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STATE BOUND: Lady Pat XC team qualifies for state meet

MONTICELLO — There was no screaming and jumping in excitement or dumping of water coolers at the Lincoln County High School tent Saturday at the conclusion of the Girls Class 2A, Region 5 Championships. However, there was plenty of reason to celebrate.

For the first time since 2009, the Lincoln County girls cross country team will need a bus to transport runners to the KHSAA State Cross Country Championships, with the Lady Patriot team claiming a state berth to advance to Saturday’s season finale.

After last year’s regionals, Lincoln coach Jose Pope was feeling a little dismayed as the Lady Patriots just missed the state cut. Was Pope feeling a little better Saturday?

“Heck yeah, it feels a lot better than last year,” Pope said, after seeing the final team standings. “I’m tickled to death at this. We’ve got a good group of girls this year and they’ve busted their butts all season long. I’m very proud of them.”

Last year, Constance Johnson, Alexis Slone and McKenzie Settles all qualified for state as individuals. This time around Slone, a three-time state-qualifier, and Johnson and Settles, both two-time qualifiers, will be accompanied by teammates Ava Morgan, Shayley Reed, Jasmine Steele, Mayci Godbey, Desirae Ellison, Andrea Garcia and Chloe Tillett.

“It’s going to be fun to have everybody going this time,” Johnson said.

When asked how he felt about the girls’ performances in the meet, Pope had little to say.

“I haven’t even seen the individual times,” he admitted. “I just went right to the teams because I wanted to see where we placed overall and if we’d made it (state).”

And Lincoln had made it. The Lady Patriots earned the right to lace up their running shoes for the state meet at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington by placing fifth overall in the team competition. The top five teams advance to state and the top five runners not on a state-qualifying team also advance.

Lincoln clinched the state berth with 90 points, edging out sixth-place finisher Casey County, which had 93 points. Points are awarded to the top five runners on a team based on their finish.

Only seven spots separated Lincoln’s top four runners.

Constance Johnson and Ava Morgan, both sophomores, were the first two Lady Patriots to reach the finish in Saturday’s regional run. Johnson placed 13th overall out of the field of 59 runners and Morgan finished right behind her in 14th place. Johnson’s time over the 3.1-mile race was 23:00.96, 30 seconds faster than her time last year, while Morgan was timed at 23:09.08, a full minute faster than her 2018 time. Freshman Alexis Slone was not far behind Morgan in 19th place in a time of 23:48.03 and junior McKenzie Settles followed Slone across in 20th place in 23:54.17.

Shayley Reed, a junior, rounded out Lincoln’s five scoring runners, completing the 5K in 24:24.75 to place 28th overall.

Lincoln had seven runners on course Saturday with senior Jasmine Steele and sophomore Mayci Godbey also competing. Steele placed 31st overall in the run with a time of 24:42.07 while Godbey finished 43rd in 26:29.82. Steele’s time was almost four seconds faster than her 2018 time and Godbey’s time was a minute faster.

While rain was hit-and-miss throughout the competition, the heavy rains that preceded the meet left behind a sometimes muddy course.

“It was hard from the start,” said Johnson. “It was really muddy as you went up that first big hill. Then, up in the trees, there’s not a lot of grass and it made it hard to run up the hill because of all the mud.”

Morgan agreed, “The first mile, that whole hill, it felt like … It was just so hard. It was really steep. It was really muddy up there and people were sliding going up the hill. You really had to have spikes to get up that hill.”

Lincoln’s two lead runners also had similar takes on the race’s end.

“It’s very tiring at the end,” said Johnson. “The last 400 is really flat, so I don’t know why it’s so hard. But it’s the hardest part of the race for me.”

“There’s a steep hill down and after that it’s pretty flat. And flat courses are boring to me, so that makes it harder,” Morgan said. “Whenever there’s hills, I like to push myself. When it’s flat, I don’t and I don’t think I run as well.”

As one of the seven Lady Patriots making their first trip to the state cross country meet, Morgan admits she’ll probably be a little nervous Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“I get nervous before races and it being state won’t help,” she said. “I’ve been to watch it, but this is my first time running so it will be so different. Hopefully it’s not muddy.”

Settles and Reed completed Saturday’s regionals despite ankle injuries, but Pope expects them to be back on course at state.

“McKenzie and Shayley both have had ankle injuries and we still need to heal up some, but I think we’ll be good for next week,” said Pope.

Rockcastle County sisters Victoria Dotson and Alexis Dotson led the field Saturday, with Victoria, a senior, winning the individual title in a time of 20:20.34. Alexis, an eighth-grader, captured the runner-up spot with a time of 20:40.75.

Boyle County claimed the regional team title with 56 points. Mercer County, last year’s champion, finished as runner-up with 78 points. Corbin placed third overall with 83 points and Rockcastle County was fourth with 83 points.

The five state-qualifying girls were Casey County’s Abby Vaughn, Alyssa Sharp and Kali Graham, East Jessamine’s Taylor Baber and Bell County’s Jazmine Brannon. For Casey, Vaughn’s time was 21:31.50, Sharp’s time, 21:40.72, and Graham’s, 24:07.04. East’s Baber finished in 23:36.79 and Bell’s Brannon crossed in 24:23.51.

Saturday’s regional proved to be the final race of the season for the Lincoln boys.

The Patriots placed ninth out of nine teams. With only the top five boys teams advancing on to state and the top five individual runners not on those teams moving on, Lincoln finished off the mark.

Lincoln’s Elijah “Hoot” Johnson, an eighth-grader, wasn’t far off the individual cutoff, placing 26th out of the field of 75 runners with a time of 19:43.48.

The Patriots other six runners competing at region placed from the 47th to the 60th spot. Damien Hodge, a junior, posted a Top 50 time, finishing 47th in a time of 21:24.46. Junior runners Sebastian Odle and Davis Wardrip and senior Gabe Singleton finished back-to-back-to-back, wth Odle placing 53rd in 21:49.88, Wardrip, 54th in 21:54.62 and Singleton, 55th in 21:56.96. Toby Sallee, a seventh-grader, placed 59th in 22:02.46 with senior Daniel Pence right behind him in the 60th spot in 22:06.38.

“The boys have worked hard this year, too,” Pope said. “They just could never get over the hump. (Johnson) was real close (to state cut). He improved almost three minutes from last year’s region. That’s a good improvement in one year. But we’ve had setbacks with two broke ankles this year, Brad Adams and Jordan Greer.”

Last year’s winner and runner-up swapped places Saturday with Caden Miracle, a freshman from Bell County, winning in 16:49.00 and Sean Simons, a Corbin sophomore, finishing second in 17:19.67.

Simons’ Corbin Redhounds ran away with the boys regional title with just 37 total points. The runner-up team from Wayne County was a distant second with 101 points. Bell County finished third with 102 points, Rockcastle County was fourth with 117 points and Russell County claimed the fifth and final state-qualifying spot with 141 points.

The state-qualifying individual runners in the boys division were: Aiden Tucker, McCreary Central, 17:57.68; Cody Curtsinger, Mercer County, 18:14.17; James Ward, Garrard County, 18:24.06; Collin McElfresh, East Jessamine, 19:19.18; and Jonah Lewis, Mercer County, 19:26.42.

The Lady Patriot runners will toe the starting line with 299 other Class 2A runners Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park. The first call for the girls Class 2A championship is 11:15, with the final call (teams in the box for clerk inspection) at 11:25. The gun will sound on the Class 2A girls race at 11:30 a.m.

KHSAA Region 5 Class 2A Championships
Cave Lake Park, Monticello

Girls Varsity
(3.1 miles – 59 runners)

Teams: 1) Boyle Co. 56; 2) Mercer Co. 78; 3) Corbin 83; 4) Rockcastle Co. 83; 5) Lincoln Co. 90; 6) Casey Co. 93; 7) Knox Central 201.

Individuals (Top 10 and Lincoln)

Victoria Dotson (Rockcastle Co.) 20:20.34; 2) Alexis Dotson (Rockcastle Co.) 20:40.75; 3) Hannah Morton (Corbin) 20:55.55; 4) Clayra Darnell (Mercer Co.) 20:59.63; 5) Abby Vaughn (Casey Co.) 21:31.50; 6) Alyssa Sharp (Casey Co.) 21:40.72; 7) Naia Hutchins (Boyle Co.) 21:44.35; 8) Annabelle Tarter (Boyle Co.) 22:20.85; 9) Emma Jackson (Boyle Co.) 22:38.01; 10) Haley Blevins (Mercer Co.) 22:46.89; 13) Constance Johnson (Lincoln Co.) 23:00.96; 14) Ava Morgan (Lincoln Co.) 23:09.08; 19) Alexis Slone (Lincoln Co.) 23:48.03; 20) McKenzie Settles (Lincoln Co.) 23:54.17; 28) Shayley Reed (Lincoln Co.) 24:24.75; 31) Jasmine Steele (Lincoln Co.) 24:42.07; 43) Mayci Godbey (Lincoln Co.) 26:29.82.

Boys Varsity
(3.1 miles – 75 runners)

Teams: 1) Corbin 37; 2) Wayne Co. 101; 3) Bell Co. 102; 4) Rockcastle Co. 117; 5) Russell Co. 141; 6) Mercer Co. 142; 7) McCreary Central 153; 8) Boyle Co. 154; 9) Lincoln Co. 209.

Individuals (Top 10 and Lincoln)

1) Caden Miracle (Bell. Co.) 16:49.00; 2) Sean Simons (Corbin) 17:19.67; 3) Austin Terrell (Corbin) 17:23.99; 4) Dylan Bullen (Rockcastle Co.) 17:36.22; 5) Logan Bullock (Rockcastle Co.) 17:46.78; 6) Nathan West (Wayne Co.) 17:52.23; John Hail (Corbin) 17:56.80; 8) Aiden Tucker (McCreary Central) 17:57.68; 9) Justin Stearns (Russell Co.) 17:58.51; 10) Jacob Morgan (Wayne Co.) 18:11.15; 26) Elijah “Hoot” Johnson (Lincoln Co.) 19:43.48; 47) Damien Hodge (Lincoln Co.) 21:24.46; 53) Sebastian Odle (Lincoln Co.) 21:49.88; 54) Davis Wardrip (Lincoln Co.) 21:54.62; 55) Gabe Singleton (Lincoln Co.) 21:56.96; 59) Toby Sallee (Lincoln Co.) 22:02.46; 60) Daniel Pence (Lincoln Co.) 22:06.38.