The rolling hills of the Marshall County Invitational welcomed runners to a challenging course and a meet packed with excellent competition. Cloud cover in the early morning did not last long, making way for full sun and warm temperatures. This was not just another meet on the schedule. For several runners this was a preview of the course that they will be competing at for regionals this year.
The morning began with the elementary 1600 meter run. The hills seemed daunting for some of the young runners, but enthusiasm filled the air at the starting line. East Calloway provided the girl’s winner, Noby Wilson who finished in a time of 7:32.12. The boy’s winner was Jackson Watts finished in 6:28.81, running for Madisonville North Hopkins. Both first place finishers represented the winning teams for the race. East Calloway won for the girls, Madisonville North Hopkins for the boys.
First place for the middle school girls JV 4k was won by Marshall County’s Spring Dolbee, a seventh grader. Dolbee completed the 4k in 17:17.00. The second place finisher was Alexis Tri, a sixth grader from Fort Campbell Middle School. Tri took second with a time of 17:49.80. Finishing in third was seventh grader Maddie Barnum from Jackson Junior High, finishing with a time of 18:16.40.
Marshall County’s Middle School girls won with a team score of 23. Jackson Junior High came in second as a team with a score of 53.
The middle school boy’s JV 4k also featured a strong first place finisher. Wes Grogan, a sixth grader representing McCracken County had a commanding finish, winning first with a time of 14:49.80. Marshall County provided the second place finisher Eli English, an eighth grader. English, crossed at 15:18.50, taking second. Marshall Thompson from Calloway County came in at 15:47.60 for third place.
Marshall County’s Middle School boys won with a team score of 20. McCracken County was not far behind in second place with a score of 43.
The girls high school 5k provided for competitions at all levels. Through the race, over the many hills that make up the course, runners pushed themselves and those around them. True strength was shown with each hill that was climbed and conquered.
Paducah Tilghman’s Aleja Grant, a junior, did not disappoint spectators on the challenging rolling hills that the course has to offer. Getting a swift start, Grant quickly pulled ahead of her competitors.
Amazing numerous spectators from the start, the question arose of how Grant is able to achieve such fast times with virtually no other runners pushing her.
“My training, my coach trains me well,” said Grant, adding that her mom and God are also major factors.
Those standing on the sidelines also play a role in her success.
“I push myself, with help from the crowd. It is nice to hear people yelling no matter what school they are from. It is what makes cross country such a loving sport.”
Cheers from the crowd helped push her through the first mile rather quickly. She crossed the one mile mark in 5:40. Being critical of her run, Grant would later say that this was about ten seconds ahead of where her coach wanted her to be
The next runner to reach the first mile behind Grant was a sophomore from Missouri’s Jackson High School, Chelsea Drum.
Grant was noticeably ahead of the next runner when she reached the second mile mark. The clock was at 11:43 as she passed. Grant slowed through her third mile, yet managed to sprint the uphill home stretch to cross the finish in a time of 18:53.70.
Despite her powerful finish and top time, Grant was quick to analyze the race.
“I messed up a little on pacing,” said Grant. “I ran my second mile in 6:06 and the last mile in 7:11. My last mile should have been faster. I plan to work on my last mile in practice, getting it faster, focusing on sprinting.”
Drum from Jackson crossed nearly a minute and a half behind Grant, taking home second with a time of 20:17.20. Rachel Keeley, a senior from Owensboro High School, completed the top three with a time of 20:37.20.
Both Drum and Keeley helped their teams place in the top three for team scores. Jackson High School won with a team score of 42. Owensboro placed second with a score of 61. Fort Campbell squeezed into third place with a score of 131. It was note worthy to notice that the team scores of third, fourth and fifth were each one point apart.
The battle for first place was slightly closer in the boys high school 5k. Two long time rivals and friends left the starting line, made their way ahead of the pack to run a within a step of each other. These two young men were Iszack Whitsell a senior from Webster County and Logan Hurd a senior from Christian County.
Together they made their way along the first part of the course, the two loops around the start and finish line that contains the first mile mark. Together they ran their first mile in 5:12.
They stayed together for nearly the first mile and a quarter of the race. It was at this point Whitsell decided that he was going to surge ahead and give his competition everything they wanted.
“I go to the front,” said Whitsell. “I’m not the kind of runner to stay back and come from behind at the last minute. I don’t hide, I like to try and be a leader.”
It was his race from then.
Running alone, Whitsell passed the two mile mark at 10:30. Never being challenged again, he kept giving it his all. Taking the uphill finish strong, crossed the finish to win with a time of 16:52.23. Not too far behind was Hurd, completing his run in 17:11.75 to finish second.
Jackson High School took a close third and fourth place with senior Gabe Underwood and junior Jack Jeffers being separated by a little over a second. Underwood finished in 17:29.78 with Jeffers following closely behind with a time of 17:30.69.
Whitsell said that coming into the meet; he did not expect to win.
“Anyone can win,” said Whitsell. “I only worry about myself. I came in and gave it everything.”
As regionals loom ever closer, Whitsell was thinking ahead. His personal goals are to break into the 15’s and bring home another individual regional win. Whitsell won his freshman and sophomore years, but placed second last year.
Discussing the top teams Whitsell noted that Daviess County boys are always near the top.
His coach Todd Whitsell added that Calloway County is close.
“We saw many of the teams that we will compete against at regionals today,” said coach Whitsell “We know the bulls eye is on us. We have a game plan.”
Jackson High School also took home first place as a team in the high school boy’s 5k with a score of 41. Madisonville-North Hopkins came in second with a team score of 80. Webster County followed rounded out the top three with a score of 121.
While Marshall County’s course can be intimidating, it also tends to show strengths and weaknesses. It is an excellent meet to gauge a runner’s mid-season standing, definitely not a course to fear. Iszack Whitsell put it best when he said, “it is just another day out running.”