LEXINGTON, Ky. – The bluegrass fields of the Kentucky Horse Park were dominated by Crimson on Saturday.
Manual High School’s cross country program dominated the KHSAA Cross Country State 3-A meet at the park. Not only did the Crimsons take both the boys’ and girls’ individual titles, but the girls team won its first state title in 10 years.
Tim Holman, who coaches both Manual squads, said the results came because of the toughness both squads showed throughout the season.
“That hard work and commitment on a day-to-day basis is what did this,” he said.
In one of the closest girls individual finishes ever in any class, Manual junior Alena Sapienza-Wright edged out Male junior Kaitlyn Lacy by less than a second; 83 hundredths of a second to be exact. Sapienza-Wright led Manual (113 points) to the girls’ title over last year’s champion Daviess County (125).
The boys individual title was also claimed by Manual as senior Yared Nuguse finally pulled away from Tates Creek senior Alex Mortimer for a seven-second win.
Lost in the boys individual dual was St. Xavier’s ninth team title under legendary coach Chuck Medley. The Tigers put all five scorers in the top 14 as they finished with 33 points, besting runner-up Trinity by more than 70 points. Eastern finished third, with Holman’s Crimsons earning fourth.
“It’s a great feeling because it’s a culmination of a lot of work for these guys,” Medley said. “We run almost every day and sometimes twice a day. And there’s other teams that work as hard as we do, but just to see those guys come along and mature and have their best race of the year at the state meet, it’s very satisfying to me.”
GIRLS RACE: The final race of the meet was billed as one of the toughest. The two top-rated runners – Lacy and Sapienza-Wright – had posted season best times less than three seconds apart. And Sacred Heart coach Rick Heim said any of the top seven teams in the competition had a chance to win.
It didn’t disappoint on either level as Sapienza-Wright, last year’s state champion, and Lacy, the four-time Region Three winner, added an exciting chapter to the budding but still friendly rivalry. The two runners, who used to attend the same elementary school and play on the same travel soccer team, stayed close throughout the 5,000-meter course, “just like we always do,” Lacy said.
“There’s never a moment that I’m like, ‘I have her,’ or ‘She has me,’” Lacy added. “The whole race, start to finish, is just whoever picks the right moment to go. That’s who gets it.”
Sapienza-Wright said her moment came in the back half of the course during a hilly stretch leading up the 2.5 mile marker. Another moment came later, as they drew toward the finish chute. Sapienza-Wright had a two-stride lead and fought to hold it to the finish as she said she felt the tension of the incredibly close finish.
“I had to pick it up, you know,” said Sapienza-Wright, who lost to Lacy last week by 44 seconds in last weekend’s regional meet. “I wasn’t just sprinting. I was doing something else other than sprinting. I’m not sure what I was doing.”
In the team competition, Oldham County finished third 28 points behind the Crimsons. Assumption, South Oldham, Male and Sacred Heart followed, with those four teams separated by just nine points. How balanced was this field? The top 10 runners came from 10 different schools, with Manual gaining an edge by having its next best runners place in the next two spots.
“It was wide open,” Holman said. “So we knew we were going to be in the mix, but this was not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination.”
BOYS RACE: Nuguse was shadowed for most of the race by Mortimer. And with half a mile to go, Mortimer was still stride for stride with him.
“I kind of figured it would be neck and neck between me and Alex for most of the race,” said Nuguse, who is leaning toward running in college for Notre Dame. “I thought I would be able to pull out in the last 800 (meters), but when I tried, Alex was still right there with me.”
That’s when Nuguse, a 3-A state track champion in the spring, turned to those instincts.
“It was the last 200 (meters), really, when I started pulling away a lot more,” Nuguse said. “I usually have something left over, but I try to run my hardest throughout the whole race. At the end, it seems like there is always something more to give. Sure, it hurts now, but it could hurt more. You just have to keep going.”
Mortimer broke up an All-Louisville bid at the top five. St. Xavier’s trio of junior Patrick Schaefer (third, 15:53.52), senior Ryan Guenthner (fourth, 15:58.29) and junior Cooper Marchal (fifth, 16:04.98) rounded out the top five.
Male junior Dylan Allen was ninth, Eastern junior Emerson Wells was 10th and Trinity sophomore Jack Baum was 11th.
Louisville-area squads dominated the team standings as well, as besides the four top teams Oldham County earned seventh place.
“We’ve got good coaching (in Louisville) and not that there’s not good coaching elsewhere in the state, but we have good coaching, good schools and dedicated coaches that really want to work with their kids,” Medley said of Louisville’s 3-A dominance. “That pays off.”