Boyd County's girls and boys cross country runners gave Randee Wallace the kind of early wedding present that a coach could truly appreciate.
Both teams won titles at the 38th annual Boyd County Invitational on their home course Saturday.
“They did awesome, I'm very pleased,” said Wallace, who is in her first head-coaching season at Boyd County.
The 24-year-old is set to be married next weekend, but Boyd County's sweep had the cameras clicking early as Wallace joined her runners for post-meet photos.
Boyd County's girls, led by the one-two combination of Courtney Gibson and Darian Steele, edged Fairview 31-36. In the boys division, the Lions outdueled Ashland 39-45 for the top spot.
“I felt like we would do well,” Wallace said. “For the girls, Fairview is always tough to beat. I didn't know if our boys would pull through, but they did.”
Both Boyd County teams hoisting championship trophies on the same day made for a special accomplishment.
“It's the first time in a long time that's happened,” said former Boyd County head coach Shawn Thornbury, who now assists Wallace.
The meet had 31 boys and 27 girls overall.
In the boys' varsity race, it was a big day for both the small (Winfield, W.Va., fifth-grader Noah Castro) and the tall (Boyd County's 6-foot-6 Aaron Parent).
Castro, a 10-year-old rising star, has a while to go before he will be old enough to compete in West Virginia high school races. That didn't stop him from making a splash in his high division debut Saturday with a runaway victory in 17 minutes, 57 seconds.
“Amazing. I was going to come over to do the middle school race today, but missed it (because of a time change in the schedule),” Castro said. “Dad (James) said how about jumping into the high school race?”
Noah accepted. It wasn't like he had never competed against older runners. On Aug. 31, he won the Charleston Distance Run 5K overall championship in 17:53.8 against a field of several hundred entries.
Castro nearly matched that time Saturday, sprinting across the finish line on Boyd County's track in 17:57.
Ashland's Tristan Kennard was a distant second with a time of 18:21, followed by teammate Hunter Gullett.
Boyd County's towering Parent placed fourth overall and led Boyd County's finishers. In contrast, Castro stands only 4 feet, 5 inches and weighs 65 pounds.
“He was about at my waist level,” Parent said. “I was afraid of stepping on him at the start when he ran up beside of me, but then he was gone.”
Parent said watching Castro run served as a source of motivation.
“He's a future Olympian, easily,” added Parent, whose time of 18:51 was only five seconds off his personal best.
“Aaron had a great race,” Wallace said. “His times are not the most consistent, but I was impressed with him today. All the guys did well.”
Boyd County won the team championship without the services of standout seventh-grader Elijah Miller, who ruled the middle school division instead.
Parent received support from Connor Goble (seventh, 19:17); Kaleb Mullins (ninth, 19:37); Bradley Bush (10th, 19:42); and Seth Holbrook (18th, 21:20).
“I can't take all the credit,” Parent said. “It doesn't take one to make a team win. We all placed pretty highly and had good times.”
The Lions were coming off a winning effort at Wildwood Park in Ashland.
In the girls division, Boyd's Gibson continued to shine as she dominated the race in 20:03. That matched her winning time in last year's Boyd County Invitational.
“I felt really good,” Gibson said. “It was humid, but it didn't bother me. Coming in, I wanted to try for first and be around the low 20s.”
The sophomore's great aunt, Wanda Salsman, drove over from Louisville to lend support.
“Courtney's great,” said Salsman, who is 80. “She runs just like a greyhound.”
Gibson broke Boyd County's school record this season with a time of 19:47 at Mason County.
“That meant a lot,” Gibson said. “I had no clue I had broken it.”
Gibson grew up playing soccer and never liked the idea of running as a sport. But friend and Boyd County cross country team member Lindsey Harris talked her into coming out for a practice last year.
The rest is history. Gibson became a key runner as Boyd County's program quickly turned into a force and finished sixth at the Class 2A State Meet.
Looking back, Gibson feels like she has already come a long way.
“Last year was my first year,” she said. “I didn't know what I was doing. I was just learning, getting experience. I would be so nervous at the beginning of races. Now I'm cool and calm.”.
Steele, easily finished second in 21:05, with almost a one-minute gap back to third-place Haley Layne of Fairview.
“Darian is really awesome,” Gibson said. “She's great motivation.”
Boyd County received a lift from Cydney Thompson, who placed fifth (22:37).
“I'm really proud of Cydney,” Wallace said. “She's new and plays soccer, too. When she came to the first practice, I wasn't sure she wanted to do it. She stayed up with Courtney and Darian, and I said, 'you need to stick with it.'”
Saralyn Miller (ninth, 23:19) and Harris (18th, 27:55) rounded out Boyd County's top five.
Fairview's Katie Richard finished fourth in 22:23.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.