By Keeli Parkey
The coaches and athletes of the Unicoi County Middle School track programs are anxious to see competition.
“Our kids have worked very hard this preseason,” Jr. Blue Devil head coach Jason Hensley said. “The weather has played havoc with our preparation this year, but it has been the same for everyone. I feel like our kids are ready to compete.”
The first meet of the season is yet to happen for the squads, as inclement weather has kept the athletes off the track.
“The weather has played havoc with our schedule,” Hensley said. “We have been rained out or canceled by cold in all three of our scheduled meets so far.”
Assuming the weather cooperates, the middle school teams will compete at Science Hill on Thursday, March 28.
“This will be tough competition, but we are looking forward to getting on a true rubberized track and seeing what we can do,” Hensley said.
Hensley said “a ton” of experience returns to the Jr. Blue Devils team for the 2019 season.
“Many of our kids competed for our varsity last year,” Hensley said. “We expect to be very competitive in several events this year. They have all improved and we only anticipate them getting better as the season goes on.”
Two events where Hensley expects the team to be successful is in the 4×200 and 4×100 races.
“Our boys 4×200 and 4×100 teams were top 4 in the region before an injury ended their season,” Hensley said. “All four of those guys are back – Nolan Bennett, Esteban Mendoza, Samuel Berry and Caleb Palaez-Luna. This year they are joined by Hunter Clouse who has been a great addition to our sprinter program.”
Mendoza will also be a leader in field events.
“Esteban was also a top 10 discus thrower in the region and will be competing in both the shot and disc this season,” Hensley said.
Leading the way for the distance runners will be sixth grader Keilet Rodriguez, who qualified for the middle state cross country meet last fall, and seventh grader Luke Capps.
The Jr. Lady Devils have only one starter returning to the team this season.
“We expect this to be a learning year for them,” Hensley said. “Our goal for them is to improve every time we run. We have already seen progress with them in practice and are excited to see how they develop.”
Eighth grader Macy Robinson is expected to be a standout in both the shot and discus events.
“She’ll be joined by newcomer eighth grader Annie White as a thrower,” Hensley said. “Newcomer Karina Lopez will be joined by sixth graders Noelle Farnor, Briana Butler and Melissa Reynoso as our sprinters. Sixth grader Reagan Worley heads our girls distance runners.”
Lauren Trivette serves as the head coach of the girls team. Trivette works with the programs’ distance runners and throwers, while Hensley coaches the sprinters.
The Jr. Blue Devil team includes Nolan Bennett, Samuel Berry, Cedric Booker, Luke Capps, Ryder Casey, Eli Cleghorn, Hunter Clouse, Kevin Espinoza, Kaden Hodge, Blaise Holt, Juan Lopez, Luke McIntosh, Esteban Mendoza, Caleb Palaez, Jorge Raygoza, Keilet Rodriguez, Branson Salts, Garrett Sellars and Conner Tipton.
The Jr. Lady Devil squad includes Emma Briggs, Danielle Bryant, Brianna Butler, Karrah Dean, Noelle Farnor, Madalin Huskins, Avery Jones, Karina Lopez, Mary Pendleton, Victoria Ponce, Melissa Reynoso, Macy Robinson, Annie White and Reagan Worley.
The teams are also scheduled to compete at Greeneville Middle on April 4 and April 8 and at Science Hill on April 12.