JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- In our digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Jenna Hutchins, a junior cross country/track runner at Science Hill High School.
The top high school girls runner in the state is in Northeast Tennessee.
“Yeah it’s just unbelievable how much work she puts in,” Science Hill head cross country coach Evan Meeuwenberg said.
Jenna Hutchins has climbed the high school rankings through the last couple years.
“I knew there were a lot of really talented athletes coming from a lot of different states so that was my main objective coming into the meet was to try to get the win and starting the race to see if anyone came with me and if not just really try to focus on pushing myself and having a great race,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins reached #1 this past weekend, finishing first in the RunningLane national cross country championships.
But the junior didn’t just finish first. She became the first high school girl to ever break the 16-minute mark on a 5-K course, clocking a time of 15 minutes and just under 58 seconds.
“Yeah honestly it was a really big surprise for me being able to finish through that last .1 and see my time I was super excited and just really happy to be out there,” Hutchins said.
But Hutchins catching national attention is nothing new. She finished fifth in the FootLocker national cross country championships last December, capping off a breakthrough sophomore year.
“Yeah she puts in so much work it’s unbelievable how much work she puts in and a lot of it has to be done by herself because she’s just at that level where there’s nobody to train with so she has to put the time in by herself to accomplish these things,” Meeuwenberg said.
With all the success she’s had, the question becomes: what did she do to get this good? For her, it’s in the training.
“I keep my mileage pretty light, 38 to 40 miles per week, I run about five days a week and then the other two days I mix in some cross training to just help keep my legs fresh and to continue to be able to grow,” Hutchins said.
Extending her training regimen beyond just running has taken her game to the next level.
“Cross training for me is really important I enjoy swimming and biking strength training I think has also been big for me since I came to high school so that’s been something I’ve been able to slowly build upon and it pays big dividends later,” Hutchins said.
Another piece of her success: having a background in another sport she played in middle school.
“When I was little I used to play soccer too, so I focused on two sports for a long time but I ultimately came to the decision that running was what I really loved and that’s what I wanted to focus on,” Hutchins said.
“The fact that she has the range with the foot speed to run a decent 800m all the way up to a 5K makes her a phenomenal athlete and so the fact that she has raw foot speed from soccer and the way she can finish those distance runs makes her above and beyond,” Science Hill head track coach Anthony Jones said.
Jones, who ran track at the University of Illinois, has a background of running professionally and he sees something familiar in Hutchins’ skillset.
“One athlete in mind is the world record holder Usain Bolt, a lot of people might not know that he also played a little soccer,” Jones said.
Now obviously Hutchins has a long ways to go to get to that level, but every runner’s dream is to one day become an Olympian.
“I can see one day in her future she could be an Olympic athlete or an Olympic champion she’s just that talented,” Jones said. “Some may think ‘oh she might burn out or she’s doing so well’ but the fact that she knows how to compete without thinking about what to do when the gun goes off I think that’s what separates her from a lot of athletes.”
But for Hutchins, it’s one step at a time. Her focus is still on high school and then to college. She has already gotten the recruiting process started.
“It’s been good to have this time to kinda narrow it down and kinda get my feet wet see which coaches I really connect with which teams I’m seeming to enjoy,” Hutchins said.
Whatever path she does choose, this community and beyond will be following her for quite a long time.
“I think really the key for me is to keep improving each year so that way collegiately and post-collegiately I’ll have room for a lot of improvement,” Hutchins said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.