BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
WESTWOOD Jax Downs glanced at the clock before turning on the jets in the final stretch.
The Russell senior sprinted the final 100 yards to preserve his winning time at the Fairview Invitational cross country meet on Tuesday evening.
“I wasn’t feeling too good coming around that baseball field, but they yelled out my time and that gave me a boost of energy,” Downs said. “I had a solid kick there at the end to drop my time a few seconds.”
The course begins and ends at the Eagles’ football field. The runners must navigate the hills of the adjacent lot and make two trips around the baseball field.
Downs said achieving his time of 16:12 provided extra motivation to finish strong.
“That was more of a season- ending goal,” Downs said, “but to reach it now is a pretty big accomplishment for me. I am excited. It lifted me up and I sprinted as hard as I could.”
Russell placed seven competitors in the top 10 to claim a team victory on the boys’ side. The Russell girls tallied 15 points to grab team honors as the Lady Devils were the only squad to field the required number of five runners.
“We want to be in as many big meets as we can, but we also like these small meets,” Russell coach Chuck Cantrell said. “We get to see where we are at. We can treat it as a competitive practice. We don’t have to compete with yourself and you can see what you can do. Big meets or small meets, as long as we can get better, that’s what we are looking for.”
Downs led from start to finish. Teammate Jared Goodman stayed right behind him most of the race before Downs created some distance at the end. Goodman (16:48) was second. Jules Scott (17:15) and Tyler Conn (17:41) rounded out the top four for the Devils.
“Last season, me and Jared and my best friend Seth (Atkins), we went back and forth every race,” Downs said. “Jared just came off a back injury. … Together, we push each other and see how good we can do at the end of the race.”
Downs said he wants to lead by example just like his former teammates did. His coach said he has accomplished that mission.
“From Day 1, he has been our go-to leader,” Cantrell said. “He is a senior. He has been with us six years now. He knows what it means to get out here and compete. He has had some good people to look up to through the years and picked up where they left off.”
Dylan French of Dawson-Bryant (Coal Grove) High School finished in fifth place with a time of 17:52.
Russell’s Jordan Riley pulled away from a field of 12 to win the girls title. The sophomore crossed the finish line a full minute in front of the second-place finisher.
Riley was first with a time of 20:29. She was pleased with her performance, especially since it was her first experience with that distance on the Fairview course.
“For this course and not running it in a 5K, it went really well,” Riley said. “My time could have been better. Our team did well. I am very proud of how we did on this course. It’s a hard course with a lot of rolling hills. I have some trouble on hills, but it went really well. I am very proud of myself.”
Riley took the lead the first time the runners faced the hills and ran free the rest of the way.
“When you have no one there to push you, it is difficult to find a pace,” Riley said. “It was hard for me, trying to figure out where I wanted to be and with my time. I did what I did and I did the best that I could do. I am very happy.”
Cantrell said the victory would give his young runner a boost of confidence. Hannah Allen, Josie Atkins, Madeline Duvall and Stevie McSorley each placed in the top seven.
“I am very proud of Jordan,” Cantrell said. “She has been down on herself a little bit. With this race and getting a win with that time where it was, it is awesome. She is building confidence. Hannah Allen is a junior. Jordan is a sophomore and three seventhgraders filled out the five we had today. The future is bright. I am proud of how they all performed.”
Sarah Cecil (Dawson-Bryant) crossed the finish line in second with a time of 21:31. Kaitlyn Adkins of Greenup County was fourth.