|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. The Highlands Ladybirds cross country team won its fourth consecutive Class AA state championship Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park. The Ladybirds own 10 state championships in school history.|
So the mission entering the season was to make it four consecutive Class AA state championships to set a new school record. The Highlands Ladybirds pulled away in the last two miles to do that Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park.
Highlands tallied 53 points to capture the crown and outdistanced runner-up North Oldham by 32 points. The Ladybirds placed all five scorers in the top 25.
The Ladybirds own 10 state championships in school history becoming just the second school in Kentucky history to win double-digit titles. Highlands won three in a row between 1978 and 1980 and also between 2002 and 2004.
Highlands finished in an average of 19:51.59. North Oldham averaged 20:08.12. Third-place Lexington Catholic finished third in 20:52.16. Lady Knight junior Michaela Reinhart won the race in 18:02.66 but the next LexCath runner crossed in 26th place.
"Running-wise, I think this is one of our stronger finishes time-wise," said Brian Alessandro, Highlands Head Coach. "We had three in the top 15, which is great. They just ran really well. It was tight after the first mile. I thought we were going to be in trouble, but they came through. We look at this as two girls who have never run in a state meet before. We had girls in and out. It's a testament to the depth we have."
Highlands senior Lauren Ossege finished sixth to lead the Ladybirds in 19:19.02. That was near her personal-best of 19:15.18 in 2010 when she finished individual state runner-up as a seventh-grader.
"This legacy is amazing," Ossege said. "The program has been built so much compared to like what it was when I started. I'm so happy to finish in the top 10 my senior year and lead Highlands to another state title."
Just 1.8 seconds behind her finished seventh-grade teammate Maggie Schroeder. That was the best finish of any seventh-grader in the meet and the second-best for any runner in middle school. Rockcastle County eighth-grader Victoria Dotson took fourth in 18:53.61.
"I definitely want to do what (the upperclassmen) have done," Schroeder said. "I want to cut my time down to 18 minutes sometime. Without them, I would be nothing. They push me in practice. I didn't run cross country until this year. I'm just thrilled I have such great teammates."
Highlands junior Chloe Gastright finished 12th in 19:53.75. That placed three Ladybird runners below 20 minutes. She edged North Oldham sophomore Anna Costelle by under one second.
"It actually helps a lot when I hear people cheering for me," Gastright said. "It really encourages me to push myself. Lately, we've done a lot of hard workouts to resemble to finish to a race. I think that has helped me build that feeling in my gut."
Highlands sophomore Karsen Hunter took 17th in 20:15.17. She edged Fleming County junior Olivia Leet by more than a second.
"The biggest thing is we want to have fun with it," Hunter said. "Since its state, we don't want to put in any new routines. We want to run it like any other race and run our best."
Highlands senior Molly Mearns finished the scoring taking 25th in 20:29.17. She is one of two seniors that ran for the Ladybirds at state.
"I think we make a good family community out of it," Mearns said. "We all get along really well. We help show the younger ones the ropes and teach them what to do in the future."
Highlands saw its last two runners place in the top 58 out of 197 runners. Sophomore Brianna Collins took 40th in 20:56.67 and seventh-grader Greta Noble took 58th in 21:29.98.
St. Henry captured its fifth straight Class A title Saturday marking the 18th title in school history. The Lady Crusaders are tied with the five straight titles by Western Hills between 1994 and 1998 for the most consecutive championships in Kentucky history.
See how the boys' team did (link).