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Jr. Blue Devil cross country team qualifies for state meet

The 2020 Unicoi County Middle School cross country program included, pictured from left, back row, coach Lydia Hilliard, Gabriel King, Connor Tipton, Austin Falk, Keilet Rodriguez, John Tolley, Jace Garland, Jose Lopez and coach Kelly Whaley; front row, Colton Hawkins.,Valeria Ruiz, Danielle Bryant, Danika Hendricks, Abigail Vidrio, Karrah Dean, Mary Pendleton and Ashton Maden. (Photo contributed by Tim Higgins)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County Middle School Jr. Blue Devil cross country team will be competing for a state championship this week.

To qualify for this high-profile meet the team, led by coaches Lydia Hilliard and Kelly Whaley, posted almost top marks in the TMSSA Upper East Sectionals held in Greeneville on Sept. 22.

“The weather was perfect and UCMS runners gave it their all,” Hilliard said. “The results were awesome! The boys’ team placed second to secure their spot to compete in the TMSAA State Championship. The state meet will be held in Clarksville, Tennessee, on Saturday, Oct. 3.”

Leading the way for the Jr. Blue Devils was Keilet Rodriguez, who is no stranger to state competition. Rodriguez turned in a second place individual finish with a time of 13:10.

“Keilet, an eighth grader, has participated in the state meet the previous two years as an individual runner,” Hilliard said. “He is thrilled the team will be joining him this year at the state meet.”

Other finishers for the Jr. Blue Devils included: Jose Lopez in 14th place; Gabriel King in 16th place; Connor Tipton in 23rd place; Jace Garland in 27th place; Colton Hawkins in 42nd place; and John Tolley in 48th place.

The boys competed in a field of 11 teams and 87 runners.

The Jr. Lady Devil team finished in fourth place out of a field of seven teams and 62 runners. Leading the way individually for the team was Danika Hendricks in sixth place and Abigail Vidrio in seventh place overall.

Other finishers for the Jr. Lady Devils were: Mary Pedleton in 24th place; Valeria Ruiz in 36th place; Danielle Bryant in 38th place; and Karrah Dean in 39th place.

“We are so very proud of both teams,” Hilliard said. “They have worked so hard this season under very strict regulations. Each runner’s time has improved with every race. Well done UCMS. You make your coaches smile.”