Now that the Cooper boys’ cross country team has won the Class 3A regional championship for the third year in a row, the Jaguars have their sights set on a bigger prize this weekend at the KHSAA state meet in Lexington.
Cooper has an opportunity to pull off a first both team-wise and individually at Saturday’s 2:15 p.m. Class 3A 5-kilometer race at Kentucky Horse Park, with a chance to provide a historic full-circle moment for its coach. Additionally, local individuals have the opportunity to accomplish a sweeping first.
A Northern Kentucky boys’ cross country team has never won a Class 3A title. The last local 3A individual champion was in 1990 with Boone County junior Eric Van Laningham, Cooper’s head coach.
“I feel strongly that we’ll be in the mix,” Van Laningham said of his fast-moving Jaguars. “Zachary Stewart has a chance to be the first Class 3A individual winner from the area in a long time. He’s the top-ranked runner in the class. Connor Greenhalgh is running well, and you can never count out Brady Baker.”
At this past Saturday’s Class 3A regional race at Idlewild Park in Burlington, Stewart, runner-up Connor Greenhalgh, defending champion Mitchell Greenhalgh and Baker swept the top four spots. The Jaguars totaled 19 points and beat team runner-up Ryle (67) and third-place Conner (94).
Stewart won with a finishing time of 16 minutes and 50.82 seconds. That was just .26 seconds faster than the first Greenhalgh brother, and 1.07 seconds faster than fourth-place Brady, the back-to-back regional champ in 2011-12. Ryle’s Justin Reed was the first non-Cooper runner across the finishing line Saturday, in fifth.
“It wasn’t really a spectacular meet. For us, it was a final hurdle toward our big goal,” Van Laningham said. “When I became the head coach in our first year in 2008, I wanted to build a state champion, and we have a chance to do that.”
Northern Kentucky has a chance to rush the top of the state’s individual podiums. Ethan Shuley, Saturday’s Class 2A regional individual champion for team winner Highlands, and Villa Madonna’s Eric Baugh, the Class A individual winner, are favored in their respective state races this weekend. Baugh is the top runner in Kentucky, according to kytrackxc.com. Shuley is No. 2, just ahead of Cooper’s Stewart.
There have been 14 local cross country individual state champions. Not only have area runners failed to sweep all three class championships in the same year, there’s never been two. The last Class A individual champ from Northern Kentucky was Walton-Verona’s Trevin Petersen in 2009. The last local Class 2A champ was Pendleton County’s Dennis Hutchison in 1992. It’s been 24 years since Van Laningham won the Class 3A title for Boone County.
If the Jaguars bring home the area’s first Class 3A team crown and produce the big-school individual champion, they’d be the first to claim both since Louisville St. Xavier and Connor Sheryak did it in 2011. St. Xavier is three-time defending champion with a Kentucky record 20 titles overall.
Cooper, third last year at state, 108 points behind St. Xavier, finished only one point behind St. Xavier in the big-school competition at the Lexington Catholic Invitational. “I already know how we stack up with St. Xavier, and I feel confident in my runners, especially the top four,” Van Laningham said. “It’s all going to depend on how our fifth runner does.”
The important job of putting together a fast-finishing fifth for the Jaguars falls to the trio of Jake Vandermosten, Caleb Watson and Michael Hoffman. Vandermosten was ninth at the regional in 17:28.35.
Saturday’s girls’ Class 3A state race begins at 1:30 p.m. The Simon Kenton duo of Sophia Delisio (19:50.79) and Mckenzie Lachmann (19:57.43) placed 1-2 at the regional, leading the Pioneers to team and individual firsts for the first time in more than 20 years. Also at the Class 3A regional, Megan Kelter was third individually for Cooper, which was third as a team. Ryle, led by fifth-place Jensen Bales, placed second in the girls’ team standings.
CLASS 2A: Highlands has momentum for state after taking both the Class 2A boys’ and girls’ regional crowns at Idlewild. The boys (24 points) placed four runners in the top six at the regional, led by Shuley and runner-up Matthew Gray. Runner-up Covington Catholic (61) was led by seventh-place Matt Rose. Molly Mearns led the Highlands girls (34) with a runner-up finish. The Bluebirds placed five of the top 12 individuals at the regional.
CLASS A: For the Bishop Brossart boys, led by regional runner-up Chris Loos, it’s two down one to go in their attempt to repeat as conference, regional and state champions. The Mustangs (27 points) won the region for the second straight year over St. Henry (64), led by third-place Josh Hannon. The St. Henry girls swept the top five spots while repeating as regional champs, and seek their fourth state crown in a row. The Crusaders are led by Sam Hentz, who won her third straight regional title. Saturday’s Class A girls’ race at 9:30 a.m. kicks off the state events.