WEST LIBERTY – Wednesday’s temperatures ranged into the low-to-mid 90s at the Eastern Kentucky Conference Championships, but the sun was not the only thing registering heat. The Boyd County cross country squads were also sizzling as both boys and girls squads safely defended their team titles and had runners capture the individual crowns at Morgan County.

Both individual champions credited Lions coach Becca Chaney’s practice strategy as a key element in Wednesday’s success.

“I’ve become accustomed to (running in the heat) over the summer. In the past few weeks we’ve been practicing in really hot weather, which has really helped because then I’m just used to it,” said sophomore Sophia Simmons, last year’s sixth-place finisher who covered the course in 20:10.07. “I just want to control my breathing, stride out the best I could and pump my arms.”

“I think we were definitely ready for it, because we’ve been training in some hot weather lately,” said Isaiah Caperton. The senior, who finished in fourth last year, won Wednesday’s competition in 17:13.42.

Both Simmons and Caperton’s victory margin exceeded 25 seconds.

“I was kind of nervous about the start because we wrap around the track. I’ve never had a race where you start, go around the track and then go (out on the course),” Simmons said. “But I just went out strong to get a good place and then just stayed there. I wanted first place, so I just fought for it the whole race.”

The hilly course favored her running style.

“I wanted to maintain up the hill, because that is one of my strongest suits. So, I wanted to just maintain that and surge when I got to the top of the hill and then fly downhill and use that to my advantage,” she added.

Conversely, Caperton did not have a plan of attack. His focus was purely on winning his race and helping the Lions claim the team trophy.

“I’ve been tending to over-think (my running strategy) too much, but today I didn’t think about it. I just wanted to stay up there with (teammate) JB (Terrill),” he said. “Really, I’m not worried about time for this meet. I think everybody is just worried about placement.”

The course’s layout did provide Caperton some advantages.

“At the start of our races, we like to get out as fast as we can and then settle in. We still went hard around the whole track, but once we got over there to the opening to where we get on the actual course, we kind of just like settled in and just really started going to work,” he said. “(At that point, I wanted to) just use the downhills. Every downhill, just stride out as hard as you can. The hill will do the work from there.”

Boyd County got out to fast starts in both races, with two Lady Lions and four Lions pacing the pack after the first 500 meters inside the stadium.

Simmons essentially led from wire-to-wire, with Rowan County’s Autumn Egleston (20:36.91) following in second and defending champion Riley Brown of East Carter (21:45.78) taking third.

Rowan County’s Ariah Egleston (22:09.59) finished fourth, with Bath County’s Isabella Copher (22:14.89), Boyd County’s Emily Harrington (22:27.46), Bath County’s Amelia Oldfield (22:40.51), East Carter’s Mary Stephens (22:46.32), Russell’s Jordan Riley (23:02.44) and Elliott County’s Hannah McDaniels (23:25.87) rounding out the top 10. Each earned all-conference honors for their finish.

“Sophia Simmons pulled off a great win for her. I hope that builds her confidence coming in to the next races,” Chaney said.

In his race, Caperton took a slightly different tack. He sat behind Terrill and Grant Chaffin on the track, before making his move out on the grassy part of the course and eventually taking the lead near the halfway point. Both he and Terrill passed two runners in the back of the pack with about 600 meters remaining.

Terrill finished second in 17:44.46, with Chaffin third at 17:59.35. Rowan County’s Jonah Stanley (18:05.21), Russell’s Logan Harrison (18:17.59), Boyd County’s Gavin Brock (18:17.87), Rowan County’s Jayson Ingles (18:18.82), Boyd County’s Spencer Elswick (18:19.13), and Russell’s Elijah Pridemore (18:20.08) and Davis Brown (18:22.45) earned medals and all-conference accolades by placing fourth through 10th, respectively.

Ten schools were represented at the meet, although only six girls squads and seven boys teams had at least five entries to count in the standings.

In the girls race, Boyd County led with 41 points, followed by Russell (63), Greenup County (81), Bath County (83), East Carter (83) and Nicholas County (148). Bath County earned the tiebreaker over East Carter because its sixth place runner (Izzy Hughes) posted a faster time (31:06.68) than the Lady Raiders’ sixth-place runner (Rachael Burchett in 31:55.75).

“There were some unsure things today for this race with our girls’ competition,” Chaney said on the victory. “So it was a good test for us against some of those region teams.”

The Lions cruised to the title in the boys’ event with 20 points. Russell was second at 55, with Rowan County third at 72, East Carter fourth at 116, Elliott County fifth at 128, Bath County sixth at 152 and host Morgan County seventh at 169.

“I think we had seven in under 11th place, so that helps us with our packing and helps us with our team scores,” Chaney said of her boys’ performance. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on as far as trying to get to the state meet because that’s going to be how we place up top as high as we can — limiting the numbers in between our scores.”

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