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Coach ‘proud’ of effort at state meet

Representing the Unicoi County Middle School Jr. Blue Devil cross country team at the state meet on Saturday, Oct. 3, were Keilet Rodriguez, Jose Lopez, Connor Tipton, John Tolley and Colton Hawkins. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County Middle School cross country program reached a milestone as the Jr. Blue Devils competed in the TMSAA State Cross Country Championship on Saturday, Oct. 3.

“The UCMS boys’ cross country team was nervous and excited to participate in the TMSAA State Cross Country Championship,” coach Lydia Hilliard said. “As coaches we’ve had the privilege to accompany individual runners to the state championship. However, this is the first year we ran as a team. The boys’ team consisted of four eighth graders and one six grader Colton Hawkins.”

Leading the way for the Jr. Blue Devils was eighth grader Keilet Rodriguez, who finished the 2-mile course in Clarksville with a time of 13:11 against a field of 116 runners.

“Keilet has run in the state championship as a sixth, seventh, and now eighth grader,” Hilliard said. “He had an impressive run and finished in the top third of the pack.”

Jose Lopez turned in a solid performance for UCMS on Saturday.

“Jose, also an eighth grader, who battled an injury early in the season continued to press forward and produced a personal best time of 13:27,” Hilliard said.

Connor Tipton finished with a time of 15:20. John Tolley completed the race in 17:32. Colton Hawkins raced to a finish in 19:13.

“Connor, John and Colton worked all season improving their running times and helped this team to reach their goal to run in the state championship,” Hilliard said.

Even though the Jr. Blue Devils didn’t bring any hardware with them back to Unicoi County, Hilliard said she was pleased with how her runners represented their school and community.

“The boys’ UCMS cross country team never gave up even under very difficult and challenging regulations,” she added. We are very proud of all their accomplishments. We will miss the upcoming freshman next year and look forward to following their running career in high school.”

The Jr. Blue Devils were also coached by Kelly Whaley.