As expected, the Class 2-A, Region Three cross-country meet Saturday at McNeely Lake Park was the toughest region in Class 2-A, and one of the toughest in the entire state. Henry County’s Cassey Fischer and Eric Phillips escaped out.
Fischer led the girls’ race in the early stages with a quick opening burst before falling back to 17th place, covering the 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) course in 21 minutes, 49 seconds. Afterwards, Phillips used a more conservative start and passed stragglers in the later stages to finish 15th in the boys’ race in 18:27. Both will represent Henry at this Saturday’s State Meet at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Most of the runners in the two races were well off their personal-best times on the unseasonably warm day and on a hilly course. The top four teams in each race earned tickets to state, along with the top five individuals not on a qualifying team. Fischer and Phillips both grabbed the final qualifying spots in a region marked by the top five girls teams in Class 2-A and 11 of the top 19 individuals. The boys had three teams ranked in the top eight and eight individuals in the top 18.
“I think it is hard to convey just how competitive our region is compared to the others,” Henry coach Greg Woods said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses but the fact of the matter is Cassey’s time would have made her runner-up in three other regions and third in another. Seventeenth place in this region is very respectable. Eric’s time would have put him anywhere from fifth to eighth place in the other six regions. It just means we have to continue to work hard and get some new runners out, and maybe find another level of effort to take it to.”
Fischer had to miss two meets this season due to an injured toe and an illness, which sidetracked her training a little this fall, but the sophomore went to the lead from the start and pushed the pace through a quick opening mile. Christian Academy junior Jenna Rogers then took over the pacing duties and opened up a sizable gap on the rest of the field. Rogers eventually crossed the finish line in 19:24, ahead of South Oldham teammates Kami Orrender in 20:07 and Grace Whitworth in 20:16. Fischer entered the finish chute in 17th place. Her younger sister Cathryn, an eighth grader, finished 41st in 24:22.
With only two runners, Henry did not have a full five-person squad to get in the team standings. South Oldham put five runners in the top 11 and won the title with 26 points. Christian Academy was second with 65, North Oldham was third with 77 and Presentation was fourth with 96 as all four teams advanced to state. Spencer County, who was ranked fourth in Class 2-A coming into the meet and would have been the top team in every other region, missed out on a qualifying position with only four teams allowed to advance.
After the final girl crossed the finish line, the boys’ varsity field went to the start line to start its 5K tour around McNeely Lake. Central’s Risik Lado won the race in 16:52, South Oldham’s Jason Berry was second in 16:57 and North Oldham’s Justin Roenigk was third in 17:19. Lado and teammate Haile Jemane broke out to a lead with a quick surge midway through the race but Jemane, who finished sixth, slipped as he ascended the final hill.
Meanwhile, Phillips worked his way into a top-20 spot and used a final burst to pass a few runners down the final stretch. The junior, in his first year running cross-country, finished 15th in the highly-competitive region to grab an elusive qualifying spot. Also for Henry, Hayden Hughes finished 36th in 20:52, Travis Farmer finished 40th in 21:30, Matt Petree finished 44th in 22:19, Randy Moore finished 51st in 23:37, Ethan Smith finished 62nd in 25:23 and Austin Payton finished 65th in 25:32.
“I felt like the kids ran hard and gave a good effort,” Woods said. “Times were a little off for almost everyone.”
Woods said he was most impressed with the performance from Moore, who joined the team late in the season, has practiced and raced on an injured ankle a majority of the time and capped off his short career with a gutsy performance. He also fell to the ground and was spiked during the race.
“I was very appreciative of the effort given by Randy,” Woods said of the senior. “He had a very sore ankle and gutted it out and completed the race. I thought that took a lot of courage.”
The Wildcats finished seventh in the team results with 165 points. South Oldham won the title with 42 points, North Oldham was second with 51 points, Christian Academy was third with 81 points and Bullitt East was fourth with 133 points as all four advanced to the state meet.
While the season is over for the rest of the Henry County distance runners, Cassey Fischer and Phillips race at state this Saturday on a new course. This will be Phillips first state meet, while Fischer qualified as a seventh grader and freshman. She finished 16th last fall.
“I’m not sure what to expect at state this year,” Woods said. “For Cassey and Eric, this week at state is about competing and finishing as high as possible.”
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