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The Shelby County boys' cross country team had been slipping in the state rankings, but the boys entered the State Meet with high expectations after finishing second in the region.
Those expectations paid off as the Rockets finished sixth out of 24 teams Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
"I was really pleased with how it turned out," SCHS head coach Randall McDowell said. "I thought going in that fifth or sixth place was within reach for us and the guys ran really well. We had six of our seven guys finish with personal best times, and that's a very positive sign about how hard the kids worked to get here."
Sophomore Stacey Eden led the Rockets with a sixth place finish out of the more than 200 individual runners. Eden's time of 16:04 was a personal best for him, but he was disappointed with his finish.
Despite battling strep the week leading up to the race, Eden had eyes on finishing first.
"I had been sick since Sunday (before the race) and had a fever up until Thursday and I couldn't really breathe the whole race, but that's no excuse," he said. "When I started the race I knew I wasn't really good, but I just had an off day. The pack wasn't that fast, so it wasn't the competition -- it was just all me. I just had one of those off days, a bad race. It's disappointing because I didn't feel like I had a good race last year either. I think that maybe if I ran like I did at the regional (the previous Saturday) I could've won."
Daniel Norman of Tates Creek was the individual winner in a time of 15:47, and Eden said sub 16 minutes isn't out of the question for him.
"Oh yeah, I think I can get under 16," he said. "I had a personal best by a couple of seconds (at state) and I didn't think I ran very well at all. If I run what I think is a good race, then yeah, I think I would've been right there with (Norman)."
McDowell said Eden is his toughest critic.
"He had really high expectations, as he should have, but he battled all week and didn't really get to run much in practice," the coach said. "After that, to still finish sixth, was impressive. I think what really bothered him was that he came in behind three guys that he beat in the regional meet."
Rounding out the Rockets' top five were: Alec Zaremba - 22nd in 16:29, J.J. Depasco - 49th in 16:55, Zach Carter - 81st in 17:11 and Jonathan Pernell - 83rd in 17:12.
"Zach Carter ran 11 seconds faster than he ever had, and Jonathan Pernell ran about 30 seconds faster than his best time," McDowell said. "So we got great effort from the top to the bottom of our team. I was really pleased with how well the guys ran and fought, and I think the guys were pretty happy too -- especially after having not been to state as a team in the last couple of seasons."
The Rockets will return all of their top seven runners for next season, putting the team in good shape to improve on this year's No. 6 finish.
"I think we'll be right there next year," McDowell said. "But there's a lot of teams that are in the same situations -- there's a lot of very talented underclassmen right now. But I think our kids are really pumped up and ready to take that next step. If we have a good track season and the guys run hard over the summer, I think we'll have a great shot to improve next year."
The SCHS girls' cross country team didn't send a full team, but had four individual runners make the meet.
The Lady Rockets were led by Janelle Solinger who finished 64th out of more than 200 individual runners in a time of 20:29, Alyssa Anderson was 108th in 21:06, Shera Clark was 144th in 21:39 and Taylor Webb was 146th in 21:41.
"I thought all the girls ran really well," SCHS head coach Sloane Jacobi said. "We had three of our four girls run personal best times. Alyssa Anderson had a big improvement, and Taylor Webb went under 22 minutes for the first time."
Jacobi said that since the girls didn't have a full team it probably took some pressure off them.
"I think they could just go out and run without worrying about finishing in a certain spot for the team score," she said. "I think Shera came out relaxed and ran a great race, something she can remember since this was her last time. And the other three girls can use this as a learning experience for next season. Learning where to make a move, and how the course runs -- it's something they can take back to the team and share to help us prepare for next year."