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Showtime: Relays showcase 'the elite of the elite'

By STEVE WILMOTH TriCitiesSports.com • May 5, 2016 at 10:46 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The region’s top track and field athletes will converge upon the Sydney Smallwood Track at Kermit Tipton Stadium today for the 38th annual Times-News/TriCitiesSports.com Relays.

Field events begin at 4:00 p.m. with running events slated to start at 6:00 p.m. with only one heat per race.

“It’s quick, it’s fun and it’s under the lights,” said Science Hill track and field coach Jennifer Brockett.

The event will pit the top nine qualifiers, regardless of state and/or classification, from across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia in time, distance and height across 36 events.

“It is the elite of the elite,” added Brockett. “It’s an amazing event and a unique event. The kids know it is the top nine for the entire area.”

The event is a continuation of the highly successful relays started by the Kingsport Times-News and continued for nearly four decades. Under the direction of Times-News Executive Sports Editor Pat Kenney, the event has flourished, becoming one of the most anticipated track and field meets of the season.

“These relays have been very popular among area track folks,” said Dobyns-Bennett coach Bob Bingham. “It has been Pat’s (Kenney) baby for about two decades and he’s just done a great job with it. We are happy that TriCitiesSports.com has now picked up the banner.”

The final checklist is complete and the field is stocked full of elite athletes.

“Qualifying by taking the top nine in each event regardless of state and/or classification makes the Relays an even more unique event,” said Daniel Boone track and field coach Len Jeffers.

Three meet records were eclipsed last year, all on the boys’ side. One of those records figures to be again in jeopardy this year as does a longstanding girls’ field event.

Angie Barker of Elizabethton has held the girls’ discus record of 134-0 for 31 years, but could be challenged by West Greene’s Kaci Ray, who posted the top qualifying throw of 132-0. Ray won the 2014 Class A/AA state title with a mark of 121-01 as a sophomore and was runner-up last year.

“Getting that mark is one of her goals,” said West Greene coach Joe Case. “Kaci has thrown a few in the high 130’s in practice and has the highest marker in A/AA this year. She fouled on one throw earlier this year that was probably in the 140’s. Kaci is a great kid who loves to throw.”

Dobyns-Bennett’s Alijah Dunn set a new triple jump mark last year at 46 1/4, but injuries have hampered the Milligan signee this season. Still, Dunn comes in second on the checklist at 44-10. His teammate and also a Milligan signee, Jordan Jeffers, is the top qualifier at 47-8. The two are currently ranked 1-2 in the state.

“Both are a threat to break the record,” said Dobyns-Bennett coach Bob Bingham. “Jeffers has been consistently over 45 since the 47 jump and is poised to jump big. Dunn is finally rounding into shape and is starting to jump like last year.”

Another Indian, Bryce Barrett, is coming off a sweep of the sprint races at the Big 7 Conference championships. Barrett will run the 100 meters and 400 meters tonight. Barrett posted a 48.99 earlier this year and is the leading qualifier by 2 1/2 seconds. The meet record of 49.25 was set two years ago by D-B’s Bryce Ailshie.

“Bryce is ready to run a really fast 400,” added Bingham. “He’s had a just a super season.”

In the boys’ distance races, Boone’s Josh Routh, an ETSU signee, and Science Hill junior Alex Crigger are the top two qualifiers in the 800 meters and 1600 meters.

Kassidy Morton also swept to Big 7 titles in the girls’ sprints. The Wofford signee with compete in the 200 meters where just 0.14 second separates her from top qualifier Stephanie Wisse of Unicoi County and the 400 meters.

Science Hill’s Halle Hausman will find tough competition from Elizabethton’s Heather Feuchtenberger in the 800 meters and from Dobyns-Bennett’s Sophia Neglia in the 1600 meters.

“Sophia and Halle battling in the 1600 meters should be one of the better races of the night,” added Bingham.

The fan-favorite relays should be exciting as well. The Volunteer girls are the top qualifiers in the 4x100 and 4x200 while Dobyns-Bennett takes the pole in the 4x400 and 4x800. On the boys’ side, Union leads the pack in the 4x100 with Dobyns-Bennett tops in the 4x200 and 4x400 and Daniel Boone in the 4x800.

Admission to the relays is just $5 and fans should enter through the gates by the Vocational School coming from the Freedom Hall parking lot side on the visitors side of Kermit Tipton Stadium.

Science Hill’s Brockett says the school is thrilled to host the event for a third straight year and says the single-heat per event format keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

“To be able to host is great and I think it’s going to be a great meet showcasing local talent,” added Brockett. “It’s a great last meet to fine-tune areas before the sectional meet next Saturday.”