EMINENCE - It was a banner day for Bullitt East’s cross-country program on Saturday at the Class AA, Region 3 meet as both the boys’ and the girls’ teams qualified for the Kentucky State Championships.
This marks only the fourth time that the entire Bullitt East boys’ program has made it to state and only the second time that the girls’ team has reached this lofty status. In fact, after qualifying just one girl for state last year, the Lady Chargers could be knocking on the door of a top four finish on Saturday in Lexington at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Both of the regional races were held on Saturday morning in cold, breezy and damp conditions at Renaissance Park in Henry County.
Now, the two Bullitt East teams will look to cap a big season with a strong showing at the Kentucky State Championships. No local team has ever finished better than eighth at the state meet, the spot where the Bullitt East boys were last fall.
“As we look to Saturday, we are on a mission,” Bullitt East head coach Lenny Raley said. “The girls have a great opportunity to reach the podium (top four teams) in only their second trip there. They are ready to run aggressive and we will race to accomplish the goal we set at the first of the season which is to get on the state.
“The boys have a huge uphill battle to face in achieving the same goal,” the coach added. “But, with the race of their lives, we will have the opportunity to do so. It should be a banner day for Bullitt East cross-country.
Class AA Girls
“Saturday was a great day for the girls’ team,” Raley said later. “We knew going into the race that we were ranked fourth and that as long as ten teams showed up that we would advance as five teams would qualify. As we all know from the past, teams listed have not shown up and that can change things in a hurry.”
The Lady Chargers came into this race ranked sixth in the state but only fourth in the state’s toughest region. In the end, ten teams did reach the starting line and Bullitt East’s third-place finish easily advanced them to Lexington.
In the end, Bullitt East did it with team work as the top individuals were freshman Sierra Poppell in 10th while eighth-grader Caroline Collins was less than two seconds behind in 11th. Poppell had a time of 20:19.41 while Collins, who ran in the state meet last year, was clocked in 20:21.14.
The other three runners who scored team points included junior Jessica Ashworth in 18th (21:01.86) along with juniors Jessica Prell and Abby Shelton in 21st and 22nd. Prell had a time of 21:15.55 while Shelton was a few steps back in 21:16.69.
Also running for Bullitt East on Saturday were freshman Olivia Napier and senior Kourtney Burkhead.
The final team score for the Lady Chargers was 82 points. South Oldham won the team race with 53 points while North Oldham was second with 70 points. Behind those three teams, Mercy had 104 points while Christian Academy had 135 points.
“Our goal was to target Mercy from the beginning as we felt that they could be beat,” Raley explained. “We thought that we had a chance to get close to second play. The girls were very dialed in to running well, despite the weather. Everyone had to face the same elements.”
Bullitt East has some depth this season and this was one of the few times that the team’s top seven runners were all on the same course at the same time.
“We have had a very solid season,” Raley pointed out. However, we hand only run together a couple of times with our top seven. I was confident that we had done enough work to get the job done as our recent workouts were very good.
“Sierra had been having a little problem with pain in a knee, but nothing serious,” the coach added. “Caroline was coming off a strong Middle School State Meet race. The others had run well recently.”
North Bullitt also competed in the Class AA regional, but did not field a full team. In fact, the Lady Eagles ran without their top runner, junior Chelsey Slayton, who has been battling illness and injuries this fall.
The first Lady Eagle back to the finish line was senior Alysha Jacobs in 65th while North Bullitt also had freshmen Hannah Thompson and sophomore Jenna Keith compete.
Class AA Boys
The Bullitt East boys also rely heavily on the team concept as the team’s top runner, senior Brandon Wiseheart, finished 10th in the regional meet. Still, the other four runners who score points were grouped between 18th and 25th.
Wiseheart posted a time of 17:41.19 in that tenth place run. Bullitt East also had junior Zach Napier in 18th with a time of 17:55.66. The next three runners finished with eight seconds of each other as sophomore Cole Green was 23rd in 18:04.61, freshman Isaac Shelton was 24th in 18:10.77 and sophomore Michael Montgomery was 25th in 18:12.06.
Also running for Bullitt East in the regional meet was junior Zac Masden, 33rd, and senior Scotty McIntyre, 43rd.
Those finishes put Bullitt East fourth overall with 97 points. North Oldham, the state’s top-ranked team, won the meet with 33 points while Martha Layne Collins was second with 57 points and South Oldham was third with 67 points.
“We did not run our best race one to seven, but we did enough to get the job done,” Raley said. “Brandon ran a very solid race to finfish 10th. Zach Napier ran very strong to secure our second spot. Isaac ran a great race after falling down in the first half mile. He got up and finished strong as our fourth runner. It was a solid race as a group.”
North Bullitt did field a full team on Saturday but could do no better than tenth overall with 291 points.
Junior Logan Polley was 50th in the race at 19:51.85. The Eagles also had junior Jordan Morris in 58th while teammate Cameron Nalley, a senior, was 59th. In addition, freshman Jayce Johnston was 70th while Hunter Ashore was 71st and Colton Johnson was 72nd.