By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — LEXINGTON – Unlike some sports, just making it to the state championship in cross country is reason for celebration. There are almost 500 runners and 60 teams that converge on the Kentucky Horse Park for the State Cross Country Championship with only a handful in the elite class that will finish at the front of the pack.
“When you get here, it is almost like you have arrived. You have made it to state. You realize you are probably not going to have those top 10 finishers, but you are looking for your overall best,” South Laurel Coach Carrie Kirby said.
Overall bests are not easy to reach here either. Most of the South Laurel and North Laurel runners were not familiar with running in packs this large. The temperature was favorable, but the wind relentlessly pushed against runners on much of the course.
“Until you experience the wind coming off the Interstate here, you have no idea. We talked to the runners about if they were ever running by themselves to move up to a pack so they could use that pack to help break the wind,” Kirby said.
North Laurel’s Scout Bundy and South Laurel’s Sydney McWhorter were the top local runners. McWhorter placed 71st in the girls’ race with a time of 20:59.80 and Bundy finished 68th among the boys with a time of 17:33.73.
“Scout ran another good race. He’s been consistent for the last five or six weeks,” North Laurel Coach Rachel Gaynor said.
It was the first state meet for McWhorter, a seventh grader. Bundy has made several trips with North Laurel and should make one more as a senior.
“We’re pleased to be at the state meet for the sixth straight year with the boys’ team. We are thrilled about that,” Gaynor said.
Also competing for the North Laurel boys were Garrett Napier (18:14.86), John Bowling (18:38.37), Caleb Schumacher (19:22.34), Noah Smith (19:34.76), and Trey Feltner (20:17.74). All North Laurel runners will be back next season.
“John Michael ran a good race and Garrett ran well. The wind was a little bit of a factor. These paddocks, where they are so open, it affected everybody. When you are trying to PR (personal record) it makes it difficult,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor had her team cut back on mileage through the week to make sure their legs were fresh for the state meet.
“Coming into the state meet we knew team-wise we weren’t going to be competitive. We were hoping individually we could run some good times,” Gaynor said.
Freshman Trey Valentine qualified as an individual runner for South Laurel. Valentine finished with a time of 18:48.54.
McWhorter earned her spot in the state meet with a fourth place finish in the region meet. Her time in the region (20:33.11) shows how much tougher the conditions were Saturday (20:59.80).
The South Laurel girls also fielded a young team, led by the seventh grader McWhorter. Their No. 2 runner was Leslie Dixon (21:57.150), an eighth grader. Sophomore Alyssa Hamilton finished five places behind Dixon (21:58.90). Hamilton was the only South Laurel runner who had competed in the State Cross Country Championship before.
“There is a learning curve in realizing how to cut the corners and run on the outside and not get bottle necked or pinched in,” Kirby said.
Also competing for South Laurel were Laurence Beliveau (23:12.55), Cara Hibbard (25:23.46), and Helena Beliveau (27:18.51).
Sydney King qualified as an individual runner for North Laurel and the seventh grader ran a time of 23:05.66).
“(Sydney) ran well. There were a lot of people behind her, which is always a good thing for a seventh grader. Hopefully, she feels good about it,” Gaynor said.