Claunch leads Mercer to track victory

May 12, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

The Mercer County girls are just doing what they always do. And no one is doing it better than Chrystal Claunch.

Claunch and her Mercer teammates have relied on the same formula for countless track meets: They throw themselves into many events, winning a few and scoring in almost all of them.

It worked for them again Tuesday, as they scored in all but one event and had two scorers in six events to win the Thoroughbred Classic by 32 points over host Boyle County.

"We just pick away at you," Mercer coach Brian Pendygraft said.

No one was more valuable to the cause than Claunch, a sophomore sprinter who was in on four of Mercer's five first-place finishes. Claunch was named the meet's outstanding female runner after winning two individual events and two relays.


"I'm really happy with it, winning every event I ran in," Claunch said. "Our last meet I had four first-places, but it was a small meet. This was my best day this season."

It might also have been the best day of the season for the youthful Mercer team, which has no seniors, only one junior and a host of middle-schoolers.

"Every meet it seems like we're getting a little bit better," Pendygraft said.

But this isn't the usual Mercer powerhouse. The Scotties haven't often dominated meets the way they did Tuesday at Boyle.

"We're a little young," Claunch said. "We're not beating teams like we did last year."

Pendygraft said he figures Mercer is a good 20 points behind Rockcastle County, the favorite to win Mercer's Class AA region later this month in Richmond.

"We're working on improving and trying to get as many kids as we can to state," he said. "We may not have many state performers, but what we're going to have is quality."

That should include the speedy Claunch, who helped Mercer teams win the 400- and 800-meter relays, then won the 300 hurdles and 200 dash within about 15 minutes of each other.

In her last race, she outdueled Harrodsburg's Tiffany Smith to win their first head-to-head meeting of the season in the 200.

"I was taken out of it (early in the season), but now I'm getting first- and second-place finishes," Claunch said.

Claunch would be considered a future star on many teams, but at Mercer she's a four-year veteran who has become one of the team leaders.

Several sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders scored for Mercer in the Boyle meet, and Claunch said those athletes are blending well with the returnees.

"We still have some girls who were strong last year who've come back and are putting up a lot of points for us," Claunch said. "And the young ones are trying their hardest and getting a few points, and they're getting better as the year goes on."

"We try to keep them in line and try to help them as much as we can."

Mercer's leaders are Claunch, fellow sophomore Chelsea Goodman and junior Stacey Gash, the team's oldest athlete, and Pendygraft said they are good ones to follow.

"The core group we've got, they're hard workers, and the young girls are seeing that," Pendygraft said. "In practice, these girls run their butts off."

Goodman won the high jump, and she and Gash were also in on both winning relays.

But the star of this meet was Claunch, and Pendygraft said he expects her to continue to improve as the season winds down.

"At region, we'll see her at her best," the Mercer coach said. "That's when there'll be great competition."

And that's where Claunch will try to help Mercer win another regional title, though she knows the odds are against it.

"We have a chance," she said. "We need some of our younger ones to step up. Heart is one of the keys."

Boyle's girls won the two distance relays, and the Rebels won two other events to finish second.

The Boyle boys were second to Bardstown by just over 68 points. Devin Lawson won two events for Boyle, the 800 and 1,600, and Michael Harris of Harrodsburg did likewise in the discus and shot put.

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