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By JOSH CLAYWELL firstname.lastname@example.org
LEXINGTON — Longtime North Hardin High School cross country coach John Russell can’t remember the last time the tri-county area (Hardin, LaRue and Meade counties) had five girls’ teams qualify for the KHSAA State Cross Country Championships.
Central Hardin, Elizabethtown, John Hardin, Meade County and North Hardin all qualified for the state meet, which will be held beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“I have never recalled all of us getting there because all of us on the (Class) 3-A side were in the same region,” Russell said. “That’s sweet. Think about it: No one ever recalls it happening because of the fact that four of us (Central Hardin, John Hardin, Meade County and North Hardin) that were in the same region with the likes of (Louisville schools) DuPont Manual and Male. For us to go to a different region and new alignment, that means the chances of it happening are better.”
Following the 1-A boys’ race, the 1-A girls’ race will be held at 10:15. Class 2-A will run at 11:30 (boys) and 12:15 p.m. (girls) with 3-A at 1:30 (boys) and 2:15 (girls).
After winning her first region championship last weekend in Bowling Green, John Hardin junior Maggie Mattingly will go for her first state championship.
Mattingly finished 54th as a seventh-grader and took third, fourth and third in the last three seasons.
“I just think she’s going to have to be focused and have the best race of her season. If she does that, she’ll be right in the mix,” John Hardin coach Jason Hayes said.
Saturday’s forecast, which calls for a high of 46 and a 70 percent chance of precipitation during the day, could play a factor in the outcome.
“I just want to see my team go out and have a good race,” Hayes said. “Looking at the weather, it’s going to play a factor. With the weather being the way it’s going to be, by the time we get on the course, it’s going to be super soft with all the rain we’ve had this week and the other races running on it.”
The Lady Trojans qualified as a team for the first time since 2003, when they finished 20th overall.
“It feels awesome,” Russell said. “We knew we’d qualify as they were coming in (at region). We’re ready to go.”
Elizabethtown finished third in its region and qualified for State for the fifth consecutive year.
“I’m ready for it,” Elizabethtown coach Dickie Jones said. “Our girls ran really well at region. Our five girls that scored were close together in their times, which was good.”
And if his team comes out and runs as well as it did at region, Jones feels a top-10 finish isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“I think they have an excellent opportunity to finish in the top 10. If we come out and run PRs like they did last year at State, we can break a top-10 finish,” Jones said.
Elizabethtown and John Hardin were the only team qualifiers. Meade County will send five runners – juniors Sean Breeds, Chad Medley and Joseph Humphrey, sophomore Tyler Blair and freshman Malichi Merski – but will not receive a team score.
“That rule has to change. With the way the regions are set now, it’s going to happen more often,” Russell said. “(But) I think it’s awesome to have so many programs, guys and girls, represented.”
North Hardin sophomore Andrew Stewart and junior Shawn Henderson locked up a top-five individual spot at region, as did Central Hardin sophomore Patrick Shartzer and LaRue County junior Ryan Durbin.
The Panthers will look to avenge a third-place finish in the Region 2 meet in which they were predicted as a favorite along with Warren East to win the team title.
“I know the boys weren’t satisfied with how they ran at region,” Jones said. “They’re going to be ready. I know they wanted higher than third, but we came out and just didn’t have a good race.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at 505-1752