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LOUISVILLE – When just six full teams showed up for Saturday’s Class 3A, Region 4 meet at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park, SCHS coach Randall McDowell knew he was in for a long race.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said. “I knew it was going to be close between us, Oldham and Eastern.”
McDowell no doubt had butterflies until the last runners crossed the line. The Rockets slipped into Saturday's State Meet by finishing in third place, just eight points ahead of Oldham County and six behind Eastern.
Trinity was the meet’s runaway winner. The Shamrocks put three of their runners in the top five, and their next two were ninth and 11th.
With just six teams at the meet, only the top three advanced to state. Normally there are eight or nine teams at the meet, meaning the top four advance.
Senior Stacey Eden led the Rockets with a second-place finish, but he wasn’t very happy with his race.
“Not good, not good at all,” was how Eden described his race. “It was the first time since my freshman year that I didn’t win the region, and my time [17 minutes, 3 seconds] wasn’t that good. Personally, it wasn’t a good meet, but I’m really glad we made it as a team.”
William Thompson joined Eden in the top 10, finishing seventh overall and watching as the Rockets' battle Oldham came down to a man-to-man race.
Though Eden was second, Oldham’s top runner was fifth. Thompson was seventh, and Oldham’s second runner was eighth. Shelby's Thomas Smith was next for in 14th, edging out the Colonels’ third runner by one spot. Matthew Folsom, 18th, was two spots ahead of Oldham’s No. 4, and Devon Fielding rounded out Shelby’s top five, beating Oldham’s No. 5 by just 4 seconds.
“We picked off several Oldham runners right at the end,” McDowell said. “It was pretty exciting.”
Fielding’s finish was a personal best for him, and the first time he had cracked the Rockets’ top five.
“I think our young guys showed what they’re capable of,” McDowell said. “They didn’t worry about what place they were in; they just tried to race man-to-man.”
In looking for his third straight region title, Eden knew he would have to top Trinity’s Jake Wildenmann, last year's third-place finisher, who won, but a lingering cold bothered Eden this time.
“I had strep about two weeks ago, and I feel a lot better, but I was having trouble breathing out of my nose,” he said. “That made it pretty tough.”
Now, Eden and the Rockets will turn their attention to this week’s State Meet at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Eden will again be one of the favorites to win the title, but his sub-par performance at the regional may slide him under the radar.
“When they see my time, and how I finished, some guys may not worry as much about me,” he said. “Maybe I can sneak in behind them.”
Based on his regional time, Eden is ranked No. 15 for the State Meet.
But Eden knows to win he would have to go through Greenwood’s Ryan Eaton, the defending 3A champ.
“He’s still the favorite, but I can’t think of a reason I can’t beat him,” Eden said.
Eden also noted that he should be healthy and 100 percent for the race this weekend.
As far as the team goal, McDowell said he’s keeping it simple for Shelby.
“Our guys need to find a good pack to run in and stay on time,” he said. “Of course, it helps a lot having Stacey up front, challenging for the title. That always gets the rest of the team ready to run.”
Eden said he wants his team to aim high.
“I think top 10,” he said. “It’s a tall order, but if everybody runs well I’d like to see us in the top 10.”
Rounding out the Rockets’ rankings in the 222-runner individual meet are William Thompson 44th, Thomas Smith 103rd, Matthew Folsom 121st, Devon Fielding 140th, Justin Downs 170th and Tony Redemann 196th.