The last of KHSAA fall sports to begin is cross country. The start date is August 20, but most teams won’t begin their season until that weekend, falling on the 24th or 25th.
Bracken County’s boys and Mason County’s girls will be the teams to watch, while St. Patrick, Augusta and Fleming County hope to have individuals be competitive in region and qualify for a state meet berth in early November at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Here’s a brief glance at teams from the area as they look to get their seasons started:
The Polar Bears have their sights set high once again this season.
Bracken County is aiming for the top of Class 1A, Region 5, and is hoping to follow that with a podium finish at the state meet when November rolls around.
“The goals are honestly the same as they have been the last two years. This year we want to get on the podium,” said Bracken County coach Forrest Hunt. “That’s been the goal for two seasons. We’ve been close, but haven’t managed to put it all together and we’re not going to back off this season.”
The Polar Bears return Jared “Peanut” Jefferson for his senior season. As a junior, he claimed the first cross country region title in school history, edging Lexington Christian Academy’s Adam Wier with a time of 16:58. Jefferson finished third at the state meet behind Louisville Holy Cross’ Keeton Thornsberry and St. Henry’s Ethan Snyder. Snyder was a senior last season and Thornsberry was a junior, like Jefferson.
Snyder edged Jefferson in the 3,200-meter run at the Class 1A state track and field championships this May, which is something Hunt believes has motivated the rising senior this summer.
“It’s showed up in early workouts. If he doesn’t feel like he had a fantastic workout, or if he thought that he was off even a little, that it’s not going to be good enough,” said Hunt. “That’s his stance – I’ve got to be better”
The goal for the Bracken County runner is to get under 16 minutes at the state meet and other big meets throughout the fall. He posted a time of 15:58 at the KYTrackXC.com 5K Showdown in Louisville this spring, which took place on a flat track. Jefferson’s top cross country time is 16:13, according to ky.milesplit.com.
Following right behind Jefferson will likely be Brandon Cox. The rising senior was third in the region meet last season, and the duo of Polar Bears are aiming for first and second this year.
“Two years ago he [Cox] really got dedicated and motivated to his training and he’s been relentless since then,” said Hunt. “He’s had setbacks with illnesses and stuff like that, but he’s tried to work through that and get better. Last track season he wasn’t pleased even though he finished top eight. He felt a little off and has been hammering away at workouts throughout the summer.”
Cox has a personal best of 16:52, according to ky.milesplit.com, but Hunt has the goal for him to be around 16:15 this season, with an extreme goal to get a second runner under 16 minutes.
Behind those two were Nicholas Cummins, who’s solidified his spot as the number three runner, Collin Jefferson and Thomas Yelton. Jarrod Woods, Damon Bryant and Daniel Simons have been knocking on the door as well. The goal is to have the third, fourth and fifth finishers under 18 minutes by the state meet.
The Polar Bears were second in the region to LCA last year and finished seventh in the state meet. This year, they’re focused on improving their own times, instead of looking too much at what their competitors are doing.
“One of our shortcomings was that we were trying to figure out where other people were,” said Hunt. “This year we’re trying to stay in our lane to get our goals.”
The Lady Bears also enter the season hoping for their best finish in school history, after finishing third in the region and 17th at state.
“At the end of the season last year my unsaid goal was top two in the region. We’ve never accomplished that,” said Hunt. “I’d really like to see them crack top 10 at state.”
They bring back eighth grade talent in Gracie Ramsey and Macie Sharp this season, and Hunt has high hopes for them, even if they are young.
“This summer Gracie Ramsey went and ran in Australia on a travel team. I think the dedication to go do that means she should have a pretty strong season, as well as Macie Sharp, who had a pretty good track season in middle school,” said Hunt. “Even though they’re young, they have a lot of potential, not just this season, but moving forward.”
Rising senior Heather Ebert finished 13th in the region last year and Sharp was right behind her. Ramsey was 18th, Holly Ebert was 20th and Chloe Routt was 28th. Hunt’s hoping those two can help dictate the pace and create a quick-moving pack to help hit their goals this season.
“What I’d really like to see is our younger girls – last season we allowed our older girls to dictate the pace within the race. It wasn’t until state when that shifted a little,” said Hunt. We want the younger girls to go out and the upperclassmen to drive and to fight and stay in there. Generally that’ll just move the whole team forward.”
The Lady Royals finished second in Class 2A, Region 6 last season, and with a combination of talented young runners and senior leadership, they feel like they’ve got a chance to take the top spot and post a strong finish in the state meet.
“There’s some girls in competition – the state meet roster is pretty good,” said Mason County coach Mark Kachler. “I think they’ve got a legit chance to win the region and a legit chance to finish top ten at state, if not top five.”
Mason County brings back their top five finishers from the region meet last year in Alyssa Bisotti, Paige Decker, Elizabeth Lavinder, Hayden Faris and Kylee Howe. Bisotti and Decker finished ninth and 10th, Lavinder was 12, Faris was 14th and Howe was 18th. Faris is the oldest in the group, and is still only a sophomore this year. The team finished 10th at the Class 2A state meet.
Bisotti, who’s entering high school this year, posted a time of 21:15 at the region meet and Howe finished at 22:46. The order of finishers for the Lady Royals changed throughout the regular season, something Kachler sees as a benefit.
“That’s the kind of interchangeable type of situation that we have,” said Kachler. “It builds competition among them to get better every day in practice.”
In addition to those runners, Kachler has a group of four seniors he’s relying on for their leadership, even if they may not have their finishes count as part of the team scores.
“We spent last week at team camp in Somerset. The focus in team camp was trying to build those bonds between them. There’s such a large age gap between seniors to eighth graders, but frankly I think we’re as tight right now a group personality-wise as we’ve had in years.”
The closeness and competition in practice could help them try to catch up with Ashland Blazer, the top finisher at the region meet last year with five runners finishing in the top seven. None of them were seniors. Ashland went on to finish second to Highlands at the state meet.
“All we’ve got to go off of is who graduated and who’s coming back. We’ve been more introspective than looking out at other people,” said Kachler. “I have frankly, honestly, not even looked on the boys’ or girls’ side as to what exactly we face coming back.”
On the boys’ side, Mason County still has a young core, but are currently without Connor Linville, who was forced to sit out at the end of the track season with an injury. Linville was the Royals’ top finisher at the region meet last fall at ninth place.
Kachler is hopeful Linville will be able to return to training and contribute toward the end of the season.
They’ll bring back Isaiah Riggs, who placed 11th at the meet with a time of 18:22, as well as Carson Adams, who placed 16th.
“He [Riggs] and Nick Drury are both juniors that have been around the program a long time. Carson Adams and Matthew Dodge are both also experienced, young sophomores, but not exceptionally younger than Isaiah and Nick,” said Kachler. “They just have to rally around each other and support each other.”
The Royals finished third in the region last year, behind Russell and Boyd County. Those two teams are expected to lead the pack in Class 2A again this year, but Mason County has the goal set to return to the state meet as a team this fall.
The Saints will have three runners at the high school level while the Lady Saints will have two. Paco and Willie Franco return as does Marvin Koch. The Lady Saints have freshman Allison Hughes and Faith Comer.
Koch is the top returning runner, placing 15th in the Class 1A, Region 5 meet. Willie Franco placed 21st in the region meet last season. Koch and Franco both made appearances at the Class 1A state meet in Lexington in ‘17, Koch placing 74th and Franco 131st.
Hughes was 16th at the regional meet and finished 113th at the state meet.
The expectation will remain the same for the three that made it to state, with hopes of adding a couple more.
“We want to get all varsity runners to state and all the others to keep improving,” Saints coach Marcus Bess said.
The team will open up the season on August 25 at the Bourbon County Invitational in Paris. They’ll compete locally numerous times throughout the season with meets at the Ripley Invitational and four meets at the Mason County course at the Maysville Community College campus.
“We’re looking forward to starting at Bourbon County, the Lexington Catholic meet because it’s on the state course and the Buffalo Trace Conference Meet because it’s all local teams,” Bess said.
Other members of the program include eighth graders Hadley Mellenkamp and Scarlette Cardenas, seventh graders Mya Franco and Josiah Hayes, sixth graders Ethan Klee and Jon Jarjosa and fifth graders Amari Myrick, Gabe Sammons and Joshua Berry.
“Hadley Mellenkamp has impressed early on. She came in with a strong mindset and is taller. Ethan Klee and Gabe Sammons are working harder. They all work hard,” Bess said.
The Panthers lost Robert Applegate, their top runner last year, to graduation. He posted a fourth place finish at the Class 2A, Region 6 meet and was their lone qualifier for state, where he finished 53rd.
They’ll return Cody Kissell, who finished 28th in the region with a time of 19:58 last year, as well as Hayden Ramey and Caleb Fannin, according to a roster on the KHSAA website.
The Panthers finished sixth in the region meet last season.
The Lady Panthers were led by Carys Earlywine last season, and she’ll likely lead the team again this fall. The rising freshman placed 11th in the region with a time of 21:44 and 72nd at state. Erin Pease also claimed a spot in the state meet as an individual with a time of 23:12 at the region meet. Pease will be an eighth grader this season.
The next three finishers at the meet were Leia Grannis, Sheridan Dales and Kalea Hamilton at 35th, 36th and 41st, respectively, and all are back with another year of experience under their belts.
Fleming County finished fifth as a team in Class 2A, District 6.
Fleming County coach Paul King could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Panthers will have two runners at the varsity level while the Lady Panthers will have one.
A year after the boys’ team made it to state for the first time since resurrecting the program, numbers are down at the high school level as they try to build things back up through the middle school level.
“It didn’t surprise me that we weren’t able to field a full team because we lost David (Reed) and Adam (Sallee) to graduation and Stephen (Cordle) and Clayton (Jamison) ran to help the team. That only left two and we didn’t have many middle school kids running last year,” Panthers coach Tim Litteral said, entering his eighth season as coach.
Junior Seth Fouts and eighth grader Conner Snapp are the two returnees for the Panthers while Emma Young will be running for the Lady Panthers. Fouts and Snapp switched finishes at the region and state meets, Fouts finishing 34th at region and 189th at state, Snapp 29th at region and 191st at state.
“Seth is the elder of the group and we’re looking at him to be a leader. He’s really progressed from his freshman year when he was running in the 23’s and he got down to the 19’s last year,” Litteral said. “I’ve had Conner for four years now and I’m seeing a strong effort and a lot of focus early on. We’ll still split him in between the middle school and high school level so he can experience the success at the middle school level because he does really well there, but we also want to get him the experience at the high school level.”
Emma Young enters her freshman season already with a state meet appearance from last year and a sixth-place finish at the region meet.
“We want her to build off last year. She was a first-year varsity runner last year and is a year ahead in school, so she should really be an eighth grader. She suffered an injury during summer basketball so its kind of limited her here at the start of things. She’s had the last 10 days off, so we’re interested to see how she looks when she returns,” Litteral said.
The Panthers coach said they’ll be shooting for a top five finish at region this year.
As far as some meets they’ll look forward to are the Franklin County Invitational on September 15 at the Kentucky Horse Park, the site of the state meet and another meet at Lykins Park in Winchester, the site of last year’s regional meet. This season’s regional meet site is still to be determined, but Litteral is hoping it’s a little closer to home, possibly at Mason County’s course.
“We run there a few times during the season and it seems like the kids really like running there,” Litteral said.