O'Shea and Watts Tops in Class AAA State

The races at the 2020 KHSAA State Cross Country Championships brought a new aura to the event with a different venue and a set up like no other state meet. The Bourbon County Cross Country Course hosted the championships, which had been held at the Kentucky Horse Park for the last 40 years. To add to the newness, a waved start format added an additional level of interest to the races. The COVID-19 protocols made for some of these changes and the teams adjusted.

Coming into the Class AAA boy's championship, there was a lot of conversation around the waves and the impact that would have on the race. Many of the top runners in the state were in the first wave, but there were notable exceptions. Jackson Watts had the top mark prior to the state meet and he was in wave 2 and Chase Atkins and Jimmy Mullarkey were in the third wave. How would this impact the overall race and would that add to the drama of the final results? The short answer was YES!

Brady Masters, junior from Madison Central, came out and won wave one handily with a 15:42.23, which was 8 second faster than the second place finisher in the first wave in Nolan Hester of St. Xavier. The time looked good and was certainly what you would ask Brady to go out and run to win a state championship. As wave two started to come in, Jackson Watts looked strong into the finish. As he crossed, no one really knew his time (other than the timers). Many around the finish line had clocked him about 3 second faster than Masters' time of 15:42. When the results went final, Watts, a senior from Madisonville-North Hopkins, had clipped Masters by a mere 0.4 seconds as his finish time was 15:41.83 to win a state title.

A small side story to the Class AAA boys race involves senior Will Cahill from Lafayette. He placed fourth in the state meet after a mid-season battle with COVID-19. His season had some ups and downs with but times stayed steady. He ran a 16:28 on the Class AAA Regional course in early October and then improved his time to a 16:03 just two weeks later. He then went out against the best in Class AAA and placed fourth in the state with a 16:04. (Yes, I did speak with his parents to ensure it was ok to share this story. In this crazy time, I felt like we all needed a feel good story about a young man who stepped up to the challenge.)

The team race was never in doubt. St. Xavier came into the race as the unanimous pick amongst the editors. They impressed with a team score of 93 to Conner's runner-up finish with 116. This was not the dominant scores the Tigers were putting up about 5 years ago, but it did the job. Led by three seniors in their scoring squad, Nolan Hester, Joshua Striegel, and Ryan Burchett, St. Xavier brought home yet another state championship. The Conner men placed second and impressively had a 1 to 5 runner split of only 26 seconds! Think about that, they had an average time of 17:07 among their scorers (which was the same average as third place Trinity) and the split was 26 seconds from the time their first runner crossed to their fifth runner (while Trinity had a spread of 1:37).

It was time for the Class AAA girls to take the field. Coming into the race, defending champion Ciara O'Shea was poised for another title. She had lost a race to Jessica Secor in the weeks leading up to region in a wave start format (Ciara in one wave and Jessica in another), but had never really shown a weakness in her head to head racing. She answered the call on the Bourbon County Cross Country Course. She cleared the field by 42 seconds. Her race was smooth and continued her legacy of one of the most dominant runners in Kentucky high School girl's cross country (she is only a SOPHOMORE). In the runner-up position was Oldham County freshman Tula Fawbush. She came onto the scene strong early in the season and has led the Colonels all season. The youth continued with the third place position with a SEVENTH grader from Woodford County in Addison Moore

The team race held the same pattern it has for the last two season. Oldham County took home their third title in as many years. All five scorers were in the top 20 finishers and they ended with a team score of 58 points to Assumption's score of 134. To add insult to injury for the rest of the state, the Oldham County squad graduates two seniors from this dominant crew. They are not going anywhere anytime soon.