Harlan County coach Ryan Vitatoe has established one of southeastern Kentucky’s top cross country programs in the past five seasons, and the school’s current group of senior runners have been big part in the building process.
“I wanted to build a program from moment I was hired., and these kids have laid an outstanding foundation for everyone that comes after them,” Vitatoe said. “We hope to get all of these kids signed for college this year. They all have schools that are interested in them.”
The girls team is coming off of back-to-back Regional 7 championships. The Lady Bears also captured the Southeastern Kentucky Conference (SEKC) and Area 9 titles this season. This year’s squad has been led by Kassie Rouse. The senior was the top finisher in the SEKC, Area 9 and Region 7 meets.
“Kassie had an amazing year. She came into the season in fantastic shape and was our No. 1 runner from start of season to very end,” Vitatoe said. “Her success is completely attributed to the work she put in during the offseason. She is a great example to these other kids that will be back next year.”
Vitatoe said fellow senior Cassidy Ball has also been among the hardest workers on the team.
“Cassidy is another one that worked incredibly hard in the offseason,” he said. “She was two minutes faster on average than what her personal best was last year.”
Four more seniors helped lead the Lady Bears to a successful season, with Jennifer Graham, Miranda Epperson, Lacey Stephens and Arynn “Boo” Jackson all playing big roles.
“Jennifer and Miranda have been steady workhorses for this program,” Vitatoe said. “Lacey was fantastic as a newcomer, and Arynn was great for her first year of varsity competition.”
The Harlan County boys were also led by a solid group of seniors.
Josh Wynn was the captain of the group, and Vitatoe said the senior thrived as a leader.
“It all starts with Josh Wynn,” he said. “He was an incredible captain and leader. I feel like he was the biggest reason we did everything we did on the boys side.”
Donavan Johnson, Caleb Justen and Steve Reed also closed memorable running careers for the Black Bears.
“Donavan had a breakout season, and I think he will be an excellent college runner some day,” Vitatoe said. “Steve and Caleb were incredibly consistent. You always knew what you were getting with those guys.”