The Letcher County Central Cougars were as hot as the unseasonably warm temperatures at the Chuck Vitatoe Invitational on October 5, as the Cougars and Lady Cougars claimed both varsity titles at the event hosted by Harlan County High School.
Top runners in both Region 7 Class AA and Class AAA took to the course in Boys Varsity, led out of the gate by Whitley County’s Dalton Walden. He pulled away from the pack early, running the first leg of the race in 7:02. The Letcher County duo of Chase Cates and Trevor Wayne crested Harlan County’s “big hill” right behind Walden at 7:23 and 7:30. Corey Hornsby of the host
Black Bears was next but was passed at the bottom of the hill by a pair of Bell County runners, Austin Shackleford and Mitchell Miracle.
Shackleford pulled close to the top three but was overtaken by his teammates Miracle and Donovan Napier, with Hornsby holding steady.
Walden glided to a 17:44 time to place first. Cates next at 18:34, beating his previous season-high from the Franklin County Invitational earlier in the season. Miracle made a strong charge at the finish line, but Letcher’s Wayne nudged ahead, 18:51.06 to 18:51.37. Hornsby followed at 19:11, followed by Bell’s Napier (19:17) and Shackleford (19:21).
As a team, Letcher Central led the way with 40 points. Slots two through three were separated by only 3 points. Bell took second in a tiebreaker with Whitley at 56 points, and Harlan County finished fourth with 59.
The name “Brown” is quite familiar in Eastern Kentucky XC circles, and Bell County’s Kelly Brown lived up to the name with her performance at the Chuck V. Invite. Brown was initially chased by Perry Central’s Dakota Shepherd, who was on fire in the first leg of the race, but Shepherd fell back in the pack after the first mile. A pair of Letcher Central Lady Cougars, Ally Damron and Leanna Bryant, gave it the good fight early on, but Brown kicked it and ended up finishing with a time of 21:33, two minutes ahead of her closest competitor. Harlan County’s Kaitlyn Stittums, in her first year of Cross Country, hung tough and eventually passed her rivals from LCC for a second place finish (23:47) on her home course.
After Stittums, it was a Cougar fight with Damron, Bryant, and Keisha Balthis taking the next three places at 24:03, 24:36, and 25:04 respectively. Aside from Brown from Bell, Letcher Central and the host Lady Bears dominated the top ten.
Letcher nipped Harlan County by one point, 28 to 29, to take the title. Perry Central finished third.
Letcher Central took individual Junior Varsity titles, with Luke Potter winning on the boys’ side at 22:38 and Casey Trout pacing the girls’ field at 28:19.
Skylar Yonts of Letcher took second in the boys’ race at 22:43, while Bell County’s Sydney Miracle was runner-up on the girls side at 31:03.
MIDDLE SCHOOL & ELEMENTARY
Jared Wilson of Whitley County emerged victorious in the Boys Middle School 3K at 11:46, while Lady Bear Grayson Raleigh (16:19) won on her home course for the girls’ title. On the Elementary side, Bell County boys nudged Harlan Independent in a tie-breaker, with Bell’s Isaac Eldridge taking the individual title. There were no full girls’ elementary teams, but Bailey Kincer placed first for individual honors.
The event is named in honor of the father of Harlan County coach Ryan Vitatoe.
“My father always said ‘whatever you do in life, choose to be the best at it,’” he said. “I’m glad we can pass on his wisdom to these young people today.”