Ella Johnson's first competition at the Hardin County Fairgrounds couldn't have gone much better.
The Elizabethtown senior last year won the KHSAA Region 2 Class 2A meet, crossing the line more than a minute faster than the next-best finisher. She'll look to replicate that showing against a stiff field in the CHHS Fairgrounds Frenzy on Saturday.
Last season was Johnson's first as a Kentuckian. A Virginia transplant from a military family, she has taken quickly to racing in the commonwealth. The regional was her third straight win prior to a third-place showing at the KHSAA Class 2A state meet. She set a PR - 18:18.02 - and finished second at the Central Kentucky Run for the Gold to open her 2022 campaign, and followed that up with another second-place run in the Bourbon County Colonel Charge (18:50.19). In both races, she was the runner-up to girls who compete at the 3A level (Madison Central's Ciara O'Shea and Dupont Manual's Jessica Secor, respectively)."I knew coming here would be a challenge to get to know the runners around me and know who I had to stick to," Johnson told the News-Enterprise last year.
Johnson's seed time this week is nearly 30 seconds faster than that of Abby Overbay (South Warren, 18:46.20). Overbay owns the fastest time on the course, set in last year's Class 3A regional (19:03.75). Ohio County's Morgan Kobylinski (18:47.91) and a pair of Barren County contenders - Chesney McPherson (18:49.92) and Gracie Reed (18:50.99) - offer career marks in the same neighborhood. If the top five seeds are all in accord on Saturday, it could make for a sneaky-good race down in the big 'E.' Kobylinski, a sophomore, won last year's edition with a time of 19:15.42.
Five other girls entered into the race with sub-20 minute marks. LaRue County's Isabella Day is sixth on the seed list (19:12.90) while South Warren has the next three in Megan Kitchens (19:27.74), Taylor Brown (19:27.94) and Ryleigh Johnson (19:44.51). E-town's Emma Musgrave (19:59.90) rounds out the top 10.
Seven of last year's top 10 runners are entered into the boys' competition.
That includes the four fastest: Gabe Russell (North Hardin), Mikie Carnell (Meade County), Peyton Nash (Grayson County) and Duke Wilson (Meade County). Russell took last year's race with a time of 16:38.07, about 10 seconds ahead of Carnell.
It's Nash who comes in with the fastest seed time, however. He ran a PR of 16:03.41 at the Tiger Run on Aug. 27. His worst time in four races this season was 16:36.85; Nash has improved his average pace considerably from a year and has two runner-up finishes under his belt this season (Owensboro Invitational and the Kentucky/Indiana Border Clash).
Russell, last year's champ, and Wilson round out a trio of returning seniors in contention at the top. Russell's top mark this season came in the Central Kentucky Run for the Gold (16:31.83) and he's seeded with a 16:16.90, earned last year at the FSU Invitational (Pre-State) in Tallahassee, Fla. Wilson's top time, 16:45.10, came in last season's Hillbilly Run; he approached that in this year's Tiger Run, where he last ran (16:50.02).
Carnell finished second last season but set a PR in his only race so far in 2022; he finished the Run for the Gold in 16:17.34. The sophomore figures to be fresh following a two-week competition break.
The team showdown should be entertaining here. Meade County has four of the top 13 seeded runners while Grayson County has three. Ballard could be a factor at the top of the standings, too, boasting four in the top 20.
Allen County-Scottsville isn't likely to finish high in the boys' team portion but could place a top-10 runner in James Stanger. The junior is seeded 11th with a time earned in 2019 (17:14.28) and is making his season debut.
The boys' course and meet record were both set in 2013 by Grayson County's Bret Crawford. He ran it in 16:12.01.
While Overbay owns the course record, the best girls' time in the Fairgrounds Frenzy is 19:13.35, set by John Hardin's Katie Lever in 2011 (the race was at that time was called the Central Hardin Invitational).
No senior placed in the top 20 of last year's girls' race. Of those top 20 finishers, 18 are back for this year's edition. Talk about running it back!
Kobylinski is the fastest girls' distance runner in Ohio County's history. Her victory here last year was the first in a five-race win streak, during which she set her PR. She finished second to Overbay in the Class 3A Region 2 meet last year and was runner-up to McPherson last weekend in the Owensboro Invitational.
South Warren accounts for the top five middle school girls on the seed list. They are: Katelyn Best (11:35.71), Molly Robertson (12:21.51), Jasmine Abacan (12:22.81), Kinley Mihok (12:54.47) and Bailey James (13:08.67). Best as a seventh-grader last year finished 12th in the varsity race.