MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — One year after becoming the TSSAA's fastest sprinter by winning the 100- and 200-meter dashs and anchoring the state-championship 4x200 relay, Signal Mountain sophomore McKenzie Ethridge topped that performance with an incredible last-place finish Thursday night.
Knowing every point scored in an individual event could mean the difference in the team standings, Ethridge disregarded a painful injury she had suffered earlier in the evening to limp through the 200, earning one point by finishing.
That effort, along with a strong night from junior distance runner Mallory Young, helped Signal Mountain nudge past Hume-Fogg to claim the Class A/AA team championship, 70-64. Young won the 1600, finished second in the 800 and was third in the 3200 to score 24 points by herself.
"The whole team is just loaded with girls that are all about determination and dedication," Lady Eagles coach Beverly Blackwell said. "That effort defines who McKenzie is, and then the way Mallory competed in three really tough events, both were really big for us.
"Words can't express how I feel right now. I couldn't be happier to coach a team with so much heart, and they all deserve this championship."
Tyner finished third in the team standings with 58 points, with freshman Alexis Wilson winning the 100 and 200, marking the second straight year a local sprinter won those events.
Ethridge was injured as she crossed the line for a fourth-place finish in the 100, her first event of the evening, collapsing to the track and screaming in pain. Trainers told Ethridge it likely was a painful disorder called plantar fasciitis, a tendon injury that causes pain to radiate from the heel through the underside of the foot.
She was informed that her night of competing was over and was given crutches to hobble around on. But as Blackwell was calculating points, Ethridge approached her to say she would walk the 200 if she had to, just to secure an extra team point.
"I'm not used to trying to run on the side of my foot," said Ethridge, who hobbled to the medal stand on crutches once she completed the 200 more than 26 seconds behind the seventh-place runner. "I felt the pain with every step. It was going from my heel up to my toe, and it was bad. I just wanted to get through it."
Signal Mountain had competitors in every running event except the 400, and Young gutted out the third-place finish in the 3200, her final and most grueling event of the night, after coaches had told her she needed at least a fifth-place finish to secure the team title.
"I was hoping that was right, because I was really pushing myself," Young said. "Besides helping the team, my personal goal was to win the 1600 because that's my favorite event, so for that to be my first individual state championship was awesome.
"I knew my competition had already run one race, so I told myself that I should be fresher at the end, and that's when I made my move."
In addition to her two wins, Tyner's Wilson helped her 4x100 relay team finish third, along with sophomore teammate Vivian Smith. Smith won the 300 hurdles, finished second in the long jump with a season-best 17-foot, 6-inch leap and was fifth in the 100 hurdles. She also was fifth in Monday's Class A/AA pentathlon.
"It wasn't a great start, but I looked out of the corner of my eye both ways to see how hard I was going to have to push," said Wilson, who had lost her previous two 100 matchups against Ethridge. "This was my first state meet, so I didn't know what to expect. I was nervous.
"McKenzie has been my biggest competition all year, and I've studied her to see what I needed to work on to finally beat her. I finally got her today, but I hate that she went down. I just heard her screaming and looked back and saw her down."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...