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D-B's Neglia records top 25 finish at Nike Cross Nationals

TANNER COOK • Dec 7, 2019 at 10:51 PM

Dobyns-Bennett senior Sasha Neglia had a stellar senior cross country season, but it ended on a bittersweet note.

Neglia capped it off finishing 24th in a field of 201 runners with a time of 18:09.0 at the Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon. The soggy conditions and pouring rain contributed to nearly a 40-second backslide from Neglia in the toughest girls field ever assembled at NXN.

“It was really tough running out there today with all the mud and rain,” Neglia said. “I’m very fortunate to get here three times, though, and it’s been a great experience every time. This race has a lot of good runners, and it’s a great atmosphere.”

North Rockland (New York) senior Katelyn Tuohy won her third consecutive individual title, crossing the line in 17:18.4, just barely edging out Beavercreek (Ohio) senior Taylor Ewert at the line in 17:19.1. Wyoming’s Sydney Thorvaldson was a close third in 17:19.4 as all three were nearing the finish in a muddy, “all-out” sprint.

Kinetic (Saratoga Springs, New York) easily outdistanced defending champion Central Oregon (Bend) 78-160 and took the team title.

It is the first title for Saratoga Springs since winning the inaugural event in 2004.

HOW THE RACE WENT

Neglia opted to sit in the pack behind Tuohy and wait for the hills in the windy course to help her.

“I wanted to get out quick because you have to in a race like this,” she said. “The first mile was good and I was near where I wanted to be. I really don’t know what was going through my head.”

She crossed the first checkpoint at the one mile mark in 5:28.2, sitting comfortably in 19th place. The second mile is where the bulk of the hills and turns are in the course.

From there, Neglia dropped seven spots to 26th in the second mile, passing the last checkpoint at 11:31.4 (6:03 second mile).

“That mile was pretty tough,” she said. “There are some hills in the back and I lost some spots.”

In the final mile of the race, it seemed that Neglia just got a bit stronger and picked off two runners. The final stages of the race are brutal, with a couple of short uphills before a slight left turn and a downhill straightaway finish.

“It’s a tough way to end the season, but I’m just glad I got here again,” she said.

WHAT IT MEANS

Three individual state cross country championships say a lot about Neglia because she joined an elite club in Tennessee state history, including D-B’s Carla McCready from the 1990s.

However, not too many athletes from Northeast Tennessee can call themselves All-Americans. Plus, in her sophomore year, she finished 24th and was just nine seconds away from the top 21, which garnered the honors.

It shows a high level of consistency for the University of North Carolina commit. She has also only had one major injury in her high school career, which is almost unheard of for a runner of her quality.

“I’ve been fortunate, and it’s been a great four years at D-B,” Neglia said.

Longtime D-B head coach Bob Bingham attributes her success to how meticulous Neglia works at improving the little things like eating right, going slow on recovery days and properly cross-training to lighten her load.

“She focuses on eating the right things, stretching, taking recovery seriously and getting enough sleep,” Bingham said. “Carla really set the bar at a high level for D-B distance running, winning three state titles. Sasha has met those standards and surpassed them. She’s reset the bar here, and it’s been great to play a small role in that.”

However, as Neglia will always say, her team matters the most. She played a huge role earlier this season in the Lady Indians earning their first team title since 1997.

She has seen the team grow from the beginning and has seen all three of her fellow senior teammates (Emma Russum, Julianna McReynolds and Gracie Allen) run better as the season went along. She has also helped usher in the next wave of D-B runners as freshman Autumn Headrick was a key contributor in her first season on varsity.

“This has been the best year of cross country I could have asked for,” Neglia said. “It’s been fun to watch this team grow as the season has gone on and over the last four years.”

“I’ve said it again and again, but those four seniors are really close, and it’s hard to find a group like that,” Bingham said. “From what I’m told, all of them gathered at one of their homes and watched Sasha’s race on the livestream. That really shows how close they are.”

WORDS TO HER FRIEND

Even though they are competitors, Neglia and Science Hill sophomore Jenna Hutchins share a mutual respect for one another.

Hutchins, like Neglia, won her regional race last Saturday at Foot Locker South and will compete next weekend in sunny San Diego at Foot Locker Nationals.

She shared some words of encouragement for her friend to conclude her interview.

“She’s very talented, and it’s great to see someone else from Tennessee on the national stage,” Neglia said. “I know she has the talent to do amazing next weekend.”

OTHER NOTABLES

Virginia High senior and Neglia’s future North Carolina teammate Kelsey Harrington finished 20th in 18:04.39 and garnered All-America honors. Harrington will also race next weekend at Foot Locker Nationals.