CANNONSBURG Ashland didn’t rely simply on speed to win its first boys track and field region championship since 1986.
Nor just jumping, nor only throwing. And not pole-vaulting.
Try all of the above, which kept coach Kerri Thornburg’s own feet moving staying on top of it all.
“I’m very exhausted (after a meet) because I’m walking all over the place and making sure that I encourage them and see where they’re at in every event,” she said. “Every minute is full of excitement. ... Track’s an animal. There’s so many different things. To round it out is really amazing.”
Thornburg took over Ashland’s boys and girls programs last year. She inherited a Kittens club already humming along, which she piloted to a share of its fifth straight region title this spring. Not so with the boys: they hadn’t won a region in more than three decades.
That changed this year, with an emphatic 175-132 out-distancing of Russell in the Class 2A, Region 6 meet.
“The boys, to actually fill the events and for everyone to work as hard as they did, I’m just so proud of where they are,” Thornburg said, “and actually I look forward to a great future because most of them are fairly young. I have a lot of sophomores on that team.”
By day, Thornburg is a special education teacher at Oakview Elementary working with kindergarteners and first-graders with autism and behavior disabilities.
Thornburg earned her stipend on evenings and Saturdays, too. She had to figure out how to replace the production of dynamic sprinter Keontae Pittman, who missed most of the season with a small tear in his patellar (knee) tendon.
Northeastern Kentucky’s top pole-vaulter, Thomas Skaggs, and the best thrower, Ryan Bryant, eased that difficulty. Ashland also moved hurdle specialist Nana Amo-Mensah to sprints in Pittman’s absence. All gained All-Area recognition.
“That’s where I guess I have to really show up,” Thornburg said. “It actually gave me the opportunity to make sure that I really understood the talent I had with everyone, and make sure that they are given an opportunity to show what they can do.”
Thornburg earned her second The Daily Independent All-Area Coach of the Year award in as many years for that effort. Last year’s came as the girls team’s caretaker.
All-Area Track and Field Athlete of the Year awards were split between a sprinter and a distance specialist.
Raceland’s Gunnur Lewis, known for a fearsome playmaking ability on the football field, posted northeastern Kentucky’s best times in the 200-meter dash (22.80 seconds), the 110-meter hurdles (15.38) and the 300 hurdles (41.57). He was also a fourth of the Rams’ area-best 4x100-meter-relay team.
Lewis came in second at the state Class A meet in the 110 and 300 hurdles and fifth in the 200.
“It was, overall, fun,” he said. “I did better than I expected to do, and I’m happy with my overall performance and my team’s performance at State.”
Boyd County’s Isaiah Caperton shared Athlete of the Year honors with Lewis. Caperton ran the area’s top mile (4:45.53), was second to teammate JB Terrill in the 800 (2:04.59) and was part of the Lions’ area-best 4x8 unit.
Caperton said after the All-Area photoshoot at Boyd County that his goal for next year — his last as a Lion — is to build “a little more self-confidence and just running with the top pack at every meet.”
Pittman, when he was in uniform, was a game-changer for Ashland. His return to competition for the region meet was a confidence boost for the Tomcats, Thornburg said.
“We never wanted him to be rushed,” she said. “He was antsy. He was ready to get back.
“We won (the region) by 35, so we may still have pulled that out (without him, but) it definitely was a sigh of relief watching him get off the bus with the team.”
Pittman posted the area’s top 100 (11.11) and 400 (51.32). Bryant had northeastern Kentucky’s best discus (153 feet, 6 inches) and shot put (53 feet, 6 inches) throws and won the Class 2A shot put title. He was fifth in the discus.
Bryant, a senior, plans to play football as a preferred walk-on at Kentucky. He relished his final moments as a Tomcat — an ordinarily mundane trip from his future home to one he’s leaving.
“You think they’re moving on to bigger things,” Thornburg said, “but I know that he was excited even just to ride the bus home, one last school bus ride home that day.”
While a potential Ashland region title streak began, two others ended. Raceland’s string of six straight Class A, Region 7 crowns snapped at Pikeville’s hands, and two-time defending Class 2A, Region 6 champion Boyd County came in third in the region meet.
The Rams did get some measure of pleasure from finishing sixth in the state meet to the Panthers’ 15th.
“Pikeville has a good overall team, and they were deeper than we are at region,” Lewis said. “For the way that we went down to State and performed, it just made me happy to beat them and show them what Raceland’s about.”
In addition to Lewis’ two individual silver medals, he joined Derek Pennington, Ethan Cox and Drew Bailey on the state’s runner-up 4x1 team. They ran a 43.68 in Lexington, a new school record.
Pennington, Cox, Bailey and Kyle Adkins posted the area’s top 4x2 time, too, in 1:33.32, a school record in the region meet. Cox was fourth in the 100 at the state meet.
In addition to Caperton’s individual strength, the Lions boasted the area’s top 4x8 relay and the fifth-fastest at the state meet. Caperton, Terrill, Grant Chaffin and Tyler Conn completed those two miles in 8:31.26.
Terrill posted northeastern Kentucky’s best 800 in 2:03.07, and Conn’s 3200 was the top in the area at 10:33.39.
And Landon Meade made the team by virtue of the fifth-best long jump (19 feet, 8.25 inches), fourth-longest triple jump (40 feet, 3 inches) and tying for the third-best high jump (6 feet) in the area.
For Ashland, Skaggs produced an area high-water mark of 12 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault, finishing fourth in the state meet. Isaac Caines was third in the 110 hurdles (16.28) and second in the high jump (6 feet, 2 inches).
Amo-Mensah, who moved with his family to Texas after the region meet, was second in northeastern Kentucky in the 400 (52.50), third in the 200 (23.27), fourth in the 110 hurdles (17.00) and fifth in the 100 (11.30).
Class 2A, Region 6 runner-up Russell placed nine athletes on the team. That includes the foursome from the area’s top 4x4 team — Richie Knupp, Nolan Sabotchick, Davis Brown and Logan Harrison, who collectively covered a mile in 3:41.51.
The Red Devils’ Standford Walker was a state champion in the high jump and posted the area’s top mark there, at 6 feet, 6 inches. Andrew Lykins owned northeastern Kentucky’s best triple jump (41 feet, 1 inch).
Noah Thomas was second in the area in both the discus (150 feet, 4 inches) and shot put (49 feet, 2.25 inches), as well as second in the discus at State. Will Gunning was right behind him, third in the discus (133 feet, 7 inches) and in the shot (47 feet, 3.5 inches).
John DeHart rounded out Russell’s representatives with the area’s second-best 110 hurdles showing (16.09) and tied for fourth in the pole vault (9 feet, 6 inches).
Bath County, Elliott County, Johnson Central and Rowan County each had one All-Area representative.
The Wildcats’ James Overholser was second locally in the 3200 (10:40.25), sixth in the mile (4:55.41) and tied for sixth in the pole vault (9 feet).
Elliott County’s Lucas Ison ran the area’s second-best mile (4:46.07) and third-best 800 (2:04.73).
Dylan Preston’s long jump of 20 feet, 11 inches for the Golden Eagles was northeastern Kentucky’s longest. The Vikings’ Jonah Stanley was fourth in the area in the mile (4:49.45) and third in the 3200 (10:43.41).
The All-Area Athletes and Coach of the Year were chosen by the newspaper’s sports department. The team is composed by top finishers from northeastern Kentucky in each event, as well as athletes who placed near the top in multiple events, as reported to MileSplit.
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ALL-AREA BOYS TRACK AND FIELD TEAM
Kyle Adkins (Raceland)
Nana Amo-Mensah (Ashland)
Drew Bailey (Raceland)
Davis Brown (Russell)
Ryan Bryant (Ashland)
Isaac Caines (Ashland)
Isaiah Caperton (Boyd County)
Grant Chaffin (Boyd County)
Tyler Conn (Boyd County)
Ethan Cox (Raceland)
John DeHart (Russell)
Will Gunning (Russell)
Logan Harrison (Russell)
Lucas Ison (Elliott County)
Richie Knupp (Russell)
Gunnur Lewis (Raceland)
Andrew Lykins (Russell)
Landon Meade (Boyd County)
James Overholser (Bath County)
Derek Pennington (Raceland)
Keontae Pittman (Ashland)
Dylan Preston (Johnson Central)
Nolan Sabotchick (Russell)
Thomas Skaggs (Ashland)
Jonah Stanley (Rowan County)
JB Terrill (Boyd County)
Noah Thomas (Russell)
Standford Walker (Russell)
CO-ATHLETES OF THE YEAR
Isaiah Caperton (Boyd County)
Gunnur Lewis (Raceland)
COACH OF THE YEAR
Kerri Thornburg (Ashland)
ASHLAND — Jack Alley, Jahvion Garrett, Caleb Tackett, Chris Thornburg. BATH COUNTY — Quentin Lewis, Taylor Purvis. FLEMING COUNTY — Hayden Ramey. WEST CARTER — Leetavious Cline, Trace Harper, Josh Hicks, Christian Rivers-Glover.