|Highlands Girls Move Back to Top of 2A Mountain, Boys Finish Fourth|
|Photo: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands girls cross country team won its fifth state championship in six years on Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park.|
They had the top ranking in the class pretty much all season, but had to prove it Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park. It turned out to be close, but the Bluebirds won their fifth state championship in the last six years and 11th in school history.
The Christian Academy of Louisville had been the main competition in recent years for Highlands. The Lady Centurions ended the Bluebirds' run of four straight last year. But Ashland Blazer emerged as a new challenger to both this year.
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"Our three, four and five runners were pretty far back," said Brian Alessandro, Highlands Head Coach. "The last couple meters is what won the race for us. I thought it would be closer than 14 points so I'm really pleased and happy."
Highlands seniors Brianna Collins, Karsen Hunter and Savannah Brady have been with all six region championship squads. Collins and Hunter rounded out the Highlands scoring in 28th (23rd in scoring in 20 minutes, 46.95 seconds) and 29th (24th scoring, 20:49.46) respectively.
"This seems like it's my whole life. I've been on the Highlands (Cross Country) teams since I was in fifth grade," Collins said. "This is my eighth year and this is my seventh year with Karsen. This is the end of a legacy. I've put all of my time into this. It was a great finish. I'm so proud of how all the runners finished. I was encouraging them the whole race because I wanted to see them succeed as much as I've succeeded. I'm proud of what I've done this season and my entire time in cross country."
Highlands freshman Maggie Schroeder led Highlands scoring one point with a runner-up finish. She stayed close to Rockcastle County sophomore Victoria Dotson. But Dotson pulled away to win in 19:15.8 and Schroeder finished in 19:17.78.
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"It means a lot. I really would have liked to win, but I left it all out there," Schroeder said. "I really wanted to see what I could do personally this year. If that is what you want to do, just go for it. A lot of times, it gets hard. We have a lot of people throwing up and passing out in practice. If you give up, nothing is going to happen. If you keep going, you can get there."
Highlands sophomore Maria Broering took ninth overall and eight points in 19:53.07. Alessandro talked her into running cross country during the track season last spring.
"I started out just running the races," Broering said. "Then obviously when soccer ended (with a loss to St. Henry in the 9th Region semifinals on penaltry kicks) before we wanted it to, I was like, 'I guess I'll start coming to cross country practices.' I came out and started training really hard. That definitely helped my time from the start of the season to the end of the season. It's hard to balance both, but I definitely think it was worth it."
The third scorer for Highlands was sophomore Alissa Campbell. She placed 26th overall and scored 21 points in 20:44.06.
Highlands seventh-grader Ruby Smith finished 67th. She came across the line in 21:58.49.
The Highlands boys hoped to finish fourth and did just that with 228 points. Lexington Catholic won the title with 39 points and Warren East finished runner-up with 134. Boyle County took third with 153 points.
"Our first three runners ran as best as they have all year," Alessandro said. "Four and five struggled a little bit."
The top three Highlands runners finished in the top 26. Freshman Will Griffith placed 18th in 17:26.82 giving the Bluebirds 16 points.
Like Broering, Highlands senior Blake Shuley played soccer and ran cross country this year. Shuley took 25th in 17:39.48. The Highlands boys soccer team finished 9th Region runner-up and won the 36th District championship
"It was fantastic. I had a great soccer season and then once that was over, I had two solid weeks to get some training in," Shuley said. "Throughout the year, I was doing some races. It really paid off. I was able to work with my teammates and get a PR (personal record). It was a really great season."
Highlands seventh-grader Sam Hopper placed 26th in 17:40.24. That gave the Bluebirds 24 points.
"I think we have great youth coming up," Griffith said. "I think in the next couple years, we can be pretty good. Hopefully, soon we'll be return to the podium. Sam and I will continue to work with each other and get better."
Then came a big gap. Senior Donovan Staab finished 91st in 18:50.74 and senior Caleb Chambers finished 97th 18:55.21. That led to 80 and 85 points for the Bluebirds. Highlands sophomore Grant Uhlenbrock finished 125th in 19:19.75 and junior Jake Ryan finished 129th in 19:21.93.
The Bluebirds own three boys cross country state championships in school history. They finished state runner-up two years ago. Those championships came in 1985, 1983 and 1979.