Russell cross country coach Crystal Cantrell hopes her Lady Devils are clearing for takeoff.
As the girls’ crew broke ground, Russell’s boys continued its season-long flight of success.
Russell’s teams swept the varsity races of the Russell Invitational on Tuesday. The event was held at Ashland Regional Airport in Worthington for the first time.
Overall, Russell placed eight runners in the top 10 of each race (three girls, five boys).
Kara Coldiron paced the Lady Devils with a second-place individual effort. Peyton Cantrell (eighth) and Abigail Keeton (ninth) also played key roles in boosting Russell to its first girls varsity win in a few years, according to Cantrell.
“That was sweet,” Cantrell said. “They’re pushing each other, working together. Kara is a wonderful leader so she’s helped improve times for other girls because, if you pace with her, you’re going to do exceptionally well.”
Coldiron crossed the finish line at 20:58.05. In front of her was Franklin County’s Ashley Lawhorn (20:38.72).
Russell’s Josh Riley, coming off a victory at the EKC Meet last Wednesday, put his wheels on display again. The senior was mobbed by a group of sign-hoisting, body-painted friends after establishing the brand new course’s best time at 16:55.15.
Tyler Andre (second), Jacob Heyerly (third), Seth Atkins (sixth) and Jordan Vallance (ninth) joined Riley as Red Devils in the top 10.
Overall, 17 schools were represented on a clear, breezy evening. Temperatures went from the mid-60s, when the girls started just after 6 p.m., to the mid-50s, when the boys finished up after 7.
The course, introduced as a result of Russell’s ongoing track repairs, features a mostly flat surface in a wide-open space. The start line is located at about the midway point of the airport’s runway. The path leads across the runway, into a quick dip, and alongside an airplane hangar. It then juts behind the hangar and then parallel to the tree line and then next to a fenced area before looping through some small hills and a wooded area and back up the other side of the runway.
The straight stretch extending the entire runway before the course loops around to a lead-in to the finish proved somewhat mentally draining.
“That long straightaway takes a toll on you,” said Andre, a sophomore who achieved a personal record. “You see so far away that it makes it hard.”
Overall, though, runners enjoyed the flat course.
“I love it, it’s something new,” Heyerly said. “It’s fast and flat, so it was good.”
At one point, a group of student fans cheered loudly for Riley from the other side of the runway as he created separation along the lengthy straightaway. The sound didn’t travel to his ears, though.
“People said they were yelling at me, but I couldn’t hear a word,” said Riley, who recorded his third-best time this season. “You’re really alone. It’s definitely a mental race on this course.”
Cantrell mentioned Anthony Thompson, a former cross country coach and runner for Russell, and Mike Napier, a Russell board member, as those who helped initiate the process to make the airport Russell’s temporary home course.
“We came out here one night and walked it,” Cantrell recalled. “It was good straight land, perfectly manicured, and there’s lights ... We came out five or six times to measure everything to try to get the layout right.”
It’s also fan friendly, said Cantrell. “You can see a lot of the race,” she said.
Cantrell was blown away by the turnout of participants. She had hoped for a handful of schools to send individuals to compete, but not 17.
“I don’t know if it was just through word of mouth or what, but we did not expected that many,” she said.
Lawhorn, the girls champion who traveled from Franklin County, has an area connection. Her mother, formerly Robin Webb now Robin Lawhorn, was a member of Greenup County’s cross country state-runner up squad in the late 1980s. She also won the eighth annual Summer Motion 10K in 1998.
Rowan County’s Kelsey Cyrus, East Carter’s Macy Dyer and Spring Valley’s Kayla Criswell rounded out the top five for the girls. Ashland’s Tristan Kinnard and Rowan County’s Bevan Samuels placed behind Riley, Andre and Heyerly in the boys race.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.