The KHSAA cross country season concludes on Saturday with the state meet at the Horse Park in Lexington.
A couple of area teams and individuals will be competing in both the girls' and boys' Class A and 2A meets. We'll take a look at who's competing:
CLASS 2A GIRLS (Race starts at 11:30 a.m.)
Mason County: The Lady Royals will have high hopes for a podium finish (top four) in Saturday's meet. They are currently ranked fourth on the ky.milesplit.com rankings and have held steady ground there for the majority of the season. The young squad is led by Paige Decker with Hayden Faris, Alyssa Bisotti, Elizabeth Lavinder and Kylee Howe anchoring the top five with not much of gap between them.
"They are interchangeable drill bits that could be interjected," Royals coach Mark Kachler said.
Abi Dawson and Olivia O'Hearn will also be running, providing the leadership for such a young group.
"Those two have been leaders all year," Kachler added.
In their quest for a podium finish, the Lady Royals will focus on themselves and Kachler wants them to do what they've done for the majority of the season...stay aggressive.
"We can't think about other teams, it's not like other sports where you change your defense or something. We need to take care of what we need to do. We had a team meeting today (Thursday), we broke down the course and said we need to approach it with aggressiveness and confidence," Kachler said.
Kachler is aiming for his top five to finish in the top 50 of the race, which would set them up nicely. Even with four of the top five still being in middle school, three of them have ran at the Horse Park before. Faris has been at the state meet the last two years, Howe last year and Bissoti with Scott County last year before transferring over to Mason County. O'Hearn and Dawson also have experience on the course.
With the time gap so narrow from the team, a solid finish could be in the works.
"Our 1-5 spread is a measure of team success. If it's narrow and you're good, you'll be competitive at most meets you go to. We want to be in the top four, but if we're in the top 10, the season isn't a failure for us. Our goal is to be up there like we projected," Kachler said.
Fleming County: The Lady Panthers have two individual runners racing in the 11:15 a.m. race. Carys Earlywine and Erin Peese will be competing after qualifying in last week's Class 2A, Region 6 race. Earlywine has a qualifying time in the top 50, while Peese's is 129th.
Panthers coach Paul King thinks Peese will help push Earlywine though.
"Erin's been coming along, she played basketball and started the season late. She passed Carys a few weeks ago at the Meet of Champions," Panthers coach Paul King said. "Carys runs smart so we'll expect good things from her."
CLASS 2A BOYS (Race starts at 12:15 p.m.)
Mason County: The Royals will be bringing their whole team after a third place finish at last week's Class 2A, Region 6 meet. Connor Linville leads the pack of Royals with Isaiah Riggs following shortly behind. Rounding out the rest of the crew is a vastly improving Carson Adams to go with Matthew Dodge, Nicholas Drury, Zach Walters and Caden Tuel.
Linville was sick throughout the week last week leading into the Class 2A, Region 6 race but still posted a top 10 finish, placing ninth. Riggs won't be too far behind him Saturday.
"Connor's healthy now, had a good week of practice and we're expecting him and Isaiah to have a great race," Kachler said. "Both have the ability to finish in the top 25.
Four of the seven have ran the course before according to Kachler. The longtime Royals coach said a top 10 finish would be phenomenal with top 15 still being a solid showing.
Fleming County: Robert Applegate is the lone Panthers participant, making a return to the Horse Park for the second straight year.
Applegate placed fourth at the Class 2A, 6th Region meet. He's projected for a top 30 finish.
"Robert has been a big part of us rebuilding our team and will be good for him to go out in a meet like this," King said of the senior.
CLASS A GIRLS (Race starts at 9:30 a.m.)
Augusta: Emma Young is the lone Lady Panther to run for Augusta. The eighth grader qualified with a strong race in the Class 1A, Region 5 race in Winchester with a sixth place finish.
"She's still pretty new to the 5k varsity experience, but we're excited for her," Panthers coach Tim Litteral said. "Realistically we're looking for a top 30-50 finish. We know she doesn't have the experience, but is coming off a strong regional race."
Bracken County: The Lady Bears will be looking for their best finish in school history. They are projected to finish 13th, but have their sights set on a top 10 finish.
"We've never finished that high as a girls team and we're shooting for top 10," Polar Bears coach Forrest Hunt said. "The key will be on our fifth person, that could be difference of 30-40 pts within 20 seconds."
Heather Ebert paces the team followed by Macie Sharp.
"Heather is the key, when she moves up and does well, the others do well. They're all relatively close time-wise and she's the pace setter," Hunt said.
Heather's twin sister Holly is shortly behind, followed by Gracie Ramsey, Chloe Routt and Joy Ebert.
That will be the six running for the Lady Bears.
St. Patrick: Allison Hughes is the lone Lady Saints runner in the race. She qualified for the state meet after a 16th place finish in the Class A, Region 5 meet. She'll enter projected to finish 79th in the race.
CLASS A BOYS (Race starts at 10:15 a.m.)
Augusta: The Panthers will be headed to Lexington as a team for the first time in since the program was revived in 2010.
David Reed, Conner Snapp, Adam Sallee, Clayton Jamison, Seth Fouts and Stephen Cordle consist of the Augusta team shooting for a top 25 finish.
"I'm not too familiar with a lot of the teams," Litteral said. "We're just shooting for solid performances."
One thing Litteral said is the Meet of Champions they participated in a few weeks back benefited them for a big race like this. That race featured over 350 runners, the state meet will have over 265.
The excitement among the team has shown throughout the school.
"We're having a pep rally tomorrow (Friday), so the kids are excited," Litteral said.
Reed is the team's No. 1 runner and Litteral is looking for a top 30-50 finish for him. He's also the most familiar with the meet, running in the state meet last year. Sallee has also run there in a regular season meet.
"If David can run a personal best near the 18-minute mark, it's a possibility. We're pushing all of them to go out and get PR's, this is David and Adam's last opportunity to do so," Litteral said.
Snapp, a seventh grader, continues to make strides, setting a PR at the regional meet, the lone Panther to do so.
Bracken County: Not much motivation is needed for the Polar Bears on where they want to be. They just missed out on a podium finish last season, placing fifth and are expected to be in a battle for a podium finish once again.
Jared Jefferson leads the talented squad and is aiming for a second place finish behind defending state champion Keeton Thornsberry from Louisville Holy Cross.
"That is exactly what we're shooting for," Hunt said. "During the season he's beaten everybody time-wise with the exception of Keeton so he has quite a bit of confidence going in."
Brandon Cox will follow shortly behind, aiming for a top 5-10 finish.
"He had a little setback earlier in the year, got sick and wasn't hitting his times. He's bounced back and I wouldn't put a top five finish past him if he can stay with the lead pack," Hunt said.
Nicholas Cummins is the No. 3 runner followed by Collin Jefferson, Thomas Yelton, Jarrod Woods and Daniel Simons rounding out the rest of the team running on Saturday.
"We need a big performance out of our No. 3-5 guys. If that pack can move up around the 18-minute barrier we'll have a strong potential of a podium finish. We're projected seventh but our obvious target is the podium and the guys are not looking at anything else but that," Hunt said.
St. Patrick: Willie Franco and Marvin Koch will be the Saints individual runners. Koch is projected for a 66th place finish while Franco is 116th. Koch finished 15th at the Class 1A, Region 5 meet while Franco placed 21st.