Dragons hoping team effort sends them to state meet

The Harlan High School boys cross country team will get a chance to compete for a regional championship Saturday for the first time since 2011, a testament to the growth the program has experienced under second-year coach Tara Bryson.

She only hopes the Green Dragons can qualify more smoothly than they did six years ago.

At the 2011 Class A Region 6 championship, Harlan was initially the odd man out after seventh-grader Mason Miller and a Williamsburg runner finished in a virtual tie. After initially ruling that the Williamsburg runner finished ahead of Miller, the decision was reversed two days later on appeal, giving the Dragons a berth in the state championship meet.

Saturday will mark not only the first regional championship meet for the team since then, but the first time the program has fielded a full boys team at all since the 2011 state meet.

“This year we are taking an unorthodox team to region in that they have not run together as a team,” Bryson said. “We did not run more than four boys in any meet this season, but we had our eyes set on qualifying five boys for region fairly early in the season.

Sophomore Charles David Morton and freshmen Story Miller and Jeremiah Mills are the team’s most experienced runners, having participated in almost every race this season. Also running for the Dragons on Saturday will be Tate Bryson, a junior football player who only runs at Saturday meets, and eighth-grader Jackson Huff, who was brought up to varsity squad midway through the season.

The coach said she expects consistency to give the Dragons a chance to qualify for state.

“This team does not have one runner that is consistently stronger than the rest,” Bryson said. “All five of them have run in the 20s. Even though we don’t have a runner in the top 10 in our region, we are still able to compete with other teams because of the strong, consistent times of all five of our boys.”

Class A Region 6 features a pair of regional contender mainstays in Williamsburg and Somerset. Bryson looks for her team to be in the mix as well.

“Once again, it appears that Williamsburg will be the team to beat for our boys to qualify for state. We are hoping for the same outcome as 2011, but a little more margin of victory would be nice,” she said.

Harlan only has two girls racing Saturday, which is twice as many as last year.

Sophomore Lucy Bryson qualified for the state meet last year and has emerged as one of the region’s most improved runners in 2017.

“Lucy thoroughly enjoyed her experience at the state course and has had her sights set on repeating again this year,” Bryson said. “She worked hard in the offseason, and it is easy to see that she is a much stronger runner this year than she was last year.”

Ella Morton, a freshman, has steadily improved throughout the season, and Bryson believes she also has a chance to grab an individual berth. The top five individuals not on qualifying teams will advance to state.

“Ella impressed me with her strong finish in her last race, which has put her in striking distance of also capturing an individual spot to go to state,” Bryson said.

The girls’ challenge is made tougher by the number of strong individual runners whose programs won’t field a full team Saturday, including Pineville sophomore Elayne Fortner and Leslie County senior Kinsey Forgey.

Williamsburg is led by junior Selena Mattingly, a previous state champion, and is the regional favorite but could face a stiff challenge from upstart Middlesboro, led by eighth-grader Mallory James. Williamsburg claimed a narrow three-point win over Middlesboro in the Southeast Kentucky Conference championship meet earlier this month.

The Class A Region 6 meet will be held at Cave Lake Park in Monticello. The girls race is set to begin at 1 p.m., followed by the boys at 1:45.