Area cross country teams ready for state meet

Published 12:55 am Saturday, November 4, 2017

Area cross country teams will trek to the Kentucky Horse Park for the state cross country meets on Saturday.

Boyle County is coming off of a region sweep, with the boys and girls teams each taking home first place trophies.

The Rebels are expected to make noise at region as well, with multiple runners capable of placing in the top 20.

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Regions was a wet, sloppy, muddy mess but everyone has the same conditions to deal with so I do stress that can’t be an excuse. As a team we get pretty pumped when it comes to regions and this year wasn’t any different,” Boyle County head coach Donna Anderson said. “We knew we had the opportunity for both boys and girls to win. I’ve been around long enough now to know that you certainly can’t take that for granted and it really is special when it does happen.”

The Rebels had three boys in the top 10 at region: Ezekiel Harless (third), Malik Allahham (fifth), Will Lafavers (sixth) and Jackson Cox (10th). Boyle girls placed three in the top 10 at region: Ally Anderson (second), Emma Jackson (seventh) and Naia Hutchins (10th).

“Having three guys in the top eight, or four in the top 10, was really great and somewhat unexpected as the top seeds going into the meet were a mixture of runners from a lot of different schools,” coach Anderson said. “Emma Jackson had the race of her life on Saturday, earning a place on stage by finishing seventh  with a personal best time, which was fun to see after a roller coaster of a season. This was not a day to set a personal best with the course conditions but both Emma and Seth Stomberger did. Trey Gilliland was pretty close as well.”

Stomberger was 12th, running an 18:07.60. Gilliland, Boyle’s fifth runner, placed 19th with an 18:38.66 time.

Coach Anderson also pointed out freshman Addison Hensley’s race. She placed 17th with a 22:30.04 time.

“I have to talk about Addison Hensley’s gutsy race,” coach Anderson said. “Going into the meet we were fairly close in points with Casey County and during the race there was a gap between our fourth and fifth runner, which started to make me nervous. I then saw two Casey girls go by and then Addison so I told her rather urgently that she needed to pass them and I’m sure I was jumping up and down as I said it too. Needless to say she gutted it out and got the job done, beating one of them by nine tenths of a second.”

Boyle girls would win with 49 points, beating Corbin by 20 and Casey County by 21. Mercer County girls, led by a third-place finish from Haley Blevins, placed fourth.

Coach Anderson said she was excited by how close her fifth runners — the final runner to be scored in cross country — placed at region.

“That’s really exciting to have from a coaching perspective,” she said. “Going into state, the guys are ranked fourth, which is exciting as four teams receive state trophies. The last, and only time I could find, that Boyle finished that high was in 2001 when all three Morgan boys were running and Daniel Morgan was the state champion. So it would be a big deal for the guys to finish that well.

“For the girls, we finished sixth last year (as did the guys) and we are a stronger team this year but are currently ranked ninth. Teams are getting faster so certainly finishing in the top 10 is respectable for any program. Both Ally Anderson and Ezekiel Harless will be aiming to get on stage, which is top 15.”

Danville will bring its girls team and one male runner to the state meet Saturday.

Freshman Jessie Cummins placed 30th with a 20:06.43 time to qualify for state, inching out teammate Sam Gibson by four seconds.

“I don’t know if it was expected, he’s a freshman and boys is such a junior and senior-laden race,” coach Chris Verhoven said. “It’s so competitive. I knew we weren’t going to get a boys team in, we’re just too young. But I didn’t think we’d get anybody. If I had to pick someone, it’d be Jessie or Sam Gibson. Unfortunately, Sam was the next out. Those two have been literally been running neck and neck all year, they’ve been out-sprinting each other all year. You never know who will beat the other. It has been good for them to be competitive, it just sucks that only one of them gets to go. But it was a sweet surprise to get Jessie in … If those freshmen stick with it, we could have a pretty good team in a couple of years.”

Four of Danville’s top five boys at region were freshmen, and the fifth was sophomore Gabe McKnight.

On the girls side, Danville relied on youth. Eighth grader Holly Helmers led the way, placing 17th with a 23:02 time.

“With the rules the way they are, you can get seventh and eighth graders to compete at the high school level. I wouldn’t do that for boys, but we’ve had state champion girls who have been middle schoolers, like Kaitlin Snapp,” Verhoven said. “It’s not uncommon for a middle schooler to win state. But you don’t want to rush kids into anything either. We tried to transition that with the parents and kids as easy as we could, we picked a couple high school meets for them to become eligible.”

Senior Kelsie Steber, a well-known area soccer player, was Danville’s second runner, placing 30th with a 24:44.48 time.

“You pull someone off of the soccer pitch, you have three eighth graders and you throw that together and make state, it’s encouraging about the future,” Verhoven said.

Eighth-graders Ellise Meaux and Mackenzie Matthews placed 34th and 35th, running near-identical times at 25:15.43 and 25:15.58, respectively.

Verhoven said this group of eighth graders was one of the first elementary school groups he started working with as head cross country coach.

“This group of girls is one of the first groups of fourth and fifth graders we had running,” he said. “We told them to stick with it and it could be fun, they could be good. And here they are, carrying us to state as eighth graders. It’s nice that they got rewarded for putting in that time. Hopefully some of the sixth and seventh graders see that and are inspired. Hopefully it’s the start of a program-building.”

Junior Claire Strysick had a slow race by her standards, placing 39th with a 26:04.47 time. But Verhoven said she had a good reason, taking the ACT the morning before region.

“She was our No. 5 runner. She’s been our No. 1 runner all year,” he said. “But in fairness to Claire, she took the PSAT test earlier in the week and took the ACT that morning. She was mentally gone. She knew where the hard parts of the course were, where to make her moves and she did to secure that spot. She’s been the team leader, she’s the steady person in the program. She’s not going to get the all-region write up or any of those accolades, but she to me really showed her leadership. She said, ‘hey, it’s not my best day but I’m not going to let that deter me from getting to state.’ She’s the one that has been at practice since Aug. 1. Those are the things you can’t really get from a stat page unless you’re around her all year. I was real proud of her to be that person to get us to qualify.”

Now, Steber and Strysick will lead a group of eighth-graders, who will attend state for the first time. Verhoven said he wants them all to take it in, but more importantly, learn what it takes to succeed at such a high level.

“My main goal, probably is for them to enjoy every moment of it. I want them to learn from this, see what it takes to compete at the state level,” he said. “Because in a couple of years, it’s not going to be ‘oh they’re so inexperienced.’ Hopefully they’ll have a target on their back and they know what it’s like to compete at that level. At state, 43rd place might help you. You never know with that many runners. Your place is crucial and you can’t let up. You can talk about it all day but to experience it is something different.”