LEXINGTON - A year ago, the Bullitt East Lady Charges did not even qualify for the Kentucky State Cross-Country Championships, sending only seventh-grader Caroline Collins to the big show at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Collins was back in the final race of the season on Saturday and this time she brought her teammates with her. With Collins finishing 19th and teammate Sierra Poppell two spots back, the Lady Chargers posted their best team score ever, closing with a fourth place finish and making it to the awards stage for the first time in the program’s history.
After the race, Collins said it was a lot easier running with her teammates in the race than running solo in her first trip to the state finals.
“Our team goal since July 15 was to get here and get on the stage,” Collins said before the awards were handed out. “That’s what we did today.
“I was much less nervous this year,” the eighth-grader said. “I was with my team and we were just telling each other to take it easy. It’s much easier with the team.”
Collins’ finish was the best ever for a Lady Charger at the state meet. She finished with a time of 20:42.02 while Poppell was clocked in 20:47.15 in 21st.
Collins said that Poppell, a freshman, has been her motivation this season in running.
“Coach just said to stick with the favorites,” Collins said. “Mostly that was Sierra. She has picked me up a little and has been my motivation.”
Bullitt East had its top five runners finish in the top 50 which assured them of a good team score. Each full team in the race had seven runners and the top five runners are part of the overall team score.
The Lady Chargers finished with 135 points. Highlands won the meet with 65 points while South Oldham and North Oldham were second and third with 96 and 117 points, respectively. Those two teams had finished in front of Bullitt East in the regional meet a week earlier and the fourth place team in that regional, Mercy, was behind the Lady Chargers in fifth overall on Saturday, but 114 points back.
After Collins and Poppell, Bullitt East also got team points from junior Abby Shelton who was 33rd (21:05.46) while junior Jessica Ashworth was 45th (21:39.32). The fifth runner scoring team points was freshman Olivia Napier who was 48th (21:43.09).
The other two Bullitt East runners on Saturday were junior Jessica Prell who was 53rd (21:47.29) while senior Kourtney Burkhead was 134th (23:40.93).
“Our goal was five in the top 50,” veteran Bullitt East head coach Lenny Raley said. “We had two in the top 20 or real close. So, I thought we had a chance to be fourth.
“That was the main goal today was to be in the top four,” the coach added. “That got us on the stage (to get a team trophy).”
Bullitt East obviously competes in the toughest regional in the state. Just two years ago, the girls’ team qualified for the state meet for the first time. Unfortunately, things did not go as well last year and only Collins made it to Lexington.
“To do what we did today within two years of being here for the first time is quite an accomplishment,” Raley said. “To reach the podium is tremendous.
“I’m proud of the entire team,” the coach added. “Some of the girls ran way better than they have all year. You have to do that to get on stage.”
Bullitt East had competed over the same course three weeks earlier and did better on Saturday.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Abby and Olivia,” Raley said. “Abby for the first time all year finished third for us and was 2:30 faster than three weeks ago. Olivia was fifth for us and was 1:08 faster. They stepped it up.”