By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands cross country teams had high expectations coming into the season.
The Ladybirds hoped to repeat as Class AA state champions and did just that on Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington with 76 points. This marks the eighth crown for them. They won three consecutive state championships between 2002 and 2004.
“That (stretch) was the last time I coached here with different girls,” said Brian Alessandro, Highlands Head Coach. “My goal now for them is to match that feat and maybe extend past it. It’s exciting. We’re deep so we constantly have good runners coming up.”
Highlands was the only team to finish under triple-digits placing all seven runners in the top 49. Second-place Louisville Christian Academy scored 152 points.
Highlands freshman Chloe Gastright took fifth in 19 minutes and 36.77 seconds. Collins freshman Gabriella Karas won the race by nearly a minute in 17:39.04. Karas dominated for the second straight year.
“We started tapering this week and a little bit of last week so that our bodies would be prepared to run well,” Gastright said. “I think that really helped out. There are a lot of young girls who will only step up and get better.”
Sydney Ossege took ninth in 19:59.62 for Highlands. Brianna Collins and Molly Mearns followed in 17th in 20:36.36 and 18th in 20:39.08 respectively. The other Highlands scorer was Lauren Ossege in 35th in 21:28.71.
A pair of seniors rounded out the Highlands runners. Frances Tracy took 36th in 21:31.80 and Paige Dauer 58th in 22:12.46.
The Bluebirds finished third with 114 points after coming in sixth last year. North Oldham again won the boys title with 53 points and Covington Catholic took second with 69 points.
“I think they’re disappointed because they felt like they could have won,” Alessandro said. “(North Oldham and CovCath) ran really well. But that’s progress. We just need to continue to build. I don’t remember the last time we finished in the top three.”
Sophomore Ethan Shuley finished second for the Bluebirds in 16:33.75 to Jay Solinger of Collins. Solinger won it in 16:33.75. Shuley said the key was pacing himself.
“I was feeling good,” Shuley said. “I followed the training of my coach. During the race, there was a guy who took the first mile hard. I was making sure I had a comfortable pace. I’ve run cross country races before so I knew how fast I could go.”
But Highlands did not have anyone place in the top 20 scoring-wise after that. Senior John Michael Griffith took 28th overall in 17:38.37. The other three Bluebird scorers were Geoffrey Mearns, 32nd in 17:42.41; Matt Gray, 38th in 17:53.95; and James Smith, 42nd in 18:01.12.
The other two Highlands runners were Jackson Paul and Will Backscheider. Paul took 46th in 18:08.82 and Backscheider finished 82nd in 18:35.31.