When Russell’s “Big Three” once again dwindled to two, mainstays Josh Riley and Jacob Heyerly were left in search of a cross country compadre.
In 2011, it was Riley, Heyerly and Brandon Yates.
In 2012, it was Riley, Heyerly and Ross Lane.
Who would fill the void in 2013, Riley’s and Heyerly’s senior season?
The in-house recruiting trail led to soccer player Tyler Andre this past summer.
It took some playful coaxing ...
“We told him that we needed him more than the soccer team,” Heyerly said. “We said, ‘No one likes you on the soccer team.’ We were kidding around, but it worked out.”
... but Andre ultimately agreed to drop the ball and goal and solely focus on green grass and fast feet.
“It was really tough, like, I love playing soccer and I love the soccer team,” said Andre, who enjoyed a successful track & field season as a freshman. “But I knew this would be a better decision.”
If needing further evidence that he made the right choice — and that Riley and Heyerly made the correct selection — use Tuesday’s Russell Invitational as the latest exhibit.
At Ashland Regional Airport, Riley blazed the flat course in 16:55 (his personal record is 16:44, achieved at Mason County this year). Riley quickly caught his breath and congregated with friends to cheer on the second- and third-place finishers, the completion of the “Big Three.”
Andre’s time of 17:33 was a P.R. and Heyerly crossed at 17:34.
“He’s shocked the crap out of us,” Heyerly blurted about Andre.
Russell snatched another team title by a comfortable margin in its most recent meet. The defending Class 2A, Region 6 champion Red Devils are now ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 2A.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better season so far, team-wise and individually,” Riley said. “I’m dreaming of that opportunity to be in the top 10 (individually) at state, and top four or five as a team.”
Riley was ranked 15th among all Class 2A runners in the latest statewide poll.
Had he not moved back to the area after two years in Williamsburg, Va., Riley wouldn’t be one of Russell’s touted trinity either.
“Josh coming back really helped the team for sure,” Heyerly said. The two formed a friendship in middle school. “Me and Josh have been pushing each other, and have been pushing the younger kids.”
Russell’s reasons for such a stellar season number deeper than just its talented trio.
The Red Devils could have more than just a “Big Three” for a few years to come.
Freshman Seth Atkins and eighth-grader Jax Downs each joined Riley, Heyerly and Andre in the top 10 in the Eastern Kentucky Conference Championships on Oct. 2.
Jordan Vallance, Chris Cooper and Ben Stringer are also running well for the Devils.
Just about six weeks ago, at the Early Season Showcase in Westwood, Russell started off well but in strange fashion. Heyerly had back spasms, Riley chose to run with no socks and suffered from blisters, and it took Andre, Downs and Vallance each more than 19 minutes to complete the course.
Health is much better — with the exception of a thyroid issue that Heyerly is battling — and times are much improved.
To top it all off over the next four weeks, Russell’s “Big Three” and company are hoping to complete a three-step process.
“We want to win area, regional and make the stage at state, which is top four,” Riley said. “That’s a dream come true.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.