The last Saturday in September proved to be an excellent day for the Marshall County Invitational. There were few clouds in sight as the sun shone down through the leaves and on the ever present hills that the course has to offer. The hills, someone might suggest, were a common topic of the day. Many conversations throughout the day were filled with the word, which leads many to call the course a trying one.
“It is a challenging course,’’ said coach Chris Kerrick of Marshall County High School. “The hills are challenging and the last mile really shows the runner’s strengths and weaknesses.”
This did not prove to be a deterrent as the meet brought out eighteen teams, representing three different states.
“I was pleased with the turnout,” said Kerrick. “With runners coming from other states really turns the competition up a notch and makes for a competitive meet.”
For Jackson High School from Missouri, the meet was good enough to warrant a three hour drive.
The runners from Jackson High School had never had never seen the rolling hills of the Marshall County course before. It turned out to be quite a change of scenery from the flatter, faster courses that they had been used to running.
Junior Nate Martin and senior Gabriel Underwood led their team to victory for the boy’s varsity race.
“We did not know anyone or what to expect,” said Underwood. “It was harder than we thought.”
The competition was not the only surprise.
“We didn’t even know about the course until we walked it” said Martin “There were a lot of hills.”
The team itself won first place in both varsity races and the girl’s middle school race, sweeping most of the meet. Jackson also provided the meet with two top ten boy’s varsity finishers.
Owensboro provided the second and third place finisher for the boy’s varsity race. Both seniors, Zac Garrard and Jeff Keeley stayed close and finished well. Both were in the lead pack when Garrard came past the first mile mark at 5:12 with Keeley close behind at 5:35. Keeley stayed close behind at the two mile, running it in 10:55 with Garrard just ahead at 10:38.
“I just wanted to stay close to Zac and place in the top ten,” said Keeley “It was a good course. It wasn’t flat, it wasn’t overly hilly, it was just a good day to run. I think we all did really well and we had a really great effort out there.”
Keeley accomplished this goal with a third place finish and a time of 17:26.90. Garrard finishing ahead of him at 17:12.40.
“The race was a confidence booster, all in all it was a good day. The team got second. We’re going into the City-County meet on Thursday and we have a lot of pride and we want to race well there,” said Garrard. “City-County will highly reflect how we will do at regionals.”
The Marshall County Invitational was also served as an indicator for the Owensboro boy’s team.
“Today was important. We had two of the better teams in our region here, Madisonville North Hopkins and Henderson County. They placed behind us as a team in third and fourth place,” said coach Mark Rowe of the Owensboro boy’s varsity team. “This meet helped to show us that our third, fourth and fifth runner needs to be closer to our one and two.”
The Owensboro varsity boys have a goal to be in the top three in their region, as well as hopefully make it into the top ten at state, according to their coach.
While staying observant of his teams competitors performance, coach Rowe took time to reflect on the lead runners of his team.
“Zac and Jeff are great leaders for the team. I would build a team around them any day of the week” said coach Mark Rowe. “Zac and Jeff even attended the Governor’s Scholar Program and had a combined ACT score of 67, they are great examples.”
One of those representing Tennessee at the meet was a freshman from Henry County, Javan Winders. He has held his own at this meet in the past, holding the course records for the middle school boy’s 4K. Coming back to the course to run in the boy’s varsity 5k, Winders made his mark by running in the top five and finishing with a time of 17:35.80.
“I knew that the race would be tough,” said Winders “There are tough hills, but I knew that the hills were a good spot to make moves.”
Winders knew he was on track to reach his meet goal of running under 17:45 when he heard his mile split was around 5:30. He kept this pace and was around eight place at the two mile mark. Not knowing much about his competitors, he began looking in front of him and worked to pass one runner at a time. With the competition that the meet typically draws in, Winders was able to meet his goal.
The athletes that attended today helped make the Marshall County Invitational competitive for yet another year.
“There is a rich history at the meet,” said coach Lance Winders from Henry County, Tennessee “My children want to get their names in the books for this meet.”
It is the quality of the meets that brings coach Winders across the Tennessee state line.
“I cross into Kentucky four times in our season because of the quality of the meets,” said coach Winders. “Kentucky has high quality competition and better laid out courses.”
The competitiveness was found in every race of the day.
Chelsea Drum, a freshmen from Jackson High School, won the girl’s varsity race and helped to create a fast pace.
“I was not really pushed,” said Drum. “I just kept thinking of breaking my PR.”
She was able to work through the challenges of the hills and run under across the finish line at 20:03.80.
“Running this course will probably make me stronger,” said Drum “I was able to run a second faster than my best time.”
Junior Rachel Keeley from Owensboro, took fifth place with a time of 21:25.80 in the girl’s varsity race behind Drum.
Keeley was very positive about the visiting runners.
“It was good to have nice, new competition,” said Keeley. “It was nice to meet runners from other states who do the same sport.”
Competing against runners from different states nor the terrain could keep Keeley from staying focused.
“Going in I had hoped to get a good spot in the top twenty five and run a good time.” said Keeley. “I was able to run my first mile in 6:27 and hit my second mile around 13:00.”
Keeley’s run helped her team finish second behind Jackson High School. Madisonville North Hopkins finished third as a team.
The Marshall County Invitational could easily be considered to be an educational meet for all of those who run on it. Every runner who stepped foot on the course today learned a little more about themselves as they ran every challenging hill. Hopefully this meet was able to act as a stepping stone toward goals that each runner is aiming for.