Ryle cross country runner Justin Reed may find himself in uncharted territory as he enters the last weeks of his senior season, and he has quite a fan base in Union hoping to follow in his steps.
“We can’t find another cross country runner who qualified for state as an eighth-grader at Ryle, so he’s probably going to be the first runner at the school to go to state five years in a row,” coach Benny Deaton said. “That’s quite an accomplishment, and there are a lot of people in our system who look up to him.”
Reed, the reigning Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference Division I boys’ champion, is an individual favorite and the Raiders are a team to watch at Saturday’s Class 3A Region 5 meet, hosted by Grant County at Sherman Elementary School in Dry Ridge. He’s already a local crowd favorite.
“He’s the only guy I’ve had who middle school parents say to me what an inspiration he is to their kids,” Deaton said. “He’s not just a runner. He’s a great guy and a smart athlete. He had a 33 on his ACT. He’s going to major in international business in college, and I think he’s capable of running for a bigger school next year, if he wants to.”
Boys’ and girls’ individual and team championships, and state berths, are on the line in Class A, 2A and 3A races on Grant County’s fast 5-kilometer course. Reed has his sights set on the state meet. He knows nothing else. The top four Class 3A teams at the regional automatically qualify for state, in addition to top finishers not running for state-qualifying teams.
“That’s the goal, get to state, but we want to do it as a team,” said Reed, who carries a 4.6 grade-point average at Ryle. “We’ve never won the region, but we have a chance to make history this year.”
Reed’s personal-best 5K time is 16 minutes and 21 seconds at last year’s Bluegrass Invitational. The Raiders’ record, based on state finishes, is 16:30. The fastest 5K by a Ryle runner is 16:09. Those marks are under siege.
Ryle’s No. 2 runner, senior Oscar Ramirez, was third at conference. He also has a personal-best time in the low 16:20s. Reed and Ramirez both clocked faster than 16:28 Oct. 17 at the Lexington Catholic Invitational, run on the state course. Sophomore No. 3 runner Ryan Roth (17:21) and three other Raiders came in under 17:46 at the LexCath meet.
Saturday’s Class A girls’ race is the first regional event underway at 9:30 a.m., followed by the Class A boys at 10:15 a.m. The Class 2A girls’ and boys’ races are 11:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. The Class 3A girls start at 1:30 p.m. The boys’ big-school race is the last at 2:15, plenty of time for Reed to get focused.
He has lofty goals, centered on the Nov. 7 state championships at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park, and this weekend’s regional. “We’ve been second four years in a row in the region, so we’d finally like to win one and go into state with a lot of momentum,” Reed said.
The Raiders’ top regional competition comes from defending champion Cooper, which won the NKAC big-school meet two weeks ago. Ryle was third at conference behind runner-up Covington Catholic, which also will challenge for the Class 3A Region 5 boys’ crown.