For quite some time, cross country wasn’t even thought of at Mason County.
The program dissolved once soccer was introduced to the school in the mid 80’s, citing lack of numbers to continue.
Then came along Mark Kachler in 2000.
“It’s been a long journey,” Kachler said. “The reason why I started it back up was my oldest daughter ran track and we didn’t have a cross country program. Since then the sport overall and in general has grown in popularity. Our numbers in the program continue to grow.”
Kachler himself used cross country for conditioning for the upcoming basketball season when he was in school. Heading into his 20th season as coach at Mason County, the cross country program is anything but a conditioning port to get ready for an upcoming athletic season. The girls’ program has risen from trying to compete, to winning multiple regional titles to now being a force across the state. The Lady Royals team posted their best finish in school history last season, placing third at the KHSAA Class AA state meet.
With six of their top seven runners back from that meet, the state has taken notice and they’ve been ranked No. 4 in the state by milesplit.com’s preseason rankings to start off the year.
“We can’t be anything but excited for the opportunity. We’ve been ranked top 10 a couple of times since I started, but we don’t really put a lot of stock into it. They base that off last year’s best times throughout the year. We still have to go out and prove it this year,” Kachler said.
The competitive rise was in the making for the Lady Royals. The top six runners back from last season have all been posting solid results in middle school. Now they are growing up and 10 of the top 11 runners on the team are in high school. The past few years, that wasn’t the case with the team scattered with middle schoolers, knocking upperclassmen out of the top spots and competing at the top of the varsity level.
“We knew when they were young they had talent early on as sixth and seventh graders and knew we had the potential to be a podium team,” Kachler said. “We just had to execute at the state meet, we hadn’t done that in prior years. That was a big hurdle to overcome.”
Leading a talented group of now freshman is Paige Decker, coming off an individual regional title and the program’s best ever finish in the Class AA state meet with a third place medal. She’ll enter this season looking to retain her Class AA, Region 6 region crown and a state champion contender.
“It takes a little luck. First and foremost, she’ll need to stay healthy,” Kachler said. “She’ll do whatever she has to do as far as the work put into it goes. She’s older now, stronger and we’re going to run some larger and more competitive races this year to get them ready.”
Meets at the Saturday Night Lights Invitational in Centerville, Ohio and the Greater Louisville Classic should have Decker and the team tested against some of the top state and regional competition.
While Decker may be the pace-setter, her running mates won’t be far behind her. Hayden Faris is a junior and one of the most experienced on the team. Alyssa Bisotti and Kylee Howe are sophomores, Elizabeth Lavinder and Layla Henderson are freshman. Those are the top six back from last season. Five of the six finished in the top 50 at the state meet last year as they’ll be chasing down Scott, Bourbon County and Highlands this year, all ranked above them in the preseason rankings.
With the team exceeding expectations last year on the state level, a podium finish this year is nothing but expected as they aim for another record-setting season.
“At our team camp last week, one of the sessions we had was about goals, team and individual. There wasn’t a girl on varsity that didn’t have at least a podium finish as a team as a goal. They’ve taken it upon themselves to set the bar,” Kachler said.
The competition within the team continues from the top six. The battle for the seventh and final spot at meets will be an intriguing one that Kachler feels will be a dog fight. Alexis Decker, Paige’s twin sister, will be in the mix with Hadley Maher, Kendra Shoemaker, Morgan Carpenter and Jennifer Buttery.
Flipping over to the boys’ side, numbers have increased as they aim for improvement from a fourth-place finish in region last season. The Royals return everyone from a season ago and could be getting an added boost in September with Connor Linville back after missing last season due to an illness.
Isaiah Riggs and Nicholas Drury are back as seniors with top 100 finishes from last season’s state meet. Tyler Thompson, Mathew Dodge and Payton Ullery, the lone middle schooler at the varsity level, will all come back after a year of experience. Carson Adams also returns from injury, a top-25 finisher at the region meet along with new additions in Asher Braughton and Nate Campbell. Jackson Truesdell, Cole Wright and Tyler Green are freshman who are also expected to compete for one of the top seven spots.
“We’ve got the No. 1 team in the state in our region in Boyd County so that will be hard to top. We’re shooting to be at least runner-up and believe we can do it with a great effort. Our minimum expectation is to make it back to state,” Kachler said.
Mason County opens the season August 24 or 31, depending on when the regional meet sites are announced by the KHSAA. If the regional meet is picked for Bourbon County’s course, the team will most like start the season on August 24 at the Bourbon County Invitational. If not, they’ll head across the bridge on August 31 for the Ripley Invitational.