by darren reese
GREENEVILLE - The South Greene girls' cross country runners gathered Thursday morning to talk about some of the highlights of their 2012 season as they prepare for their first-ever trip to the Class A/AA state championships.
One of topics that brought a collective laugh from the team was the memory of junior Cheyenne Upton getting lost during the season-opening Panther Creek All-Comers race back in August.
Upton was running fifth midway through the event, but according to her head coach, Scott Phillips, she obviously was too far behind the fourth-place girl at the time.
"Cheyenne decided to take a little divergence through the woods and got so lost she didn't even finish the race," Phillips laughed. "The funny thing is, we have ran there many times. We've gave her a hard time over that one."
Outside of that one moment of directional forgetfulness, Upton's career at South Greene has been nothing to laugh about. She has qualified for state as an individual the previous two seasons, finishing ninth as a freshman and eighth as a sophomore.
Saturday afternoon she will be joined by her team at state for the first time as they take to the Percy Warner Park Steeplechase Course in Nashville. The girls' race is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. CST.
"It's really exciting to be able to have my team go with me this year," Upton said. "It was a special moment when we finished third at region and found out we were going to state. Everyone was so happy. Some of us were crying."
This season has been a culmination of seven years of hard work for the South Greene cross
Phillips started the program at the school and has had at least one individual runner advance to state each season - but never an entire team.
He had a feeling that this might be the year his girls break through. His notion became clearer last month when his Lady Rebels tied defending state runner-up Greeneville for first in the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference Championships at Tusculum.
The Lady Devils were awarded the team title via a tiebreaker.
Still, Phillips couldn't have been more happier with the showing.
"That was a great day for our program," Phillips said. "It was unexpected, certainly much more than we had in mind."
"Our goal was to finish second. That's what we knew we could do. To tie Greeneville was really a testament to our girls and their hard work."
South Greene finished off the pace the Lady Devils set at the Region 1-A/AA Championships at Daniel Boone last week, but placed five runners inside the top 26 to lock up third place and a state berth.
"We've had chances to go to state in the past, but for one reason or another, it just didn't come together on race day," Phillips said. "Hopefully this will set the bar high and show future teams that this is the expectation here."
For right now, the future is also the present for the Lady Rebels. There isn't a single senior on the roster. The top six consists of two juniors and four sophomores.
Katie Brown makes up the junior class, along with Upton. She placed 11th at district and 23rd at region.
"Last year, we were so close to making it to state and just came up short," Brown said. "We felt like we had a good chance, so that was heartbreaking."
Among the group of sophomores are twins Alissa and Sara Furches. Alissa was a member of the team last year, while Sara was not. They finished 17th and 41st, respectively, at region.
"Those two girls are very energetic," Phillips noted. "I have to do my best to keep them focused on running. They have fun with it."
Emily Fuller and Brittany Vitale are also sophomores on the team. Fuller placed 29th at region, while Vitale wasn't far behind in 31st.
Fuller says the team made a concerted effort to get "faster and stronger" coming into this season, knowing it could help them achieve their goal of making it to state.
Phillips says that will a young nucleus of strong runners, the program has the opportunity to be consistently successful for years to come. Still, he would to see even more strides being made in the offseason.
"My goal is to get my runners running year round," he said. "It's hard becasue most of them are involved in other sports. But I want to get as many as I can to run track in the spring, run more in the summer, that's what you have to have to be consistent."
But he also wants them to have fun with it, as well.
"We are trying to keep our expectations realistic," the coach said. "It's our first time going to state, I want them to go down there and have fun and not be nervous."
"This is a stepping stone. It's going to be a different kind of meet than some of these girls are used to. It's an opportunity to get experience and hopefully it will pay off down the road. And who knows, hopefully in the process we will go down there and surprise some people."