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State Cross-Country meet is learning experience to locals

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By Mike Farner

SHEPHERDSVILLE - A bitterly cold and rainy day made it a learning experience for all three young Bullitt County runners in Saturday’s Kentucky State Cross-Country Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

It was the first trip to the State Championships for all three of the runners, two of whom are not even in high school yet.

Bullitt East Runners

Bullitt East’s pair of runners competed in the middle of the day. Seventh-grader Jessica Ashworth knocked 15 seconds off her personal best despite the horrible conditions and finished 43rd out of 200 runners. Running moments earlier, eighth-grader Brandon Wiseheart finished in the middle of the pack, getting 118th out of 236 competitors.

“The weather was absolutely miserable,” Bullitt East coach Lenny Raley said later. “It was very cold, very windy, with rain and some light sleet. It was probably some of the worse conditions I have ever had to deal with in a race situation.”

Ashworth is competing in cross-country for her first time and showed improvement throughout the campaign. The plan was to start fast and then see what would happen through the 5K race.

The seventh-grader did just that, running in the first 30 runners during the first stage of the event. Ashworth was passed by a few runners toward at the end, but it was a strong overall effort as she finished in 21:23.

Ashworth is the youngest Bullitt County runner to ever reach the State Championships.

“Jessica had a super, fantastic race,” Raley said. She fell back just a little in the second half of the race, but considering her experience, she did great.

“The future is bright for her as she continues to increase her training,” the coach added. “She will be a big time runner for Bullitt East.”

There was an early bump in the road for Wiseheart as he fell early in the race. The eighth-grader at Mount Washington Middle School managed to get up and continued to run, passing runners over the last two kilometers before finishing with a time of 18:58.

This is Wiseheart’s first season of running cross-country and he showed a lot of improvement, becoming Bullitt East’s fastest runner over the final month of the season. He continued to compete in cross-country while also playing basketball for his middle school team.

“Brandon competed very well,” Raley noted. “He fell early in the race, but got right back up and continued to move through the pack to the end.”

There was only one other middle school age runner who finished ahead of Wiseheart in the field.

“This was a great experience for him,” the coach said. “He has handled himself extremely well all year. Brandon accepted the challenge to run the high school distance and he never had a bad race. I am looking forward to seeing him improve greatly with increased training and be a bit time runner for Bullitt East.”

Bullitt East’s boys’ team finished fifth in a region in which the top four teams advanced to the State Championships. Three of those teams, including State Champion North Oldham, finished in the top five on Saturday in Lexington.

Thacker for Bullitt Central

Nobody learned more about running this season than Bullitt Central freshman Rachel Thacker. She had never run before, either cross-country or track, but developed into a top-flight runner in a program with no recent history of success in cross-country.

After finishing 14th the week before in the Class 3-A regional in Louisville, Thacker had another personal best, finishing in 21:44.03 to be 113th out of 212 runners in the field.

Thacker’s running career started at the freshmen orientation at Bullitt Central back in August. She had been a soccer player up to that point, but then saw the booth put up by the cross-country program and met coach Martin Tallant. Thacker decided to stick with cross-country and had a good season, finishing second in the All-Bullitt County meet and then having a strong run late in the season in the DeSales Invitational before doing well in the regional.

Thacker said after the regional that she plans to continue training and will compete in the spring for the track program.