The Boyle County girls are going back for more, but not necessarily more of the same.
A team stocked with seniors that enjoyed its best finish ever at the state cross county meet last year is aiming even higher, and the Rebels got a shot of confidence Saturday by winning their third straight regional championship.
And with the team’s training targeted toward the state meet rather than the regional, the girls think they could be capable of big things next weekend.
“We’re hoping to peak to the tippy-top of the mountain,” Boyle senior Maddy Kriz said with a laugh.
On Saturday, the three Boyle seniors got to enjoy one last win on their home course on their way to the state meet, as the won the girls title in the Class AA, Region 5 championships at Millennium Park by 27 points.
“Our last region championship, and it’s our home course, so that makes it special. Our last time ever running on our home course, so we had to make it count,” Boyle senior Emma Ditto said.
The Rebels did that, placing three runners in the top five to finish well ahead of runner-up Rockcastle County. Ditto was third, Kriz was fourth and freshman Nikki Coffey was fifth for Boyle, and the three were separated by only 19 seconds.
“They’re very excited, They were ranked first in our region, but at the same time, you never know on race day what’s going to happen,” Boyle coach Grace Jameson said.
Boyle’s top runners have been bunched near the front in most of their meets this season, and the Rebels said another key to their success is the fact that they have stuck together in more ways than one.
“We really love each other, and we’ve grown a lot closer this year,” sophomore Katie Sudd said.
They’re hoping to be close to the top this Saturday in the state meet. They were third in the Class AA girls standings last year, when they had four runners in the top 40 in a field of 220 runners.
“We’d like several top-15 finishes, and last year we came in third, so we would really like to be at least third again,” Ditto said.
One of those could come from Coffey, who ran a personal-best time of 21 minutes, 8 seconds on the 3.1-mile course, the finish of which had been altered slightly since Boyle hosted its invitational in September.
“She PR’d, and all our girls did great,” Jameson said.
The top area boys at the regional meet were not as happy with their performances, although their efforts were enough to send them on to the state meet. Garrard County senior Josh Stull, who was ninth in the AA boys race at last year’s state meet, was the top area runner and seventh overall on Saturday.
“I felt like I could have done better. I started out a little too quick,” Stull said.
But Stull said he feels he is well-prepared for the state meet. Garrard coach Brandon Cooper said the team has run a few more meets than last year, and there has been conditioning for basketball, which Stull also plays and Cooper also coaches, as well.
“It’s been pretty tough, actually,” Stull said.
Mercer County junior Bryant Qualls said he was also disappointed by his 10th-place finish.
“I dropped a lot of spots. I should have been top five and ended up coming in 10th,” he said. “I didn’t run as good as I probably should have.”
Boyle’s girls may not have run as well Saturday as they could have, even though they got the result they wanted, because they haven’t yet started the tapering process teams often use to be as fresh as possible for the postseason.
“We’ve been working hard all the way through this meet,” Ditto said. “We really haven’t tapered much for this race, but for state we’re really going to taper this week and make sure that our legs are fresh. We all are hoping that we will peak at state and have our fastest race.”
Ditto said the Rebels don’t know much about the teams they’ll be trying to beat next weekend — South Oldham and Elizabethtown finished ahead of them last year, and North Oldham is also expected to contend — so they’ll focus on running the best race they can.
“It’s really hard to predict a lot of the time. It really just depends on what kind of day people are having, so my strategy is just to go out there and relax and have fun and make it count, because it might be the last cross country race that I ever run,” she said.
Boyle’s boys also qualified for the state meet by finishing fourth out of 11 teams in their race, led by junior Taylor Jameson in ninth place and senior Austin Reid in 14th.
The four teams that qualified behind boys champion West Jessamine were separated by only eight points — the second- through fourth-place teams were only three points apart — and the first team below the cut line was only nine points farther back.
“The region for the boys is extremely tough, and to have three teams only three points apart, that’s unbelievable. We knew it was going to be a tough race for the boys ... but we had four of our five boys PR, so that was fantastic, and two of them, this was their first region. So we’re just thrilled with the boys,” Jameson said.
Garrard had a second individual state qualifier in sophomore Cole Grecco, who was 11th in the boys race, and Mercer County freshman Taylor Gray qualified on the girls side with an eighth-place finish.