15.07, not far back.
“Of course I wanted to win,” McKelvey said. “At the same time, it’s pretty early on in the season, pretty early in training.”
After finishing second at the state meet to earn an All-State selection a year ago, many felt McKelvey would dominate this year’s classic, what with 2008 state champion Matt Sonnenfeldt of West now away in college. Not to worry, Maryville coach Tim Carnes said. It’s not that McKelvey is slowing down, he said. It’s where the Rebel senior wants to be come late November - the Footlocker national championships in San Diego - that’s the reason for the easier pace at this point.
“I knew Clint wasn’t going to be as fast as he’s going to be at some point this season,” Carnes said. “We’re just trying to stay healthy and take it one race at a time.”
McKelvey finished eighth at last season’s Footlocker South Regional Championships in Charlotte, N.C. The Rebel racer went on to finish 29th at the Footlocker national championship meet in San Diego a month later, coming home 49 seconds off the winner’s time.
McKelvey and Sonnenfeldt, who finished 21st, were the only Tennesseans to qualify for the boys’ field.
Intent on improving last year’s national showing, McKelvey revised his training regimen this fall. A long summer on the Nike outdoor circuit took a lot out of his star, Carnes said. Together, they decided waiting a little later to begin the run up to region and beyond would be a wiser course of action.
A state cross country crown to go with the one won on the track is still the goal, McKelvey said. With other things to plan for this season as well, backing off a little now was simply the smart move.
“When we knew we were going to concentrate on the Footlocker meets, we knew we would have to sacrifice some things early in the season,” McKelvey said.
Come next month’s region, McKelvey, who’s run a personal-best 15:10 at 5000 meters, will be ready, Carnes said. Finishing third, even in a warm up race, he said, will only sharpen McKelvey’s focus.
“Clint realizes that everybody else is working, too,” he said. “It’s not that he’s never satisfied. He’s just always aware there’s somebody else out there.”
McKelvey was the only Blount County harrier to crack the top 30 in Nashville, with Rebel teammate Jason MacNair next best at 35th in a pack of 317 runners in the boys’ field. At the Melton Hill Park All Comers Meet earlier in the week, Heritage sophomores Cody Wagner and Lauren Barnes all but stole the show.
Wagner, in only his second season of cross country ever, beat Lenoir City’s Nathan Jones to win the boys race in 18:19.80, three seconds quicker than Jones could get there.
Barnes and winner Chandler Rogers of Lenoir City were the only competitors to get home in under 22 minutes in the girls race, with Rogers winning in 20:59. Barnes was just back at 21:12.
Having two runners at or near the top of the score sheet is encouraging, Heritage coach Kelli Barnes said. That both, like McKelvey, are nowhere region pace has raised expectations throughout the team.
“That was a great morale builder,” Kelli Barnes said. “They all did well. We compared times to last year, and everybody did better.”
Especially Wagner, who clipped a minute and a half from the pace he was running at this time last year.
“He came out mainly to stay in shape,” Barnes said. “He plays basketball. He’s really brought (his times) down. I think he hit 19 one time last year.”
Not far back of Wagner was Mountaineer teammate John Rose, who raced to the line in sixth.
“He tries to stay right on Cody’s heels,” Barnes said.
Lauren Barnes, Kelli’s daughter, just missed making the All-State list at last year’s state meet, finishing 18th among Class AAA girls. The cutoff for All-State selection is 16th place.
The near miss was “definitely” a disappointment, Lauren Barnes said.
“I was kind of upset about my place,” she said, “so I set my goals a little higher this year.”
With a personal-best time of 19:29 for 5000 meters, set a season ago, Barnes will likely trim her time from the Melton Hill meet by a considerable margin by next month’s regionals. An injured ankle kept her from running at Melton Hill a year ago. The runner-up showing last week could have the Lady Mountaineer flyer moving at an awfully quick pace next month.
“I’m shooting for a lot lower (than 21 minutes),” Barnes said. “I’m shooting for under 20 at the region meet.”
Like Carnes with McKelvey, they’re taking it one race at a time, Kelli Barnes said.
“I think she’s on track,” Kelli said. “We’re in one of the most competitive regions there are in the state. I try not to put too much pressure on her and just see what happens.”
The Lady Mountaineers may be looking for more than just an individual title at regionals. Melissa Parham and Melissa Ferner ran to 13th and 14th for Heritage at Melton Hill. Kayla Walker, 18th, and Veronica Lewis, 19th, cracked the top 20.
Parham could really be something at the regional meet, depending on how things are going with her other sport.
“She’s a freshman and she’s a go-getter,” Kelli Barnes said. “She also plays soccer.”
The Lady Mountaineer soccer team reaches district tournament play the third week of October, nearly two weeks before the cross country run.
Encouraging for Alcoa’s Tornadoes at the Melton Hill meet was an 18th place finish by Eric Honabach. Nathan Frazier and Max Tingle ran to 42nd and 44th, respectively for the Tornadoes.
Shawn Thompson has collected the top finish for William Blount’s Governors to date, racing to 52nd at the Cherokee Classic earlier this month.