One of the fastest and deepest races in the state every year takes place at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park under the title of the Trinity/Valykerie Invitational this weekend. Last year was no different, as the contingent from Carmel (IN), that would go on to narrowly miss qualifying for NXN on both sides at the Midwest Regional, claimed both the boys and girls team titles over several of Kentucky’s best teams and some strong competition from both Indiana and Ohio as well. This year, Carmel returns to defend those titles with yet another strong group on both sides, but will be up against some of the strongest competition that the state of Kentucky has produced in several years.
On the girls’ side, Carmel enters as the #1 ranked team in the entire state of Indiana and has looked sharp so far. Dealing with some injuries at their state preview meet held on the championship course at Indiana State University, the Greyhounds ran without their top two runners and still placed an impressive second amongst a very high level of competition. They still put four athletes under 20 minutes and two more under 20:30 as they matched up very well on a tough course. Overall on the year, the girls squad has seven different athletes who have been under 20 minutes and on a course that tends to move quickly like the one at Tom Sawyer, they may be able to do that with all seven in one meet this weekend. Last year, their top five were across the line by the time the clock ticked 19:08, so we’ll have to see if lightning can strike the same place twice.
Oak Ridge (TN) also comes in with a strong group and great heritage. Last year’s runner-up in Tennessee’s Division 1 Class AAA meet, returns runners 3-7 from that team and will open the season up here. They have been first or second at the state championships the last three years and clearly understand how to put together great teams consistently. Also, look for the squad from McAuley High School in Cincinnati to be a competitive group as there is a great amount of respect for the workings of their coach Ron Russo and the incredible groups he has coached at Colerain HS (OH) in the past.
duPont Manual’s girls enter as the leaders in-state following two impressive performances that combine to make them look very strong. Front runners Cassidy Hale and Elizabeth Anderson have been tremendous early on this year and they are strong through eight runners. The ladies from Assumption, though, have not been too shabby themselves. With Ashley El Rady turning heads with her performance early this season, the fast improvement of Caroline McCaslin, and Sara Davis and Allison Riedling giving balance to the squad, they are a strong 5th away from warranting some being great. Don’t think that the squad from St. Henry is going to move over for these two teams to shine, though, as they have been the most consistent group in the state, thus far, narrowly losing to the aforementioned squads without the services of now competing Maria Frigo, the team's #1 runner last season. This will be another chance for St. Henry to show how impressive their squad is this season.
Individually, the top four runners from last years race are back and should make for a tight group up front. Carmel returns last year’s champion Renee Wellman and 4th-place finisher Alex Chitwood, both of whom ran under 18:20 in the race last season. Both look just as sharp as last season up to this point and will count on good conditions to allow them to get their times down low again this year. Emma Brink of Sacred Heart has been the dominant runner in Kentucky thus far, so she will be looking to avenge her second place finish to Wellman from last year, and looks ready to drop a scorching time. Kaitlin Snapp of Danville is coming in with question marks surrounding her, though, as her injury-shortened track season has left people wondering if she is back in shape to match, or better, her third place showing here last year. She has been very impressive in two races so far, but without any real competition to this point in her season, this will be her first chance to compete with other runners at her level.
Other runners to watch for would be upstart Cassidy Hale of duPont Manual, whose quick progression has surprised many in Kentucky, as well as her teammate Elizabeth Anderson, who looked very strong in her first race of the year. Assumption’s leading trio of Ashley El Rady, Sara Davis, and Allison Riedling should all be in the race up front as Davis and Riedling placed 11th and 10th here last year, respectively, and El Rady has been, at the very least, their equal thus far in the season. Caterina Karas of Shelby County, Sarah Bennett of Carmel, and Lacey Orth round out the last of the returners who finished in the top 15 overall at last year’s race, and should be competing near the front as well.
The boys’ team race looks to be Carmel’s to lose in many people’s minds as they are nationally-ranked, sitting at 40th in the ESPN-Rise National rankings, while they are ranked 4th in the state of Indiana after several very strong performances. They dominated this race last year, but lost four seniors from the group that missed qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals by just four points. Back this year, with hopes of repeating, are last year's 4th place finisher Chris Walden and 17th place finisher Tom Ohlman who have looked great so far this season. Walden has already been 15:38 on the Indiana State meet course, while Ohlman has been 15:47 early this season as well. The group brings in two more athletes that have run under 16:20 already this year in Dan Porter and Griffin Brunk, and overall they placed 10 athletes under 17 minutes on the State Meet course just two weeks ago. They should be ready to go as the regular season in Indiana is halfway finished at this point and teams are starting to really figure things out up there.
North Harrison (IN) also comes in looking very strong, with frontrunner Tyler Byrne being the main catalyst. Though not as strong teamwise as Carmel, this group has been impressive in their own right warranting the squad a slot at #10 in the Indiana team rankings. Racing against two of the top three teams in the state last weekend, North Harrison started off with a nice win by Byrne and then slotted their next three runners between 16:20 and 16:30. They look weak at number five right now, but with a top four that can drop low numbers, they should do very well in a meet like this.
Oak Ridge (TN) should also be an out-of-state team to watch for in this race. They have been a power in Tennessee for several years, winning three straight titles in the largest class in Tennessee before taking third last fall. They bring back their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th runners from that group and will be opening up their season here. Look for their group to get in and try to compete near the front as the race gets going this weekend.
St. Xavier (KY) is looking very good this year and actually enters as the top-ranked team in the Southeast Region by many at this point. They have dealt with several injuries in the last few months, but still appear to be ready for action this weekend with their #1 Jackson Carnes getting healthy again and their current #2 Matt Hillenbrand coming off a nice win at the Rumble Through the Jungle last weekend. Their top five runners have all been under 17 minutes thus far this season and could be even stronger with Thomas Mann, last season’s #2 runner, slowly working back into shape after a prolonged injury over the summer months. The will be facing their first big test this weekend as they try to understand where they match-up with some very strong out-of-state competition.
Kentuncky’s 5th-ranked team, Greenwood, brings in a trio of athletes that could make things interesting up front, and their fast-improving team will also be something to look for this weekend. Returning Trinity Invitational (and state) champion, Ryan Eaton leads the way for this squad, but Austin Houchens and Jared Skrabacz have been very impressive in their own right early this season. Also, the Butler Bears enter as the 2nd-ranked team in the state to this point, but without their #2 runner David Bruce for 4-6 weeks, this squad will be looking to have a competitive showing and get their #1 Darius Berry up front to see what he can do.
Apollo and Trinity will also be mixing it up this weekend and each brings in high hopes, but also has questions to answer before they can get to the next level. Apollo has frontrunner Justin House, who looked very strong in an impressive victory last weekend at the Owensboro Invitational, as well as Jon Gleason and Evan Bridges to support the group. Trinity has their own frontrunner in Jake Wildenmann, along with a host of others in supporting roles that pack well together. It will be interesting to see how these two squads look in their first 5k match-up of the year as they are ranked #6 and #7 overall in Kentucky.
Individually, Eaton returns as last year’s champion, but Tyler Byrne of North Harrison (IN) has looked very strong in several races early this season. Chris Walden of Carmel is the second fastest returner after placing fourth here last year and Justin House of Apollo, 6th last year, both have looked like they are ready to hang with the leaders up front. Jackson Carnes of St. Xavier has only raced once thus far this season, but it was an impressive victory so don’t count him out of the running yet.
Other top returners include Stacey Eden of Shelby County (has dealt with injury problems and hasn’t looked 100%), Jake Wildenmann of Trinity, Tom Ohlman of Carmel, Thomas Mann of St. Xavier (recovering from injury), and Taylor Story of Heritage Christian (IN).
The races are always a great chance for the athletes to put down a fast time and match-up with several teams from across the state and the Midwest. It should be another action-packed meet and, so long as no more natural disasters derail anything at this point, it is sure to be an incredible event to watch.
See you Saturday!