Fellow competitors weren’t the only obstacle high school runners from around Kentucky had to face on Saturday.
More than 2,000 students battled it out in the KHSAA state cross country championships at the Kentucky Horse Park, braving frigid temperatures and steady wind as they maneuvered through the 5-kilometer course.
Around 9:30 a.m. when the starting pistol signaled the beginning of the day’s first race, the girls’ Class 1A championship, a heavy sheet of frost covered the ground as temperatures lingered in the low 30s. By the time the last race of the day went off about five hours later, the thermometer had crept up around a balmy 50 degrees.
Neither the atmospheric conditions nor the human competition were a match for Lexington Christian Academy’s Anna Rupp. The sophomore breezed to her second straight girls’ 1A championship with a time of 18:58.46, more than 40 seconds ahead of runner-up Hailie LaMar of Hancock County. Rupp bested her winning time from last year by four seconds.
“I’m just really grateful to my coaches and my family for being so supportive. I’ve had a lot of really good instruction, and I feel like I’ve improved a lot over the last year,” Rupp said.
Rupp’s concerns over the weather quickly faded once the race got underway.
“I was worried when I took all my sweats off because I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really cold and I’m worried I’m going to tighten up,’” she said. “But once I started running I loosened right back up and I started feeling warmer and warmer. At one point I even got too hot, so the cold wasn’t a problem for long.”
Rupp took the advice of LCA Coach Tom Stickel and decided to bide her time early in the race, sticking with a group of runners near the front of the pack and suppressing the urge to push to an early lead.
“Coach told me to go with whoever wants to run in the front and hang with them for a while. Don’t fire off all at once,” Rupp said. “At about a half mile I didn’t know if I was ready to take the lead or not, but I knew I felt good. That’s when I started to pick up the pace and started to build a little lead.”
Rupp vaulted LCA to a third-place finish in the team competition. The Eagles placed three runners in the top 30, including sophomore Tia Alchureiqi, who finished No. 17. Louisville Collegiate won the team competition, edging out defending champ Bishop Brossart.
Louisville Holy Cross junior DK Schnieders won the boys’ 1A title. Two of his teammates also finished in the top seven as the Cougars breezed to their third consecutive title.
LCA’s Connor Hayes finished second, one spot better than his result in last year’s competition. Hayes, a 6-foot-4 junior, had to deal with a rather unique circumstance in the span between those state championship runs.
“I grew six inches in a year, that made a big difference,” Hayes said. “That was something I had to get used to. I kind of had to relearn some things because my knees would hurt and that bummed me out … But this summer I won’t have to restart to get back to where I am. And next year is gonna be really good.”
Lafayette sophomore Anaya Brown’s sixth-place finish was the best among runners from Lexington schools in the Class 3A championship. Brown bested her time in last year’s race, in which she finished No. 17, by nearly a minute.
Asked how she felt about finishing sixth, Brown said, “I feel great about it. And I worked my butt off for it. I worked out a lot and did what I was supposed to and it paid off at the end. I credit my team for motivating me and pushing me to get better.”
The Generals also finished sixth in the team competition. Oldham County made it back-to-back 3A titles, as four Colonels placed in the top 13. Trinity edged St. Xavier to repeat as boys’ 3A champs.
It wasn’t just a sweep for Madison Central runners in the individual title portion of the 3A competition, it was a sweep for a single household.
Freshman Ciara O’Shea successfully defended her title, shaving 12 seconds off the championship time she posted as an eighth-grader and outpacing runner-up Jessica Secor of Manual by 50 seconds. Her brother, senior Conner O’Shea, won the boys’ 3A title, besting teammate Brady Masters by 12 seconds.
“It feels amazing that we both did it,” Ciara O’Shea said. “We both just always want to be first and we push each other. We’re going to go home and celebrate by handing out (Halloween) candy.”
Madison Central finished 18th in the girls’ team standings and fourth in the boys’.
Addi Dewey, a sophomore from Christian Academy of Louisville, won the girls’ 2A title one year after finishing second. Buffered by a third-place finish by eighth-grader Maddie Strong, Scott High School won its second straight team title.
On the boys’ side, last year’s runner-up also vaulted to first. Taylor County senior Ryan Maynard crossed the finish line six seconds ahead of Bell County’s Caden Miracle.
Bolstered by a fourth-place finish by Sean Simons, Corbin won the boys’ 2A team title.