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LEXINGTON - ‘Unbelievable'. That was the only word that veteran Bullitt East cross-country head coach Lenny Raley could come up with on Saturday after being shocked to learn that his Charger boys’ team had finished second in the Class AA Kentucky State Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park.
After finishing eighth last year, the best finish ever for a Bullitt County team, the Chargers were looking to take another step or two up the ladder in a sport that is only gradually gaining a foothold locally.
Following Saturday’s race, Raley had been somewhat disappointed walking off the course, saying that with his top runner, senior Brandon Wiseheart, finishing 36th, that a strong team score was not going to be in the cards. Later, outside the team’s tent, the high-fives and big smiles were being traded over the Bullitt East Lady Chargers finishing fourth in that earlier race.
As the Lady Chargers were getting their awards on the stage, word started spreading that the boys’ finish for the Chargers was somehow beyond special.
As it turned out, the math worked out as well as could be expected for the Chargers. North Oldham had repeated as state champion with 110 points, but the next five teams would end up being separated by only 14 points. Bullitt East had 212 points which ended up being one point better than Edmonson County and six points ahead of Covington Catholic. South Oldham had 223 points in fifth while Highlands was sixth with 226 points.
Just a week earlier, Bullitt East had finished not only behind North Oldham in the regional meet, but had also finished behind South Oldham as well as Martha Layne Collins, the eighth-place squad at state.
The second-place finish was the best ever for a Bullitt East boys’ team at the state level, equaling the two state runner-up finishes in football in 1996 and 2008.
“My teammates Cole (Green) and Alex (Terry) came up and said we finished second,” Wiseheart, the team’s leader, recalled later. “I didn’t believe it. I thought they were joking. I told them not to lie to me, that I couldn’t take it.
“Then I saw all the smiles,” the senior added.
A year earlier, 212 points would only have been good for sixth place in the team race.
Raley was still focused on the girls when he got the news.
“We came off the stage and I really didn’t want to know, but I wanted to know,” the coach said. “I think Tate Hatfield came up and said we got second. I wasn’t in the mind to think that after we didn’t run that well.”
In the week leading up to the big race, Raley had been preaching a top five team finish.
“I knew my five were pretty far back,” the coach admitted of none being in the top 35. “I didn’t know if we could make the top five. After the race I didn’t think we got it done.”
The team scores are posted before the awards ceremony.
“I pushed my way over there and saw we were number two by one point,” Raley said. “I couldn’t believe it. Then the emotions broke loose.”
Bullitt East had started the season ranked second, but that was more off returning scores than anything else. The team dropped in the rankings at times this year, falling down to sixth and they were ninth in the Kentucky Milesplit virtual meet (based mostly on regional times, but in cross-country the courses are not the same) for Saturday.
The final numbers showed Wiseheart in 36th (18:03.07) while Green was 41st (18:09.61). The Chargers also had junior Zach Napier in 45th (18:18.51), freshman Isaac Shelton in 59th (18:29.68) and junior Zac Masden 76th (18:46.35).
The other two Bullitt East runners on Saturday were sophomore Michael Montgomery in 90th (18:55.57) and senior Scott McIntyre in 95th (18:57.68).
“Zac Masden passed like seven kids in the last 100 yards,” Raley pointed out. “Scotty did about the same. If those two don’t do that then we’re sixth.”
McIntyre has struggled this season with injuries and did not have as good a season as he did as a junior.
“I was really happy for the team,” McIntyre said later. “We finished second after going in seeded ninth and we were ranked second at the start of the season. To live up to that hype was a pretty good achievement.
“I was really shocked,” the senior said of the final standings. “We hadn’t run our best and then we get the news and we’re in shock. Brandon is running around and crying.”
The second place state trophy turned frowns in to smiles.
“Before I heard the news (of finishing second) I was disappointed,” Wiseheart said. “I knew that it was my last race. I didn’t want to go out like that. I wasn’t happy right after the race.”
An hour after the race, Wiseheart and his team could not have been happier.