Of the seven runners that ran in the Class AA state meet at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, five of the girls were in middle school. The girls placed a seventh straight top-two finish with a runner-up score of 115 points and the boys finished sixth with 214 points.
The Highlands girls did not graduate any of those runners. But eighth grader Laney Smith is not running this year. The Highlands boys graduated Ethan Myers and Donovan Staab and sophomore Will White is not able to run this year.
Highlands Head Coach Brian Alessandro said he's seen more of that type of dedication this year. A week ago, Alessandro was not able to be at the morning practice as the result of his duties at Highlands Middle School. But the runners came out and practiced with an assistant anyway.
"The cutlture is to win," Alessandro said. "They understand that you need to put the work in in order to be successful."
The girls saw a first-time individual state champion last year when junior Maggie Schroeder won the AA race in 19 minutes, 7.68 seconds. Schroeder is one of the two returning upperclassmen who ran in the state meet last year along with senior Alissa Campbell. Campbell finished 50th in the state meet in 21:32.89 last year.
Alessandro said winning a state title is motivation for the younger runners who have not experienced it yet. The other returning runners from last year's state meet are freshmen Alyssa Harris (ninth in state meet in 19:56.48), Ruby Smith (38th in 21:11.94), eighth grader Lilli Hoffmeister (42nd in 21:24.38) and freshman Eden Brumer (47th in 21:28.32).
"We all just try to run our best and hopefully, get our PRs (personal records)," Campbell said. "State is definitely a great place to get your PR. It's a great course."
Junior Will Griffith led Highlands finishing 18th in 17:31.74 last year and freshman Sam Hopper finished 19th in 17:35.36. The other two returning runners from the state meet last year are junior Peter Laskey and senior Grant Uhlenbrock.
"We've been putting in a lot of hard work," Uhlenbrock said. "When you come to practice every day, you go as hard as you can. If you don't go as hard as you can, you're not going to make progress and you're not going to get the final goal that you want to get to."
Alessandro also said to look out for another senior. That's August Hug.
"We have some younger boys that I feel can step up," Alessandro said. "That's encouraging going into the season. They really do have a shot at a state title they way were looking in the preseason."
The first meet for Highlands is Aug. 23 in the Moeller Primetime Invite at Christ's Church in Mason (Ohio). The first race starts at 5 p.m.