The Harlan County High School cross country team closed the regular season at home in dominant fashion Saturday, sweeping the team titles in the Area 9 Championship Meet.
“I’m very proud of all these kids,” Harlan County coach Ryan Vitatoe said. “It was a great way to wrap up the regular season. From the elementary to varsity, it was a fantastic day.”
The Black Bears rolled to a 20-point win over Leslie County in a small field in the boys varsity race as James Dean (18:46.15) and Alex Lewis (19:09.59) took the top two spots. Dalton Shepherd (19:43.22) finished fourth, followed by Josh Lee (sixth, 20:05.06), Cody Howard (eighth, 20:28.31), Zach Hunting (ninth, 20:33.18) and Zack Carmical (11th, 21:03.02). The win gave the Bears their second straight Area 9 title.
Harlan County’s girls squad fielded the only full team in their race, and all seven girls posted top-10 finishes to win their fifth straight Area 9 championship. Junior Allison Cornett won the race for the second consecutive year, finishing with a time of 23:12.88. She was followed by Phebe McHargue (second, 23:22.59), Breezy Epperson (fourth, 24:28.56), Katie Graham (fifth, 24:50.25), Emma Day (sixth, 25:13.59), Taylor Rowe (eighth, 25:43.50) and Jordan Blevins (ninth, 26:07.97).
Harlan County’s elementary boys team also won as a team, defeating second-place Cordia by 18 points. Daniel Joseph was the individual winner with a time of 8:59.50, followed by Cooper McHargue at 9:17.44. Rounding out Harlan County’s results were Bryan Howard (fifth, 9:49.88), Justin Moyers (seventh, 10:05.09), Junior Sanchez (eighth, 10:27.56), Austin Crain (10th, 10:58.44) and Lucas Epperson (14th, 13:27.03). Harlan’s Tristan West finished fourth with a time of 9:44.75.
Haylee Couch was the lone girls’ participant for Harlan County, finishing sixth with a time of 12:29.75. Cordia, the only full team participating, won the girls race behind strong showings by Mallory Combs (9:17.87), Kennedi Combs (11:45.50) and Haleigh Gayhart (11:48.56).
The junior varsity race was essentially the Harlan County show as the Bears fielded 13 of the 14 runners in the event. Amber Allen (27:46.59) was the girls winner, followed by Katelyn Hensley (28:07.91), Grace Dean (28:40.12), Janice Dean (31:12.18), Iris Sanchez (31:24.66), Madison Blanton (31:29.50) and Laura Creech (32:51.12). Seth Sanders (20:50.91) was the boys champion, followed by A.J. Hall (22:59.44), Nick Blair (24:15.88), Austin Adams (25:12.91), Andrew Crawford (25:22.56), Middlesboro’s Andrew Padgett (25:44.38) and Harlan County’s Jose Roque (26:45.53).
Ulysses Roque was the boys middle school winner with a time of 12:05.69. Sean Cooper (12:22.25) placed third, and Shane Kelly (14:04.72) finished seventh. Harlan’s Story Miller finished fourth with a time of 12:48.91.
“I’m very proud all our elementary, middle school and JV runners. They work incredibly hard all year without getting the type of coverage the varsity kids get,” Vitatoe said. “It’s exciting to see how bright the future of the program is. We have lots of very gifted younger kids who will be contributing to the program down the road.”
In previously unreported action, Harlan County’s boys cruised to a 61-point victory in a varsity race Thursday at the Morgan County All-Comers Meet.
James Dean placed second overall with a time of 18:41.00. Alex Lewis (19:23.97) and Dalton Shepherd (19:30.50) came in eighth and ninth, respectively. Rounding out Harlan County’s results were Josh Lee (15th, 20:14.87), Cody Howard (16th, 20:18.06), Zach Hunting (17th, 20:22.62), Seth Sanders (19th, 20:34.94) and Zack Carmical (22nd, 20:44.68).
Wolfe County’s Nathan Landsaw was the individual winner with a time of 18:32.22. Johnson Central finished second.
On the girls side, Allison Cornett finished seventh with a time of 23:39.87. Rounding out Harlan County’s results were Taylor Rowe (12th, 24:46.47), Amber Allen (26th, 26:51.00) and Katelyn Hensley (32nd, 28:04.06). Harlan County rested most of the girls varsity squad.
The Bears have a two-week break before returning to action in the Class 2A Region 7 Championships, slated for Oct. 31 at Morgan County. With four championship trophies under their belt on either side, the Bears are the favorites to win both competitions at the regional level but will face stiff challenges on both sides.
“Our varsity teams seem to be coming together at the right time,” Vitatoe said. “We have an incredible challenge ahead of us against some high quality opponents in our regional meet. We will have to continue to work hard and work together.”