Two school rivals worked together to put on an annual event, but two brothers helped a different school steal the show on Thursday.
The 33rd annual Red Devil Relays were held at Ashland, and East Carter ran away with the boys team title behind the speedy siblings that are Alex and Ben Napier. The Lady Raiders also hoisted up the team trophy to complete the double play for East Carter.
Ashland agreed to host the meet at Rex Miller Track because Russell’s track is currently unusable. Damage, likely caused by fill material used in the 1990s, prevented the Red Devils from hosting any events this season.
“It was a little strange,” admitted Russell boys coach Lee Evans. “We do appreciate Ashland letting us do it. It’s good to keep this event going.”
With the regionals just a week away, East Carter coach Zak Musick feels like his team is peaking at the right time. The Raiders nearly notched a win at Greenup County in last week’s Meet of Champions but were disqualified due to an unfortunate mistake in the 4x400 relay.
“We keep improving, and you can tell they want it. That’s the huge thing,” Musick said. “But we got some great competition in Mason County and Rowan County in a lot of events that we run (in the regionals). And, of course, Russell’s no slouch either.”
Alex Napier, a senior, said Thursday’s victory washed that sour taste out of the Raiders’ mouths.
“That kind of set us back a little bit, it was hard for us to swallow,” Napier said of the Meet of Champions defeat. “Now we can kind of thrive and move on from this point.”
East Carter placed first in six out of nine team events. Among those victories was the 4x400 field event, in which the Napiers teamed up with Dustin Sexton and Brandon Neace to clear Russell by six seconds, at 3:40.80.
Musick called the Napier brothers "unreal" and that Ben Napier has been "running like a man possessed."
"They'll run wherever I tell them to run," Musick said.
But he also said that the Napiers aren't the sole contributors to the Raiders' success.
"We have some good standouts, but you have to have a good team to run great relays, and we're running great relays right now," said the Raiders coach.
East Carter's wins included the 4x100 relay, the 4x100 field event, the 4x800, the 4x400 field event, the 800 sprint medley and the meter shuttle hurdle.
Jordan Burchett helped the Raiders with his individual win in the triple jump (36-06) and Cade Stidham won the discus throw (110-07).
East Carter's boys beat second-place Raceland, 120 to 93.5.
The girls, meanwhile, finished 21 points ahead of Russell (98-77). The Lady Raiders had group wins in the 4x100 field event and meter shuttle hurdle. They also got individual victories from Shayla Henderson (high jump, long jump) and Kerie Steele (shot put, discus throw).
One of the tightest finishes of the night occurred in the distance medley, as Russell edged East Carter by three-hundredths of a second.
Two of the most dominant wins were achieved in the 1,600 runs. Russell's Kara Coldiron ran it in 6:01.40 and Bath County's Evan Staviski clocked in at 4:48.50. Both bested their second-place opponents by about 14 seconds.
Connor Messer continued to perform well in the high jump and pole vault, both in which the Raceland 6-foot-3 sophomore finished first.
Messer cleared 12 feet in the pole vault event, but just days prior he achieved a personal-record 13-6 at a meet in Coal Grove.
"I didn't do 300 hurdles that day, and I think it made my legs really fresh," Messer said. "My warm-up jumps were really good, and it just felt like a really good day."
His goal is to consistently eclipse 13 feet.
"I need to start getting 13 constantly to do well at State," he said.
Russell finished third in boys, while West Carter was fourth, Bath County fifth and Ashland sixth.
Raceland's girls were third, finishing ahead of Bath County and Ashland.
The Area 7 Championships will take place on Saturday at Ashland.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.