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FKHS boys’ track, field team win second state title in four years

by Josh Claywell

The Gold Standard
Fort Knox, KY | May 26, 2017

Read the entire article online (with pictures).

Saturday was quite the ‘golden day’ for Fort Knox’s track programs at the University of Kentucky.

From the Eagles winning their second team title in four seasons to Alexandra Lawson winning three of her four events, the Class 1-A KHSAA State Track & Field Championships turned into the “Fort Knox Show.”

The Eagles medaled in 10 of the 18 events, getting wins from seniors Nate Callison, Craig Perches and Alhec Santiago and junior Josh DeRivas in the 400-meter relay and DeRivas, Perches, Santiago and junior Geoffrey Gradney in the 800-meter relay.

Perches also placed second in the 100-meter dash and fourth in the 200-meter dash, Santiago placed second in the long jump and fourth in the triple, Gradney was third in the 200-meter dash and senior Matthew Rivera was sixth in the high jump and eighth in the 300-meter hurdles.

They scored 65.5 points to beat runner-up Louisville Holy Cross by 7.5.

Fort Knox led by 10.5 points entering the 1,600 relay, in which seniors Kamoni Green, Christian Acevedo and Juan Acevedo and junior Cole Wilson placed third.

“This is honestly surreal,” Santiago said. “This is what we’ve been working for and this is what we wanted. The fact we accomplished it just shows how much commitment, how much dedication we had for the team. Representing Fort Knox like this is just amazing.”

Santiago was on the 2014 championship team, but he wasn’t sure the Eagles would be able to get back to the top of the class. They did not receive a team score in 2015, then placed 15th in 2016.

“I was always hopeful we would win again, but the two years after it were pretty rough,” Santiago said. “My last year for high school was represented very well by my teammates, and I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Coming off last season’s performance at State, Gradney was among those who weren’t sure how the Eagles would rebound.

But in its second year under coach James Bleecker, Fort Knox soared. The Eagles comfortably won the 1-A, Region 3 title, then turned their attention to the State meet. They trailed the trio of Holy Cross, Lexington Christian and St. Henry early on, but flipped the switch toward the middle of the meet and started scoring in bunches.

“After last year, some people left and we thought we weren’t going to be as good this year,” Gradney said. “But we came out on top and it means a lot to the team. It was just a good day. I felt good, the team felt good and we just came out and did what we usually do.”

After receiving the championship trophy, the team doused Bleecker with a bucket of ice water. It was a rewarding and fitting end to the season, he said.

“It’s everything in the world, especially for the seniors on the team that I’ve had since I got here and have been working with nonstop,” Bleecker said. “Now they get to graduate and they can talk about this for the rest of their lives. It’s just amazing.”

The continuity among athletes and the support system they have helped the team during the season.

“I think the team mentality and the camaraderie we have on this team is critical,” Bleecker said. “Everyone cheers everybody else on, and we’re usually the most loud, most obnoxious team at a track meet. I think it’s the community vibe we have. From what I hear, it’s night and day. All around, we just have really good kids. When the going gets tough, they just work harder. You can’t ask for more.”

DeRivas said the team became more of a family as the season rolled along. Being military brats, the tight-knit feeling resonated on both squads.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Running with them, they’re my second family. They’re my brothers and sisters, no matter what events they do. We’re all a family, and it’s a really good feeling to be part of one of the best teams in the state.”

Lawson won the
100-meter and 200-meter dashes and the 300-meter hurdles.

She won the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles by .05 seconds, edging Murray senior Ann Taylor in the 100 meter and St. Henry senior Hannah Jones in the 300s. Lawson also beat Taylor in the 200, winning by .40 seconds.

“I’m excited because I pushed myself here, but I just feel if I see someone in front of me or right next to me I push myself even harder to get a better time,” Lawson said. “Time is more important than place, so I’m really excited.”

One event got away from her. Lawson was runner-up to junior Melanie Welsing from Model Laboratory High School in Richmond in a photo finish in the 100-meter hurdles. Lawson was leading in the home stretch, but Welsing crossed the finish line .02 of a second ahead.

Lawson said she used that result to carry her over into her other events.

“At the beginning, I was disappointed I didn’t win the 100-(meter) hurdles,” she said.

“But I just took that anger out on all my other events, and just pushed myself even harder.”

Bleecker said he continues to be amazed by what Lawson accomplishes. She constantly raises the bar and keeps meeting that standard.

“She is so far above and beyond where she should be at her age that I see her possibly running on a USA team in the future if she keeps improving like she has,” he said. “That’s what stars look like in high school, and it looks effortless. She’s awesome.”

Fort Knox also medaled in the 1,600-meter and 800-meter relays.

Juniors Hannah Miller and Fabienne Rienl, sophomore Taylor Nordman and seventh-grader Sage Tudryn placed third in the 1,600, while Nordman, Rienl, eighth-grader Madelyn Wible and sophomore Abby Donohue were eighth in the 800. Rienl also placed sixth in the 400 and sophomore Kaitlyn Cornes took fourth in the high jump.

“Fort Knox has really improved,” Miller said. “This is probably our best year yet doing track. It’s really hard having a small track team, and it’s hard to keep a good, consistent team. This is amazing. It’s unbelievable.”

Bleecker called the Lady Eagles’ postseason run “unseen,” saying he wasn’t sure what to expect out of his team when the season began.

“This girls’ team, honestly, I thought was going to struggle all season,” he said. “But they just got better and better and better. Their goal today was to get a trophy, so mission accomplished.”

Fort Knox was
missing two of its better athletes in Jenna Doehring and Clair Donohue because of injuries, but not even that kept the Lady Eagles from chasing down one of their goals.

“Injuries the last
two weeks (of the
season) are just the worst,” Bleecker said. “But that just shows you this team just
rises to the occasion. They see a challenge, they work harder—and you can’t ask for
much more. You really can’t.”

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