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Puckett makes state with 5th place finish

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By Lee Kendall

Senior cross country runner Ryan Puckett earned his fifth trip to the KHSAA State Cross Country Championship with a fifth place finish in the class AA regional meet held on Saturday at A.J. Jolly Park in Campbell County.

Puckett and the other 63 men’s runners overcame the elements on a cold and windy day that were less than ideal for cross country running.

His time of 17:05 was a personal best for a 5K race and earned him a slot in the KHSAA Class AA State Meet that will be run this Saturday morning at the Kentucky Horse Park. Puckett has been running for Harrison County High School for seven years.

“Ryan did a great job in difficult conditions today,” said HCHS Head Coach Danny Simpson after the race on Saturday. “It was definitely the finest race of his career and the best finish he’s ever had in regional competition.”

Even though the Breds team failed to qualify for the state meet, Simpson was thrilled with their overall performance.

“I challenged our runners to give their best performance and they did,” said Simpson. “The conditions were not good for fast times, but our runners gave a great performance. It was not good enough to qualify as a team, but we sure gave a run at it.”

With 10 varsity boys teams competing, the top four team finishers received automatic bids to the state meet, along with the top five individual finishers, not on those four teams.

Harrison County (136) finished in sixth place overall, with Covington Catholic (59), Pendleton County (76), Lexington Catholic (97) and Highlands (105) taking the top five spots, respectively.

“I thought our boys could get in as the third or fourth place team, but you’ve got to hand it to those teams that finished above us,” said Simpson. “We ran about as well as we could, but those other teams ran great.”

Lexington Catholic’s Thomas Canary ran his way to the individual title with a time of 16:12, nearly 20 seconds better than the second place finisher.

Michael May was 22nd overall with a time of 18:33, Jeffrey Faulconer was 30th in 19:07, Nicholas Whitaker was 32nd in 19:36, a personal best time, Jacob Marsh was 44th in 20:04, Keenan Palmer was 34th in 21:02 and Brian Schimpler overcame a sprained ankle to take 5th in 23:01.

“I really couldn’t ask any more from the kids who competed,” said Simpson. “Any time you can perform your best when it means the most, under less than ideal conditions, you’ve done a great job. I was proud of our team.  They gave all they had.”

Puckett, May and Schimpler, as the team’s only seniors, participated in their last regional cross country meet representing the Thorobreds.

“It was a bittersweet moment,” said Simpson of the realization that the end of their high school careers is in sight. “Three seniors ran their last regional. Ryan Puckett, Michael May and Brian Schimpler have been the core of the team the last four years.  They have been great leaders and fine runners.”

Harrison County had two entrants in the women’s portion of the regional meet, also run at 5,000 meters.

Neither Ariel Thornberry, nor Kendra Arkenau placed well enough to advance to the State Meet, but both gave great efforts.

Thornberry  turned an ankle early in the race, but refused to quit and finished 35thin 26:43. Arkenau finished 42nd overall in 33:38.

“Our girls gave a valiant effort as well,” said Simpson. “Neither have a thing to be ashamed of. Ariel showed a lot of grit and determination and Kendra had one of best races of the year.”

Both Thornberry and Arkenau will return next year, along with a bevy of talented middle school runners that will be counted on to fill out the Fillies varsity team.

“We have a super group of 8th grade boys and girls coming up and we should be very competitive next year,” said Simpson about the promise of future HCHS teams. “Ryan Puckett will be our lone entry in the AA state championship on Saturday, Nov. 15, at 11:30 a.m. at the Kentucky Horse Park. This will be the senior’s fifth time at the state CC meet, which ties him with Luke Garnett.  Ryan is already the fourth fastest Harrison County boy at 5000M.

“Ryan won’t be a favorite to win the event, but he could be factor. It would certainly end his high school cross country career with an exclamation point. Ryan ran really well today, but I firmly believe he can run faster. We’ll find out Saturday.”