BY ROCKY STANLEY
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
ASHLAND A small, wooden bridge made slippery by morning rain proved to be the only real challenge to Russell senior Jax Downs in Tuesday’s Tomcat Invite at Wildwood Park.
Girls repeat winner Rebekah Howard of Ashland nearly had a wipeout herself.
Downs pulled away early and won the boys championship in 18:12 — with 35 seconds to spare.
“My strategy this season has been to get out in front early and have the pack push me. Use that to my advantage,” Downs said.
Nobody was able to fill that role in a boys’ field of 52 runners. Seventeen belonged to Russell, which was missing three of its top five individuals Tuesday.
“I just wanted our team to get out and see what they could do, especially the five, six and seven guys,” Downs said. “I told them, ‘Keep up with me as long as you can.’ It was a fun race. It’s a tough course with steep hills.”
Some spots were muddy and slippery.
“I almost wiped out a couple times,” Downs said. “You have to cross it (bridge) three times. Every time, I almost fell.”
Downs’ teammates gave him support in the standings. Jules Scott finished fifth, Tyler Conn sixth, Elijah Pridemore eighth and Carson Kidwell 11th to round out the Red Devils’ first five.
“Having three of our top five out, the kids were motivated,” Russell coach Chuck Cantrell said. “We’re just trying to get better every meet. I’m very happy at how they did.”
The Red Devils scored 17 points, followed by Coal Grove with 60.
Green (Ohio) could have made it a real battle for the top spot, but lacked a fifth runner. Zach Huffman and Tanner Kimbler placed second and third for the Bulldogs, who had two other top-13 finishers.
Downs said he was happy to add his name to the list of Tomcat Invite winners and add to Russell’s strong tradition in the event. Cantrell called him a leader by example.
“Jax is probably the hardest worker we’ve had since I’ve been there,” Cantrell said.
“He’s always first in practices ... first to encourage his teammates. He was kind of disappointed with his time today because there was nobody to push him. He ended up running 18-something on hills that were pretty treacherous.”
Howard navigated the course in 20:54 to lead another strong one-two performance with teammate Mary Alice Thornburg (21:09).
“She’s good,” Howard said of Thornburg.
“Mary makes me go faster. We definitely help each other.”
Howard, coming off a win at Fairland last week, likes to run hills and was hoping for a better time Tuesday. Factoring in the tricky conditions, however, she was pleased to win the home meet.
“I slipped a couple of times,” Howard said. “I almost wiped out the first time, but I didn’t.”
Also for Ashland, seventh- grader Aubrey Hay took fourth, eighth-grader Haley Fielding was fifth and senior Sinclaire Paddock came in eighth among 31 runners.
“Our fifth runner has changed three of the four races,” Ashland coach Phillip Caudill said. “Sinclaire transferred here from Arizona last year.
Having a year in the program to adapt has paid off.”
Ashland, ranked sixth in Class 2A, posted a team total of 18.
Caudill said he didn’t know what to expect Tuesday from his squad with the recent weather, “but they ran well. I’ve always said this is one of the toughest courses in Kentucky with all the hills.”
East Carter, with a score of 45, was the only other full team. East Carter’s Riley Brown placed third overall.
Middle school team winners included Ashland’s boys and Russell’s girls. Russell swept the elementary championships.
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