The George Rogers Clark Cross Country team is set to compete in the KHSAA Region 7 Class 3A championship Saturday at Lykins Park.
The Cardinals are led by senior Alex White, the defending regional champion. White currently is ranked ninth in the state, the highest ranking ever for a Clark cross country runner. Clark sophomore Grayson Brookshire also figures to be among the top runners in the meet.
The Cards will face tough competition from a group of Pulaski County sophomores — Jimmy Goldson, Mason Blevins, Austin Hyden and Mason Stevens all of whom figure into the race. Clark freshman Brian Carlson will join White and Brookshire in the battle for top Regional honors.
Pulaski County appears to be the favorite and is ranked ninth in the state in Class 3A competition. Challenging Pulaski for the team title will be North Laurel, Clark and Madison Central. North Laurel has never lost a meet at Lykins Park, while Clark owns the most victories of any school on the course. North Laurel and Clark are equally matched.
The battle will be decided by the middle and bottom of each team's roster. Ben Petrey, James Banks and Brandon Bailey form the center of Clark's roster. All three are in the mid-18 minute-mark for a 5K distance. Petrey clocked an 18:08 finish at the Greater Louisville Classic and appears poised to run his best race of the year.
"I believe Ben has the ability to run in the 17 minute range,” Clark coach Dodd Dixon said.
Cody Cox and Clay Dixon round out Clark's anticipated runners. All seven Cardinal runners competed in last year's state meet, ending a 30-year drought.
The team hopes to return to the top stage this year, but Madison Central could play spoiler. Southwestern, Lincoln County, Montgomery County, Whitley County, South Laurel and Clay County will be competing Saturday.
The girls’ race features a rematch between Lincoln County's Alex Bunch and Clark standout Tiffany Toler.
In 2009 Bunch and Toler battled for second place behind region champ Emily Frith. Toler led most of the 5K race only to be out-sprinted in the final 100 meters of the race.
Bunch and Toler faced each other again in last year’s regional event, with Bunch winning the title, while Toler was runner-up. This season, Toler has placed first in the Beast in the East, Mason County Invitational, and GRC Coaches Classic, defeating hundreds of Kentucky runners. Bunch has placed first at the Pulaski-Southwestern Invitational, Boyle County Invitational and Pulaski County Invitational this season. Both girls are among the top runners in Kentucky.
Joining Bunch and Toler on the list of top region performers include Pulaski County's Alyssa Hyden and Madison Central's Gabby Sabino. Sabino and Hyden have the talent to spoil a potential Bunch-Toler dual.
While Lincoln County has the defending individual regional champion in Bunch, Toler has a stronger supporting cast of runners backing her up.
The Lady Cards advanced to the state meet in 2008, 2009 and 2010, while Lincoln County girls last participated as a team at state in 2009.
Clark's No. 2 runner is Cora Kerber. Kerber, a junior, was a cross country standout in middle school at St. Agatha Academy. A multi-talented athlete, Kerber was an important part of school’s soccer regional championship team this season. Kerber hopes to add cross country glory to her impressive sports and academic resume. Lydia Gapp, a freshman, is the Lady Cards’ No. 3 runner.
Gapp has run well this season and hopes to return to state for her third year in a row. Alyssa Gaunce, a seventh-grader at Conkwright, is one of the Lady Cards top runners and will be making her first postseason appearance.
Rounding out Clark's roster are Genna Petrey, Lindy Darnell and Destiny Hembree. All three have competed in the State meet and realize the significance of earning a fourth appearance in the state event.
Pulaski County, Clark, Southwestern and Madison Central are the top contenders for the region title.
"We feel good about where we are as a team,” Dixon said. “The kids know what they need to do. We are solid, experienced, and determined.”
Despite the outcome of the race, the boys and girls cross country teams at Clark is the best cross country program ever assembled at the school and both teams should continue their excellence on their home course.
The girls race will begin at 11 a.m., while the boys race will follow at 11:45 a.m. The awards ceremony is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.