Anne VandenBerg finished second to Jenna Strange in the Fayette County Cross Country Championships, but she wore the smile of someone who’d just blown away the field.
VandenBerg, a Paul Laurence Dunbar junior, was thrilled because her Bulldogs picked up their first team win of the season and first since she started running for Dunbar.
The Bulldogs edged Henry Clay and Tates Creek, all of whom were separated by a total of six points, to claim their first girls’ city title since 2010.
“I’m really happy,” VandenBerg said with a laugh. She wouldn’t let herself call it a “surprise” that Dunbar won, but she was inspired by the team’s effort Tuesday evening at Masterson Station Park.
An influx of speedy and motivated freshmen has helped Dunbar get itself back near the top of the city cross country conversation
“Recently we haven’t had a whole lot of girls who are really interested in the sport,” VandenBerg said. “But they really want it. They’re here for the right seasons. We can all work together and it’s really nice.”
Dunbar’s boys later placed five of its runners in the top 10 — three in the top five — to score a 22-35 win over Tates Creek for their first team title since 2009. That year also was the last time the Bulldogs swept the city championships.
Bulldogs senior Mikah Bailey spoke confidently following the win, which came on the heels of what he called a “breakthrough performance” on the same course during the Tates Creek Invitational on Saturday. Dunbar finished second to Covington Catholic by six points in that event.
“We did very well,” Bailey said. “ ... The whole team, we’re really in tune this year. We push 24/7 so I don’t see why we can’t come out of this region champs and potentially state champions.”
Tates Creek’s Strange claimed her second straight individual city title. Her 19:49.4 was almost a minute faster than VanderBerg’s time, but it was about 30 seconds slower than her time in the Tates Creek Invitational.
Warmer temperatures, as well as having to get psyched up after sitting in class all day, contributed to slower-than-normal times for many of the top runners in the field. Strange thinks most of that is mental rather than physical.
“If you go in like, ‘Oh man, it’s hot and I’m not gonna run good because it’s hot,’ you’re gonna do badly because that’s what you’re doing before the race,” Strange said.
On the boys’ side, Alex Mortimer gave Tates Creek a sweep of the individual titles after taking his second straight first-place medal in the race.
Over the weekend, Mortimer ran a personal-best 15:26.96, also setting the course record in the process. His 15:37.0 on Tuesday was still about 45 seconds faster than Bailey, who finished second.
“We were out here on Saturday and it was about 20 degrees cooler,” Mortimer said with a grin. “ ... There was a guy from Eaton High School up in Ohio, he pushed me through the first half of the race and by that point I was feeling really good. I just let it loose and I PR’d by about eight seconds.”
Breaking 15:30 was a goal Mortimer had eyed since March. Now, he’s less concerned with setting a personal mark than with winning an elusive state title this season.
“The goal is always to go for the win,” Mortimer said. “For the last four years I’ve prepared diligently and I’m more prepared than ever to go in and compete for that top spot.”
Fayette County Cross Country Championships
Boys’ teams—1. Paul Laurence Dunbar 22, 2. Tates Creek 35, 3. Henry Clay 87, 4. Lafayette 96, 5. Bryan Station 143.
Girls’ teams—1. Paul Laurence Dunbar 38, 2. Henry Clay 42, 3. Tates Creek 44, 4. Lafayette 117, 5. Bryan Station 133.
Top 20 boys—1. Alex Mortimer, Creek, 15:37.0; 2. Mikah Bailey, Dunbar, 16:22.1; 3. Austin Matthews, Dunbar, 16:35.0; 4. Matthew Inman, Dunbar, 16:50.7; 5. Parker Frame, Creek, 17:21.8; 6. Clay Ferguson, Dunbar, 17:29.2; 7. Logan Bradshaw, Dunbar, 17:32.6; 8. Adam Castleberry, Creek, 17:35.8; 9. Parker Terry, Creek, 17:37.5; 10. Cole Ralenkotter, Clay, 17:41.0; 11. David Swartzentruber, Dunbar, 17:43.8; 12. Noel Dingle, Creek, 17:47.8; 13. Evan Miller, Clay, 17:54.8; 14. Hunter Hawkins, Creek, 17:57.7; 15. Joshua Watkin, Lafayette, 18:13.2; 16. Kyle Bradshaw, Dunbar, 18:30.3; 17. Daniel Peter, Lafayette, 18:33.1; 18. Victor Allison, Clay, 18:33.4; 19. Ethan DeRossett, Lafayette, 18:35.3; 20. Ian Schaeffer, Clay, 18:37.1
Top 20 girls—1. Jenna Strange, Creek, 19:49.4; 2. Anne VandenBerg, Dunbar, 20:36.8; 3. Charlotte Kessinger, Clay, 21:24.1; 4. Maddy Jenkins, Dunbar, 21:33.0; 5. Emma Wells, Creek, 21:34.4; 6. Josie Cunningham, Clay, 21:51.0; 7. Lauren Hunt, Dunbar, 22:04.8; 8. Hope Reed, Clay, 22:12.2; 9. Carley Maskos, Creek, 22:15.2; 10. Alyssa Hallman, Dunbar, 22:52.3; 11. Gloria Pulley, Clay, 22:55.8; 12. Jordyn Hurley, Creek, 23:08.6; 13. Bridgett Bendar, Lafayette, 23:14.2; 14. Camryn Eggleston, Clay, 23:16.2; 15. Lynne Grace Wooden, Dunbar, 24:17.5; 16. Kelsey Siebenthaler, Dunbar, 24:55.6; 17. Destiny Davis, Creek, 25:19.6; 18. Elly Gardev, Dunbar, 25:23.9; 19. Gosha Krolikowska, Clay, 26:06.5; 20. Sara Perry, Lafayette, 26:10.6