It wasn’t exactly the meet Lincoln’s Alex Bunch was looking for to end her final regular season of high school cross country, but, despite a slower time, the Lady Patriot runner captured the girls senior title at the Kentucky Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Meet of Champions Saturday in Lexington.
Bunch had little trouble picking up her second straight title, pulling away from Madison Peace of Walton Verona to win by more than 29 seconds. However, Bunch’s time was over a minute and a half slower than her winning pace from last year’s meet.
But the Lady Patriot runner, who failed to finish last week’s Lexington Catholic Invitational, was more than happy with Saturday’s slower first-place time.
“After the race I had the week prior to – that race where I didn’t finish –my main goal was to finish this race,” Bunch said. “I just wanted to get back to where I finished the race and felt strong. And I did feel strong. It was really windy, and it was very difficult weather to run in, so I wasn’t too concerned with time. Honestly, my goal was to just cross the finish line.”
The Lady Patriots’ top runner, who won in last year’s meet with a time of 18:24.80, covered the 3.1-mile course at Masterson Station Park in 20:01.10.
“My time was really the slowest I’ve ever run on that course, but I wasn’t real upset because of the time,” Bunch said. “I was happy I finished, and I felt strong, my body felt strong. I was happy with my race, and that’s all I could ask for.”
Peace’s runner-up time was 20:30.70. Gabriella Sabino of Madison Central crossed the finish line 56 seconds after Bunch to take third place in a time of 20:57.90. Paige Ingram of Pulaski County placed fourth in 21:35.20 and Kady Chaffin of East Carter rounded out the top five with a time of 21:54.70.
Times were slower overall in the race, but Bunch attributed the slower pace to weather and not the course.
“I didn’t feel like it was that difficult. I really enjoy that course. I’ve always enjoyed it. It has it’s fair share of hills, but there are a lot of downhills too,”¿she said. “It was cold weather, really cold. I love racing when it’s cold, but it was just a big change for all of us because of the drastic change in weather. It just takes a while to adjust to. But I felt strong even with the change in weather. I felt a lot stronger than I did the Saturday before, and that was important.”
And why was feeling “strong” so important? Well, Bunch said that a strong finish would better prepare her for this weekend’s Class 3A, Region 7 championships in London, where she hopes to claim a fifth regional title.
“I needed like the confidence boost for region, finishing with a pretty strong race,” said Bunch. “Even knowing I need to run a little faster at region, (the win) helped me because I feel I can still get a good time at region. We’ve stepped up our training a lot so I think I’m real strong and prepared to do it.”
Bunch is training rigorously each day in preparation for regionals at North Laurel High School, however, she admits that she just wants the race to be fun.
“It’s the first place I ever ran region at, my seventh-grade year. And it’s my last region, so I want to enjoy it,” she said.
No other Lady Patriot or Patriot runner could match Bunch’s winning performance at the Meet of Champions, but Lincoln did have runners competing in nine of the 14 races contested.
Lady Patriot runner Morgan Gourley placed 22nd out of a field of 57 in the girls varsity freshman 5K race, posting a time of 22:10.90.
Brian Carlson, Lincoln’s only competitor in the boys sophomore varsity race, had Lincoln’s next best finish behind Bunch, finishing fourth in the 5K with a time of 17:10.10.
Lincoln had two runners on course in the junior boys varsity run, with Jordon Smith and Luke Shofner representing the Patriots. Smith placed 30th out of a field of 93 in a time of 19:03.90 and Shofner was 82nd in 23:01.10.
The Meet of Champions was not limited to varsity competition, with the middle school, sixth-grade and fourth-grade championships also decided on Saturday.
Katherine Rowe, a sixth-grade runner for the Lady Patriots, posted Lincoln’s best finish of the middle school and elementary state championships, placing 75th out of 340 girls. Her time in the sixth-grade 3K was 13:54.90.