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SHEPHERDSVILLE - For a squad that pretty much was dead in the water five years ago, the Bullitt Central girls' cross-country program has made a strong recovery from the brink.
For the third straight season, coach Martin Tallent's squad advanced out of regional competition and will run as a team on Saturday in the Kentucky State Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The overall finish was not quite as high as a year ago, but a fourth place finish was good enough to advance the team. While the Lady Cougars have gotten stronger, the same can be said for some other teams in Jefferson County - namely Butler and Male.
Bullitt Central finished with 85 points in a tight race for the second, third and fourth teams spots. State power Manual once again won the meet with ease, collecting 19 points as they had five of the top seven finishers. Butler was a distant second with 73 points while Male was just in front of Bullitt Central with 80 points.
The top four teams and the next five best times not on those teams advanced to the state meet. The girls' Class 3-A, Region 3 meet on Saturday also included Nelson County, Meade County and Pleasure Ridge Park.
In the past couple of years, Bullitt Central senior Rachel Thacker was the only runner that could break Manual's strong finishes. Thacker has struggled during her final season for a variety of reasons according to Tallent, but she still was part of the team on Saturday, finishing 37th which was only good for sixth on her own team and out of the top five runners who score team points.
Still, Thacker will be the first Lady Cougar to ever run in four state cross-country championships when she starts on Saturday. Thacker has spear-headed Bullitt Central's growth. When she qualified as a freshman in 2008, the Lady Cougars did not have enough runners for a team score. In 2009, Bullitt Central had the minimum of five runners and finished fourth. That mark improved to third in the team race last year with a full slate of runners for the first time.
Thacker's top spot on the team has been filled by senior Cindy Kiefer who has blossomed in her final season on the squad. Kiefer was the first Lady Cougar back to the finish line, posting a time of 20:51.10 for the 5K run over the old River Road Country Club course. That was good for ninth overall.
Bullitt Central junior Alyssa Shifflett finished 13th in 21:30.00 while freshman Lauren Redding was 19th (21:53.80). Fellow freshman Emily McKnight was 20th in 21:54.70 while the fifth scoring spot was filled by senior Devin Welch who was 24th (22:07.20).
The other non-scoring runner for the Lady Cougars was freshman Chasity Wilson in 39th (22:44.90).
Of the seven runners that will start in the state championships on Saturday, Thacker, Kiefer, Shifflett and Welch all made the big race last season.
The Class 3-A Girls' Kentucky State Championship race will be held on Saturday starting at 2:15 p.m. at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Bullitt Central did field a full team for the Class 3-A, Region 3 meet, but it was a long day for the team as they finished eighth, well off the pace of state power St. Xavier.
Bullitt Central had no runner finish better than 46th. The finishing order for the Cougars was junior Matt Simon, freshman Jordan Hawkins, senior Eric Simon, sophomore Jacob Ware and sophomore Jonathan Rogers.
The Cougars also had sophomore Mark Saunders and senior Randy Hurst compete in the race.
Bullitt Central finished with 240 points. St. Xavier won the day with 21 points while Butler, Manual and Meade County also advanced.