Russell’s Josh Riley picked the perfect time to win his first varsity race — five races before the end of his senior season.
Behind Riley’s first-place finish, Russell nabbed five of the top six spots on its way to winning the Eastern Kentucky Conference Cross Country Meet on Wednesday at Fairview Cross Country Course.
Riley picked up the win after crossing the finish line at 16:50.40. After learning that Russell also grabbed the team award, Riley admitted he was at a loss for words.
“To be conference champion as a senior, that’s always a dream,” Riley said. “And to score extremely well as a team ... I can’t even explain it. There are no words to describe this feeling.”
Along with Riley, Jacob Heyerly (third), Tyler Andre (fourth), Seth Atkins (fifth) and Jax Downs (sixth) all finished in the top 10.
Russell coach Crystal Cantrell admitted it wasn’t surprising to see her top five runners place in the top 10, especially after all the work they put in together.
“Our boys have worked so hard this season,” Cantrell said. “They got out and worked together all summer long. They just really jelled as a group this year and really work to push each other.”
Looking to push Riley was Rowan County’s Shelley Deharte, who finished second at 17:10.00.
For a majority of the race, Deharte and Riley were on pace with each other. But heading into the second lap of the course, Riley found himself pulling away.
“I can’t really explain what happened,” Riley said. “(Deharte) has been my motivation in workouts. My coaches know that’s who I want to beat, that’s who I want to stay up with because he’s one of the best runners in the state.”
Behind Deharte, Rowan County finished second. Nick Anderson (seventh) and Bevan Samuals (ninth) also had top 10 finishes for the Vikings.
East Carter’s Ben Napier finished seventh with a time of 18:12.65.
On the girls side, after dominating the event the past nine years Fairview finally fell out of the top spot.
Fleming County held up the winners trophy this year with a team total of 65. Russell came in second with 70 and Fairview finished third with 76.
But what impressed Fleming County coach Timothy Hamm the most was his team won without injured No. 1 runner Abby Fearin.
“Our girls just ran better today,” Hamm said. “And its been like whack-a-mole this year with injuries. When one goes down, one comes up.”
Fleming County was led by freshman Olivia Leet who finished in second place with a time of 20:56.21.
“Olivia has really come on this year,” Hamm said. “She turned it on because she was our No. 3 runner last year and now she’s our No. 1.”
The top spot was claimed by Morgan County seventh-grader Kailee Perry, who won the event with a 20:16.90. But she had an adventure to get to the finish line.
The Morgan County bus was late getting to Fairview, arriving a few minutes before the start of the race.
Then Perry took a wrong turn near the end of the race and had to cut back, running longer than the original track intended. She still finished 40 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
Along with Perry and Leet, other top five finishers were Rowan County’s Kelsey Cyrus (third), East Carter’s Macy Dyer (fourth) and Russell’s Kara Coldiron (fifth).
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.