Air flowed crisply and the course ran fast.
The sun was out, too, but the sun has been out all season for Boyd County’s girls cross country team.
On Saturday, beautiful conditions backdropped a big-time moment for the emerging Lady Lions.
Courtney Gibson and Alliya Kautzman ran one and two in pacing their clan to a dominant team victory in the 37th annual Boyd County Cross Country Invitational.
That’s right, a team. Before this season, it had been about five years since the Lady Lions could consistently field five runners. Now, they’re ranked fifth in the state in Class 2A.
“I’ve never been here with a team,” Kautzman said. “It’s been a really awesome year.”
Russell and Ashland continued its season-long back-and-forth battle in the boys’ race. Dixie Heights outdueled them both, as Ashland was second and Russell third.
The girls kicked off the 5K races before noon. The course began on Boyd County’s football practice field, ventured up by El Hasa Temple and winded back toward the finish line on Boyd County’s track.
Gibson said she was shocked by her personal-record time of 20:03.
“I can’t believe I did that. It’s like I’m going to wake up in a few hours and be like, did that even happen?” said Gibson, a freshman. “I thought I was going to come in seventh! I don’t even remember El Hasa. It just went by.”
Kautzman, a junior, was about 100 meters behind her teammate. She too was pleasantly surprised after finishing at 20:28, also a PR.
“We’re (Gibson and I) always close together, but I thought we’d be in the top 10, not first and second,” Kautzman said.
Kautzman described Gibson as having “pure talent.”
“She’s a freshman and that’s exciting,” Kautzman said. “She’s got those long legs.”
Boyd County’s seven runners finished first, second, seventh, 11th, 17th, 24th and 25th.
“Every single girl that ran for us ran awesome today,” said Lady Lions coach Dirk Hollar. “We can’t ask them to do any better than that.”
Boyd County’s only disappointment was the fact that Fairview’s girls competed elsewhere in the state on Saturday. Originally set to be present, the Lady Eagles decided to travel to South Oldham.
It made sense, admitted Hollar, because it allowed Fairview to compete against some of the top-ranked teams in Class A.
“Our girls were fired up about Fairview being here, and when they found out they weren’t going to be here, they were even more mad,” Hollar said. “They’re kind of like the standard for everybody around here. Now that we can run with them, the girls are excited about it.
“We’ll get another shot at them,” said Hollar, referring to the upcoming Area 7 meet at Mason County on Saturday. “Our girls will be going on an all-time high after today.”
The girls’ field of 61 runners was also missing another top runner in the area. East Carter’s Macy Dyer was playing in the 62nd District soccer championship game.
Teams not at full strength was also a storyline for the boys’ race, which consisted of 73 participants.
Ashland’s Tristan Kennard ran despite not feeling well. He still placed 14th.
Russell was missing two from the varsity race — Seth Adkins ran middle school and won it, and Ross Lane was participating in a triathlon in Anderson, S.C. — but still wound up with three top-10 finishers.
Dixie Heights’ Max McGehee whipped around the course in 16:45 for top honors.
Jacob Heyerly, of Russell, came in behind him at 17:13, a PR.
“I haven’t been improving the past three or four meets so I’m pretty happy about today,” Heyerly said. “Coach (Chuck Cantrell) has run some really hard practices lately. I think that’s helped us.”
Josh Riley and Chris Cooper were also top-10 Red Devils.
Austin Craft was Ashland’s best finisher (third at 17:16). Taylor Bradley was fifth (17:35, a PR) and Cameron Sanders sixth (17:44, also a PR).
As a team, the Tomcats ended up just three points behind Dixie Heights, a Class 3A school. It marked the second straight meet that Ashland finished ahead of Russell.
“Our program always seems to come on at the end of the year,” said Tomcats coach Phillip Caudill, who has guided his teams to fifth-, fifth- and seventh-place finishes in the state meet the last three years.
Caudill, along with most, is looking forward to the Nov. 4 regional meet, when Mason County, Russell and Ashland hope to each be at full strength with its top seven runners.
“It should be really close,” said Caudill, who added this his team is right on the cusp of being top 10 in Class 2A.
As for Hollar and the Lady Lions, there’s still plenty of motivation.
“They love to compete, they hate losing, even in practice,” Hollar said. “When they found out they were ranked fifth, I think it really got them. They want to keep moving up.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.