CANNONSBURG – Ashland didn’t rely simply on speed to win its first boys track and field region championship since 1986. Nor just jumping, nor only throwing. And not pole-vaulting.
Try all of the above, which kept coach Kerri Thornburg’s own feet moving staying on top of it all.
“I’m very exhausted (after a meet) because I’m walking all over the place and making sure that I encourage them and see where they’re at in every event,” she said. “Every minute is full of excitement. ... Track’s an animal. There’s so many different things. To round it out is really amazing.”
Thornburg took over Ashland’s boys and girls programs last year. She inherited a Kittens club already humming along, which she piloted to a share of its fifth straight region title this spring. Not so with the boys: they hadn’t won a region in more than three decades.
That changed this year, with an emphatic 175-132 out-distancing of Russell in the Class 2A, Region 6 meet.
“The boys, to actually fill the events and for everyone to work as hard as they did, I’m just so proud of where they are,” Thornburg said, “and actually I look forward to a great future because most of them are fairly young. I have a lot of sophomores on that team.”
By day, Thornburg is a special education teacher at Oakview Elementary working with kindergarteners and first graders with autism and behavior disabilities.
Thornburg earned her stipend on evenings and Saturdays, too. She had to figure out how to replace the production of dynamic sprinter Keontae Pittman, who missed most of the season with a small tear in his patellar (knee) tendon.
Northeastern Kentucky’s top pole-vaulter, Thomas Skaggs, and the best thrower, Ryan Bryant, eased that difficulty. Ashland also moved hurdle specialist Nana Amo-Mensah to sprints in Pittman’s absence. All gained All-Area recognition.
“That’s where I guess I have to really show up,” Thornburg said. “It actually gave me the opportunity to make sure that I really understood the talent I had with everyone, and make sure that they are given an opportunity to show what they can do.”
Thornburg earned her second The Daily Independent All-Area Coach of the Year award in as many years for that effort. Last year’s came as the girls team’s caretaker.
All-Area Track and Field Athlete of the Year awards were split between a sprinter and a distance specialist.
Raceland’s Gunnur Lewis, known for a fearsome playmaking ability on the football field, posted northeastern Kentucky’s best times in the 200-meter dash (22.80 seconds), the 110meter hurdles (15.38) and the 300 hurdles (41.57). He was also a fourth of the Rams’ area-best 4x100-meter-relay team.
Lewis came in second at the state Class A meet in the 110 and 300 hurdles and fifth in the 200.
“It was, overall, fun,” he said. “I did better than I expected to do, and I’m happy with my overall performance and my team’s performance at State.”
Boyd County’s Isaiah Caperton shared Athlete of the Year honors with Lewis. Caperton ran the area’s top mile (4:45.53), was second to teammate JB Terrill in the 800 (2:04.59) and was part of the Lions’ area-best 4x8 unit.
Class 2A, Region 6 runner-up Russell placed nine athletes on the team. That includes the foursome from the area’s top 4x4 team — Richie Knupp, Nolan Sabotchick, Davis Brown and Logan Harrison, who collectively covered a mile in 3:41.51.
Bath County, Elliott County, Johnson Central and Rowan County each had one All-Area representative.
The Vikings’ Jonah Stanley was fourth in the area in the mile (4:49.45) and third in the 3200 (10:43.41).
The All-Area Athletes and Coach of the Year were chosen by the newspaper’s sports department. The team is composed by top finishers from northeastern Kentucky in each event, as well as athletes who placed near the top in multiple events, as reported to Mile-Split.