By Trey Williams
The Unicoi County Middle School track team wrapped up the 2021 season while setting three records at the state meet in Clarksville on Saturday.
A state title might very well have also been won had the baton not been dropped in the 4×200 relay.
“We dropped the baton and still finished third,” coach Jason Hensley said.
The Blue Devils were eighth when they picked up the baton, and the final two runners – Branson Salts and Emmanuel Nsenjiyumana — managed to trim five spots in a dazzling display that received an audible response from the large crowd at Austin Peay.
“They battled back and there were some oohs and aahs when they did that,” Hensley said. “I felt like we could’ve won the thing. It was frustrating, but it was impressive. …
“We run most of our meets with the city schools just to prepare us to go run at the sectional and the state meet. The only relay team to beat us before the state meet in the 4×200 and the 4×100 was Robinson (Kingsport). They finished top four in the large school.”
Salts and Nsenjiyumana combined with Garrett Sellars and Brendan Hyder to finish third in the 4×100 and the 4×200. Dylan Gast also helped the relay teams thrive early in the season when Hyder was injured.
Salts finished fifth in the state in the hurdles.
“Branson had never done the hurdles before and just goes out there and finishes top five in the state,” Hensley said with a chuckle. “Sellars has long-jumped for me for two and a half years and he continually improved. He had a really good season.”
Sellars finished eighth in the state in the long jump despite not coming close to a personal record.
Jose Lopez finished eighth in the 400 meters. Hensley said Lopez, and all the aforementioned athletes, have played football.
“We work really hard on getting all those guys who play football to run track,” Hensley said. “And Jose played soccer all year. He was on an 8-0 soccer team. After soccer season was over he came out and ran with us and qualified for state. I’m really proud of Jose. He ran for us as a sixth grader and seventh grader, too.”
Unicoi County finished 11th out of 37 teams in the team standings. Alcoa was first. Jefferson (Oak Ridge) and Tullahoma finished second and third, respectively.
Cedric Booker (throws) and Ashton Austin (sprints, throws) had productive careers for Unicoi.
“Cedric has thrown for us for three years,” Hensley said. “He’s a good leader for us. He really helped the rest of our throwers do well.
“Ashton is a really good athlete. He’s another football player.”
Hensley said Connor Tipton also contributed to a successful season.
Unicoi has now advanced 18 boys to the state in the past four seasons.
“Our kids really enjoyed our season,” Hensley said. “We had a lot of success this year. We had a lot more team success than we’ve ever had.”
Hensley said sprinter Brianna Butler shined for Lauren Trivette’s girls squad.
“BB showed up and worked every day. I think she just did it because Coach Trivette was coaching,” Hensley said with a chuckle. “She worked really hard in practice. I can’t say enough for the effort BB put in.”
Janiela Soto also ran sprints.
“She’s a seventh grader that had a pretty good year,” Hensley said.
First-year thrower Morgan Sable caught Hensley’s eye.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does next year,” he said. “I’m proud of all of ‘em for their hard work.”