Elijah Miller had a heavy heart entering Saturday’s Ashland Invitational.
It’s only fitting he made his final move on vaunted “Heartbreak Hill,” on his way to winning the boys’ 5K at Wildwood Park with a time of 18:23.
For a majority of the race, the Boyd County seventh-grader was neck-and-neck with Ashland’s Tristan Kennard and they were still beside each other heading into “Heartbreak Hill.”
After an agonizing few minutes of climbing the hill, Miller said the pain was relieved when he saw he was alone heading down the final stretch.
“It hurts your legs so bad once you get to the top,” Miller said. “But the pain was gone as soon I got down the back of the hill and started my way to the finish.”
Miller, who moved to the area from Cullman, Ala., came into the race after receiving news that former teammate Nicholas Fillinger died on Thursday.
Fillinger just set a school record in the last week, and after news of his death reached Miller, he wanted to run the race in dedication to him.
“(Miller) and his family had some things they were struggling with this week,” said Boyd County coach Randee Wallace. “Elijah and his sister, Saralyn, both had awesome races today. I really think that kind of helped them.”
Another impressive feat for Miller is the seventh-grader had been doing mostly middle school races.
After watching him in the middle school race at Wildwood Park last week, Wallace decided to have him run with the varsity squad.
He repaid her by not only winning the race, but also by leading Boyd County to the team title.
“I really didn’t know how he would do in the varsity race,” Wallace said. “He usually runs the middle school races, and wins. But it was really cool to see him come out here and win the varsity race.
Along with Miller, Boyd County had three others finish in the top 10: Aaron Parent (fifth), Connor Goble (seventh) and Kaleb Mullins (ninth).
East Carter finished second, and was led by Ben Napier who placed second with a time 19:18. Joey Williams finished 11th and Kyle Yates pulled in at 13th.
Kennard ended up taking third with a time of 19:20. Ashland got another Top-10 finish from Peter Jenkins, who came in 10th.
While local schools dominated the boys portion, the girls’ 5K was all about St. Henry.
The school, from 142 miles away in Erlanger, is the defending Class A state champion. St. Henry also dwarfed the others with 30 entries of the 63 girls who competed.
Of those 30, St. Henry had seven finish in the top 10 and picked up the overall team title.
“This is, in my opinion, the most challenging course in the state of Kentucky,” St. Henry coach Tony Harden said. “And coming in this was kind of a gut-check. I told them not to worry about times, and I think they showed some guts today.
“Nobody walked and they said they all survived, so it’s a pretty gutsy performance on a pretty tough course.”
St. Henry junior Sam Hentz won the event and almost set a course record with a time of 20:02. The course record stands at 19:55.
After Harden talked up the course during the week, Hentz was quick to admit it lived up to her coach’s praise.
“He said it was going to be the hardest course we ran this year and he was definitely right,” Hentz laughed. “I can now say I ran Heartbreak Hill. I’m glad we can all say that. We all made it and I’m really proud of everyone.”
Right behind Hentz was teammate Taylor Connett, who finished second with a time of 20:14. Other top 10 finishers for St. Henry included Renee Svec (fourth), Abbey Epplen (sixth), Libby Annekan (eighth), Elizabeth Hoffman (ninth), and Molly Brownfield (10th).
And while Harden is used to seeing Hentz and Connett at the head of the pack, he’s pleased that he could get five more in the top 10.
“That’s the big thing we’ve been working on this year,” Harden said. “We’ve been working on closing time-gaps between all of our runners. I told them we can’t control what other teams do ... but we can focus on what we do in practice, which is pack it in and stay close to the front runners.”
Breaking up St. Henry’s sweep of the top 10 was Boyd County. Courtney Gibson finished third in 20:40 and Darian Steele was fifth with a 20:59 to help give Boyd second place.
It’s the second strong finish of the week by Steele and Gibson, who finished first and second at the KOVCCT Championships on Tuesday.
“Usually Courtney is front and Darian is behind,” Wallace said. “But sometimes they can switch it up. Every time we run I’m surprised. They just did a fantastic job today.”
East Carter finished third with Macy Dyer grabbing seventh place and Madison Dyer placing 14th. Ashland’s Michaela Polley finished 12th.
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.