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MOUNT WASHINGTON – To build a top-flight athletic program, you have to start young.
Bullitt East track and cross-country coach Lenny Raley saw that up close when he was an assistant basketball coach in the Lady Charger program a few years ago. Wanting more for his runners, Raley dropped the basketball gig and started the East Running Club.
The early results have been impressive as a lot of young runners have joined the program and the results on the course have been strong.
(There are other youth oriented running groups in Bullitt County, but are not as large as the East Running Club).
During the cross-country season, most of the runners compete with the East Running Club banner. However, at the end of the season, in the Kentucky Track and Cross-Country Coaches Association (KTCCCA) Meet of Champions, they have to break down and compete under their elementary or middle school names. That meet, the week before the high school regional championships, serves as the state championships for the younger runners.
This year, there were enough runners for Pleasant Grove Elementary to have a full team and that squad won the state championship with 55 points. There were 34 schools taking part in the action that day and Pleasant Grove defeated Camden Station Elementary, which had 75 points.
“It was a fantastic race for this group and an accomplishment to be proud of,” Raley noted. “We thought we had a chance to be a top three team going into the race and the kids were instructed to be aggressive the first half mile, which they were. It was a very exciting performance.”
At the elementary level (which in this event meant runners in the fourth grade and younger), the runners compete over a 2K course (1.25 miles).
Logan Ortega led the way as the third grader finished second in a field of 289 runners. Ortega finished in a time of 8:19. Teammate Emma Egan was fifth in the big field in a time of 8:31, passing a bevy of runners down the stretch. Pleasant Grove also had Madison Hennig (8:45) finish 14th while Carly Spencer (8:50) was 18th. Camryn Poole was the fifth finisher for Pleasant Grove as she was 39th in a time of 9:13.
Pleasant Grove also had Sydney Higdon and Klaire Hourigan running that day and both finished in the top 100 runners.
“As soon as the gun went off, Logan went straight to the front of the pack and did not let up,” Raley said later. “She was very determined to run well and she held her position the entire race. It was a fantastic effort from Logan as she was only nine seconds behind the winning time.”
In that same race, Alison Brady (Mount Washington Elementary) was 26th while Mackenzie Cornell (Old Mill Elementary) was 102nd with Molly Perry (MWES) in 225th.
In the girls’ fourth grade and under Open Race, Taylor Howell was eighth in f field of 201 while Madison hall was 122nd. Both of those girls represented the East Running Club.
On the boys’ side, the fourth-grade and under Championship Race had Tyler Bass (PGES) in 28th in a field of 281 while Alec Brady (MWES) was 128th. Also running that day was Eli Howard (Cedar Grove Elementary) in 186th, Ethan Hennig (PGES) in 208th and Dalton Geary (Freedom Elementary) in 231st.
In the sixth grade and younger Championship Race (a 3K event), the girls’ race had Ryley Ortega (Eastside Middle School) was sixth in a race with 323 runners while Bailey Chitwood (OMES) was 12th, Ellie Poole (PGES) 23rd and Emily Popplewell (PGES) 100th.
There was also a fifth- and sixth-grade Open Race for girls and in that event Kaylee Wilson (East Running Club) was fourth out of 101 runners.
In the boys’ sixth-grade and younger Championship Race, there were 390 runners with Ryan Geary (FES) finishing 184th, Ayden Mudd (MWES) in 209th and Daniel Davis (EMS) in 285th.
There were also races that day for seventh- and eighth-graders in the Championship Race Division. Those races were 4K events.
On the girls’ side, Julia Poole (EMS), who competed for Bullitt East at times during the cross-country season, was 11th overall in a field of 364 while Lindsey Spencer (EMS) was 76th and Miranda Whitworth (EMS) was 305th.
The boys’ race that day had Matt Wheeler (EMS) finish 148th in a race with an incredible 430 runners. Also, Grant Perry (EMS) was 342nd while Blake Hourigan was 355th.
“We had a very successful season this year,” Raley said. “As you can see, there are some very talented young runners in this county. Several competed at the front of the pack in every race and we had many outstanding performances throughout the season.
“It will be very exciting to work with these kids as we move forward,” the coach added. “We would like to continue to grow the club next season.”