If there’s anything Zack Kelsey relishes, it’s a major challenge.
Rowan County already had the upper hand on Mason County in the team standings as Kelsey and Mason’s anchor man ran side by side down the backstretch in the 4x400 relay at Saturday’s 10th annual Ernie Chattin Memorial Invitational.
Kelsey, who has been dealing with a hamstring issue, could have shut it down and coasted to the finish line for second place.
That’s against his nature, however, and the senior pulled away in the home stretch as Rowan County smashed the 4x400 meet record by more than nine seconds at Rex Miller Track.
“I knew my team was counting on me,” said Kelsey, who wanted the record every bit as much as teammates Isaac Lee, Logan Ashley and Chris Baker. “That’s why I like relays, it’s not an individual event. I knew I was OK as long as the hamstring didn’t give me any trouble. In the 400, the last stretch is all about heart.”
Kelsey possesses that and more, as longtime Rowan County coach Roy Wright attested.
“Zack has more guts than anybody I’ve coached,” Wright said. “I’ve had some gutsy kids. Zack hates to lose.”
The meet record — 3:33.93 — put an exclamation mark on Rowan County’s latest team championship. The Vikings finished with 169 points, 15 ahead of Mason County.
“We expected it to be a battle,” Wright said. “That makes it fun. It gets kids on both teams fired up, just healthy competition.”
Rowan County, ranked second in Class 2A, grabbed 10 first places on a sunny, windy and chilly day.
The Vikings’ same relay quartet edged Mason County in the 4x200 relay, and Kelsey won the pole vault at 12 feet.
Lee’s big day also included a hurdle sweep, including a personal-best of 40.81 seconds in the 300s. There was a large gap back to runner-up Jon Erni, also of Rowan County.
“I tried to push myself to break the meet record. I was aiming for that,” said Lee, who finished a little more than a second off the mark set by Russell’s Nathan Armstrong in 2007.
Lee won the 110s in 16.46.
“It’s a little cold today, even with the sun, and the muscles tighten up some,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to run with the wind blowing, but this is one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been looking forward to this meet all week.”
Rowan County’s Jalen Stone surpassed 40 feet in the triple jump and also won the long jump. Teammates Shelley Deharte (3,200), Ashley (100) and Laney Stone (high jump) also won individual titles.
Lewis County junior Tanner Barton enjoyed a big day with victories in the 200 meters (23.49) and 400 meters (53.40).
George Rogers Clark was third in the team standings with 93 points, followed by Russell’s 76.5. The Red Devils won the 4x800 relay as Jacob Heyerly, Josh Riley, Tyler Cotton and Ross Lane ran a season-best 8:55.53.
On the girls’ side, Mason County needed every point it could muster to get past Dixie Heights 129-128 for the championship.
Third-place Dixie Heights scored 88.5, while East Carter and Russell tied for fourth at 79.
East Carter junior Macy Dyer edged out Mason County’s Brittany Hardin in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 17.87. Dyer also finished runner-up in the 300s as well as the high jump — won by teammate Shayla Henderson at 4-10.
Russell’s Emily Hanson received the Ernie Chattin Memorial Award, which goes to the individual with the most outstanding performance as determined by the meet committee.
Hanson, a senior, won the 800 meters in 2:27.43 to break a seven-year-old meet record by more than two seconds.
It came as a bit of a surprise to Hanson, who missed half of last season because of injury and continues to deal with snapping hip syndrome.
“The last couple of meets, the second lap has been pretty tough,” Hanson said. “My legs felt like dead weight. Today I was able to pick up my knees and push on through.”
Hanson said it helped to have competition from GRC’s Cora Kerber, the runner-up in 2:29.11.
“I saw where she had run a 2:28,” Hanson said. “I thanked her after we finished. She ran a good race, too. I’m very grateful and excited.”
First-year Russell head coach Carrie Tomlin shared in Hanson’s joy.
“Emily’s been dealing with tightness in her hip,” Tomlin said. “She hasn’t been able to stride out like she wants. Today was a breakout for her. Emily set her goals and she really puts in the sweat and pain to be successful.”
As a freshman, Hanson helped set the Chattin meet’s still-existing 4x400 record with her sister, Sarah, Maddy Roark and Gabrielle Cassity.
Other area first-place winners Saturday included Boyd County’s Jessica Adams (200) and Ashland’s young 4x200 relay team of Rachel Barber, Kaylee Robinson, Hannah Reese and Rudy Sewell.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.