Girls cross country at Boyd County hasn’t stirred this kind of excitement in more than two decades.
After struggling even to field a team — five members — for many years, the Lady Lions completed a banner season at Saturday’s KHSAA State Meet.
The Class 2A regional champs bunched their top five finishers less than a minute apart and came away with sixth place at Kentucky Horse Park.
“The girls ran awesome,” coach Dirk Hollar said. “They gutted it out today. This is just a tough course, and the day was hotter than usual.”
The temperature rose into the 60s under sunny skies, and Boyd County warmed to the occasion.
Junior Alliya Kautzman paced the team in 21:31.24, good for 42nd place overall in the field of 231 runners.
“I really wanted to do well for my team,” Kautzman said. “We had a great day. That was the important thing.”
Another junior, Saralyn Miller, provided a surprise as the Lady Lions’ second finisher in 22:12.99.
“She was our No. 5 all year,” Hollar said. “I saw Saralyn after the first mile and told her, ‘You are running great, get up with the rest of them.’ She really came through.”
Teammates Darian Steele, Courtney Gibson and Hannah Cassady all crossed the finish line within 18 seconds of Miller. The performance allowed Boyd County to trail only Highlands, South Oldham, North Oldham, Bullitt East and Mercy in the team standings.
“It’s the best times our girls ran as a team all year,” said Shawn Thornbury, Boyd County’s former head coach who has assisted Hollar throughout the season. “The time gap was the smallest from one through five. We can’t be any happier.”
Kautzman and Steele ran in last year’s State Meet as individual qualifiers, while the other three are newcomers.
Kautzman improved on her 2011 state performance by 54 places and a minute-and-a-half.
“I was surprised I was first on the team,” she said. “A lot of the time it’s Darian. The sun was not helping. It got really hot at one point, but the last part I was sprinting. I love our team."
Miller, who joined the Lady Lions this seas after moving from Alabama, was happy to shine on the state’s largest stage.
“I haven’t been that far up all season,” Miller said. “It’s nice to have so much improvement.”
Miller has been bothered by a sore hip flexor, but it wasn’t a factor Saturday.
“I didn’t really feel it at all,” she said. “I had a lot of adrenaline, more than any other day. I guess that’s the pressure of State.”
East Carter junior Macy Dyer took 15th in the race (20:28.51) to lead area runners. Kady Chaffin placed 64th for the Lady Raiders, who were 14th as a team. Rowan County’s Janae Graham finished one spot behind Kautzman and Russell eighth-grader Peyton Cantrell was 65th.
Earlier, Fairview’s girls took fifth in Class A against a collection of tough opponents.
Because of Fairview’s high expectations, coach Becca Chaney and her runners were disappointed to miss out on a team trophy after four consecutive top-four finishes. The Lady Eagles came in second last year after winning the title in 2010.
St. Henry handily won its 15th state championship and fifth in six years despite graduating six of the top seven runners from last year’s team that edged Fairview by four points.
“Somehow they do it every year,” Chaney said. “You have to give them credit.”
This time, St. Henry had five of the top 26 finishers with junior Taylor Connett leading the way in seventh place.
“Taylor ran track the last two years and played soccer,” coach Tony Harden said. “We kind of stole her away. Three of the others are freshmen. Holly Blades (No. 3 team finisher Saturday) was cut from volleyball. The pieces of the puzzle started coming together in the beginning of October. I knew the team could be something special.”
Green County finished second (105 points), followed by Bishop Brossart (126) and Louisville Holy Cross (136). Fairview won a tiebreaker with Walton Verona for the fifth spot. Both scored 190.
“There happened to be six top teams going at it,” Chaney said.
Senior Brooklyn Bowen and freshman Lyndsey Burke led Fairview by placing 13th and 15th, respectively.
“Those two did really well,” Chaney said. “I was proud of them. I told them they had to be in the top 20 and as close as they could to the top 10.”
Bowen, a University of Pikeville signee, posted a time of 21:00.40.
“I was just thinking, it’s my last race and I want to run my hardest,” Bowen said. “I’m going to miss the team a lot. It’s like my second family.”
Meanwhile, Danville junior Meagan Smith made a rousing debut at the Class A State Meet with a 21-second victory in 19:16.39. Smith played soccer before switching to cross country this season.
Sayre’s Maddox Patterson, the three-time defending champion, was cheered to the finish line in third place as she continues to recover from a long battle with mono.
On the boys’ side, Russell finished 11th and Ashland 13th in Class 2A.
Russell junior Jacob Heyerly led area finishers by placing 24th in 17:47.05.
“After a 5:32 first mile, I was trying to pass everyone I saw,” Heyerly said. “We wanted to do a lot better as a team.”
The Red Devils were coming off their first regional championship in four years.
“It’s great to come as far as we have this season,” coach Crystal Cantrell said.
For Ashland, senior Taylor Bradley and sophomore Austin Craft led the way. Bradley was 37th in 18:03.97, with Craft less than a second behind.
Rowan County’s Shelley Deharte finished 44th.
In Class A, Louisville Holy Cross senior Jacob Thomson blistered the course with a time of 15:21.40 to win by more than a minute.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.