Many of the best runners in western Kentucky will take the starting line in Owensboro's Yellow Creek Park on Saturday. Here's guessing they'll more than earn their post-race barbeque.
Let's talk about the top challengers scheduled to race in the 2022 Daviess County Classic.
Thomas Ashby: The senior out of Apollo would have boasted the fastest seed time here before running a PR (15:28.30) in last week's Nike XC Town Twilight Invitational. Now, he comes in 12 seconds faster than his previous best. He's the only runner in the field who's finished below 16 minutes on multiple occasions this season.
Brendan Nagle: Race-to-race gains have been Nagle's calling card as a runner - he's improved his time by at least 10 seconds every time out this season, continuing a trend seen through most of last year. After a near-career best effort to open the year (16:32.94 in the Central Kentucky Run for the Gold), Nagle's broke the 16-minute threshold in his fourth race of the season, the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational (15:58.60) on Sept. 17. The John Hardin junior hasn't raced since then, but his track record is promising.
Samuel Walls: Consistency is the name of the game for Walls in his senior season for Bullitt Central. In August, he PR'd for a 10th-place finish in a stacked Tiger Run field (16:02.32), and he's finished in the ballpark of that figure in every race this season; his slowest time all season was a 16:09.12. He again put up a 10th place showing in a loaded Louisville race last weekend (16:04.70).
Peyton Nash: He was up and down to start the year, but Nash over his last three races has averaged finishes of 16:02.9, which includes a PR (16:00.49) that earned him a victory in the CHHS Fairgrounds Frenzy. If the conditions are right and the leaders run it fast, he and Walls both could break the 16-minute barrier for the first time.
Drew Burden and Austin Cavanaugh: They're listed together because the seniors' best times are within a hair of one another: 16:14.67 for Burden and 16:14.74 for Cavanaugh. Both have ebbed and flow through 2022, but Burden (Madisonville-North Hopkins) has been a bit more consistent. He's got three wins under his belt this year and ran his best time at the Louisville XC Classic last weekend (good for 12th place and sixth among Kentuckians there). Cavanaugh also has won thrice and PR'd on Sept. 17 in the Mustang Stampede; he ran 25th at the Louisville XC Classic (16:32.90).
Daniel Puckett: The Calloway County senior is the only remaining runner on the seed list who's clocked in at under 16:20; he ran 16:19.08 in the Mustang Stampede, finishing right behind Cavanaugh (fourth). He finished 38th in Louisville last week (16:51.50).
Abby Overbay: If they're firing at their best, it'll be tough to keep South Warren from snatching a team title in The 'Boro. Overbay (18:46.20) leads a quartet of Spartans who together bring in half of the top eight seed times here. Overbay's mark is the only sub-19 minute time in the field, though it was earned about this time last year. The junior's fastest time in 2022 is 19:06.78 (CHHS Fairgrounds Frenzy).
Isabella Day: Among times run this season, Day leads the field: her 19:00.71 in the Hillbilly Run a couple of weeks ago is the 22nd fastest time by a Kentucky girl in 2022. The LaRue County freshman's best is ahead of her, but she's finished within the top six all but one time in seven races this fall, and has won twice. Watch her on Saturday.
Lucy Spaw: The host team's top challenger across both varsity events came closest to her seed time (19:02.50, earned in Oct. 2021) last week in the Nike XC Town Twilight Invitational, where she ran 19:17.30. That was the Daviess County sophomore's fastest 2022 time by a significant margin. She's clocked down considerably, and consistently, over a month's time (20:48.27 on Sept. 3), so a return to winning form here wouldn't be a shocker.
Megan Kitchens and Taylor Brown: As on the boys' side, these two are listed together because of the near inseparability of their top times. Kitchens' PR came more recently, 19:27.74 in the 2021 Hillbilly Run, but the senior's fastest mark this year was a 19:58.99 in the Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational. Brown's time came three years ago as a freshman; she hasn't come in under 21 minutes since last fall. Teammate Ryleigh Johnson, a junior, offers the next best seed time at 19:44.51, also from a year ago.
A Kentuckian is all but guaranteed to win this year's boys' race. None of the locals had a prayer in last year's edition, which saw runners from Rock Bridge High School in Missouri sweep the top five spots. Gabe Russell of North Hardin was the highest-finishing Kentucky boy in 2021 at seventh (16:39.59). North Hardin has eight runners entered but Russell, a senior, isn't among them.
Puckett is the top returning boy who competed in last year's race. He finished 12th here last season (16:50.16). Spaw was the best finishing Kentucky girl last season; she ran third behind two girls out of Rock Bridge HS (19:16.47).
Among the various amenities offered by Yellow Creek Park, a "nationally recognized disc golf course" stands out.
The five best seed times by middle school boys: Camryn Edge (Daviess County Middle School, 10:48.57); Christian Smith (Henderson South Middle School, 11:02.20); Jordan Haynes (Henderson South Middle School, 11:16.35); Austin Spurrier (Daviess County Middle School, 11:37.30); and Archer Mueller (Fort Campbell, 11:42.22)
The five best seed times by middle school girls: Emmie Underwood (Fort Campbell, 11:31); Ellie Girten (Daviess County Middle School, 11:42.60); Anna Kate Stovall (Burns Middle School, 12:50.12); Addie Menser (Hopkins County Central, 12:51.00); and Julia Zopiyactle (Daviess County Middle School, 13:05.15).