By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
LEXINGTON –The young and talented Highlands Cross Country teams hoped to begin their own run of greatness at the Class AA state cross country meet Saturday at Horse Park.
The Ladybirds accomplished that by dethroning the four-time defending state champion South Oldham Lady Dragons and the Bluebirds finished sixth. Both won the Region 4 meet last weekend. The Ladybirds won their seventh overall title, but first since winning three in a row from 2002 to 2004.
The Ladybirds placed their top three runners among the top 10 out of 231 runners to score 65 points to 97 for the Lady Dragons. South Oldham’s fifth runner came in ahead of Highlands’ fifth runner. But South Oldham’s third runner placed 23rd to sixth for the Ladybirds.
“They did what we’ve been doing all year,” said Brian Alessandro, Highlands head coach. “They ran consistent and ran well. I didn’t realize they’d win by this much. But it was an outstanding race.”
A pair of freshmen and an eighth grader have led Highlands this year. Eighth-grader Sydney Ossege placed fourth overall in 19 minutes, 40.78 seconds. That finish was good for second in placing because the top two runners ran for schools that did not send complete teams.
“We just want to go out and start winning to show we can run (well),” Ossege said. “It’s a great experience with a new coach and all these new runners coming in. We’ve all just stepped up a lot.”
Eighth-grader Gabriella Karas from Collins won the race blowing away everyone in 17:44.18 and Paducah Tilghman sophomore Aleja Grant took second in 19:14.91. North Oldham freshman Erin Edmundson took third in 19:34.77.
Freshman Molly Mearns came in right behind Ossege in 19:46.31. She edged out South Oldham’s first finisher in senior Grace Whitworth in 19:47.8. Fellow freshman Lauren Ossege came in near Mearns and her sister finishing eighth in 19:52.64.
“When you have three girls as talented as our top three, it doesn’t matter who finishes first,” Alessandro said. “When you don’t know each week who is going to be your leader, it makes it even better. You don’t have to be so stressed about your top group.”
The Lady Dragons did not see another runner cross the finish line until about a minute later when sophomore Kayla Alsup took 25th in 20:56.01. But that’s when things became interesting.
Highlands eighth-grader Chloe Gastright battled three Lady Dragons for spots. She edged out two of them for 30th in 21:03.65. Junior Paige Dauer finished the scoring for the Ladybirds taking 36th in 21:21.06.
“To put it in a competitive aspect, all these other (runners of other teams) would pass us and you think, ‘Not North Oldham or South Oldham,” Dauer said. “When we saw them, we said, ‘Oh, my Gosh, we got to go.’ We went as hard as we could for as long as we could to stay with them. I tried to stay with my teammates so we could push each other to do our best. We have a good unit here at Highlands.”
The other two Ladybirds placed among the top 65 racers. Junior Alyssa Farley took 51st in 21:44.69 and seventh-grader Karsen Hunter took 62nd in 22:01.72.
“I told the girls that the four and five girls are just as important as anybody else,”Alessandro said. “They did exactly what they needed to do. It helped us win.”
The Bluebirds hoped for a top three finish, but came in sixth with 226 points. North Oldham won it with 110 points. Lexington Catholic senior Nicholas Laureano won the race in 16:41.98.
Highlands freshman Ethan Shuley finished eighth in 17:14.09 and junior John Michael Griffith took 15th in 17:31.22 out of 243 runners. The Bluebirds did not see another placer until freshman Matt Gray took 56th in 18:28.18.
“We did fine,”Shuley said. “The heat certainly drained us out a lot. You have to stay mid-pack throughout the race and pick off runners one by one.”
The other point-scorers for Highlands were senior Cam Kruse in 18:55.06 good for 88th and sophomore James Smith for 103rd in 19:04.93. The other runners for Highlands were freshman Paul Jackson in 145th in 19:42.43 and freshman Geoffrey Mearns for 152nd in 19:48.69.
Neither team will suffer huge losses to graduation next fall. Kruse is the only senior on either team.
“We have so many middle school kids out for the team now,” Alessandro said. “We’re pretty stacked for the next five years with the depth that we have.”
Thoroughbreds place eighth in Class A:
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds hoped to place in the top four, but had to settle for eighth with 266 points. The St. Henry Crusaders won their 11th consecutive state title with 84 points and Walton-Verona took second with 116. Louisville Holy Cross Senior Jacob Thompson won the meet in 15:21.4.
Senior Patrick Allen led NewCath finishing 18th out of 215 runners in 17:33.55. Senior Connor Bartels took 31st in 17:58.25. The other scorers for the Thoroughbreds were sophomore Collin Walker, 85th in 19:08.06; junior Jordan Griffin, 98th in 19:23.44; and sophomore Alex Jones, 126th in 19:49.32. The other NewCath runners were sophomore Bannon Seiter, 138th in 20:05.26 and freshman Sam Kaelin, 139th in 20:05.85.
“It’s just one of those things,” said Dave Ueding, NewCath head coach. “We ran as well as we could run. It just wasn’t good enough.”
Drohan takes 44th:
Lady Bred junior Caitlyn Drohan qualified for state as an individual in Class A. She finished 44th in 22:01.38.
St. Henry won the state title with 62 points. Senior Meagan Smith of Danville captured the individual title in 19:16.39.