HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Science Hill junior Jenna Hutchins already has several titles to her credit, including four-time state individual champion in track and cross country, state record-holder and two-time Foot Locker All-American.
Now she can add “barrier breaker” to that list.
Competing in the RunningLane Cross Country Championships gold division on Saturday morning, she cemented herself in the history books of high school distance running.
Hutchins — the top-ranked harrier in the country per US Milesplit — blazed the John Hunt Running Park 5-kilometer trek to a win in a time of 15:58.42, becoming the first high school girl to break 16 minutes on a cross country course. Her winning time broke the previous national record by eight seconds, her own Tennessee state and Alabama soil record from earlier this season by 27 seconds and the course record by 1 minute, 38 seconds.
Her next closest competitor was 58 seconds behind.
“It’s a real honor to be the first one to break a barrier,” Hutchins said. “It really wasn’t something that was on my mind going in. The main goal was to go out and win.”
Tennessee High’s Zoe Arrington finished 15th after running a personal best 17:49.59.
HOW THE RACE WENT
Hutchins got out fast per usual, taking the lead from the start and clocking her first mile in 5:01.7. Her lead had already grown to 19 seconds over a field that represented nine different state champions from across the country.
“I felt really good going out and it felt really comfortable,” she said. “I approached it like any other race this season. I wanted to take it from the gun and just settle in.”
The second mile, which has a few rolling hills, was the slowest on the day and she came through in 5:17.2. Her 2-mile time of 10:18.9 would place high in most local boys 3,200-meter track races.
“I tried to conserve some energy because I knew there were some sharp hills in the second and third mile,” she said. “When I came through and I saw my time, I knew that I was on pace for the record. There were spectators and people in the back of the cart cheering me on. I fed off of the energy from the crowd and it was an all-around great atmosphere.”
Her lead at the second checkpoint was up to 35 seconds and she kept the pedal down.
To get her name into the record books, she needed a fast last mile and a little bit of grit being out in front of the rest of the runners by almost 200 meters.
“I came around the turn into the finish and I could see the clock and I knew it was going to be close,” she said. “At that point, I really just focused on maintaining form and having a good arm drive.
“When I found out that I ran under 16, it was really surprising. Like I said, it’s a big honor and I felt like I represented Science Hill, Johnson City and Northeast Tennessee really well.”
LONG LIST OF ACCOLADES
Hutchins now owns six of the top seven fastest times in Tennessee history, among them her state meet and state record of 16:30.84 set at Sanders Ferry Park in Hendersonville on Nov. 5.
She already owns the state record for the outdoor 1 mile (4:43.33), indoor 1 mile (4:45.12) and outdoor 2 mile (9:49.83).
She’s also been the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year three times, twice for outdoor track and once for cross country.
“I’m looking at doing one last outdoor event in a couple of weeks, but I’m not sure yet,” she said. “It’d be a great way to see where I am after this great cross country season.”
Only eight other prep female distance runners have broken 16 minutes for 5K on either an indoor or outdoor track.
The indoor national high school record is 15:37.12, set by Katelyn Tuohy (North Rockland, New York) in 2018. The outdoor record of 15:45.46 from 2013 is held by Mary Cain (Bronxville, New York).
Hutchins’ cross country mark would be ninth all time on the track.