Rose, Brock are winners at Black Bear Invitational


Middlesboro’s Grace Rose and Harlan County’s Peyton Lunsford raced down a hill at the Black Bear Invitational on Saturday. Rose finished first to lead Middlesboro to a second-place finish behind North Laurel. Lunsford placed third.

Two seniors with regional championship aspirations — Middlesboro’s Grace Rose and Harlan County’s Caleb Brock — warmed up for the bigger meet later this month by taking first in the Black Bear Invitational on Saturday.
Brock posted a time of 18:07.12 to hold off North Laurel’s Aspen Sizemore and Justin Sparkman and close out what is likely his final home meet with a win.
“What a way for Caleb to wrap up his career with a win at home. He’s a special runner, and I knew he was going to be special when he came out for track as an eighth-grader,” Harlan County coach Ryan Vitatoe said. “His work ethic has caught up to his potential, and that explains his improvement. He now owns all the distance records between the track and cross country programs after breaking the 5k record this week at Middlesboro. His accomplishments speak for themselves.”
Harlan County had two other finishers in the top 10 with Daniel Joseph in fourth and Matt Yeary placing sixth, but North Laurel had four of the top 10 to edge HCHS for the team title with 30 points, six ahead of the Bears. Middlesboro was third with 82 points, followed by Pike Central with 95 and Pikeville with 126.
“I’m very pleased with the boys. We knew coming in that North Laurel was one of the top teams in the 3A, Region 7 and we wanted to get after them today. I was really pleased with how hard all our guys ran, and it’s a good sign for us heading down the homestretch of the season,” Vitatoe said. “There were so many good performances today from our guys and every guy is faster than they were the last time we ran at home in September, which shows progress. Our mantra this week was that we are a ‘different team,’ and we’ve definitely run like it the last two meets. All our guys ran hard and competed their tails off. You cannot ask for anything more. It’s very rare that I am OK with finishing second, but I have no problems with the amount of effort these boys gave today. It’s an encouraging sign heading to the end of the season.”
Lucas Epperson was next for HCHS in 12th, followed by Austin Crain (17th), Cooper McHargue (18th), Andrew Yeary (19th), Kaden Boggs (22nd) and Breydy Daniels (27th).
Harlan’s Tristen Cornett placed 30th.
Rose was first in the girls race with a time of 21:44.81, holding off North Laurel’s Olvia Rudder (22:07.03) and Harlan County’s Peyton Lunsford (22:08.62).
“Grace has worked extra hard this summer and fall and his having a phenomenal season,” Middlesboro coach Luke Gilly said. “We are blessed to have her as a leader in our program. Both of our teams ran great today. We are very proud of how well they are running this year.”
Middlesboro’s Mallory James was fourth followed by Katelyn Delk in 12th and Kennadi Larew finishing 14th as the Lady Jackets were second in the team results with 47 points, 13 behind North Laurel. Harlan County was third with 71 points, followed by Pikeville with 84 and Lynn Camp with 97.
Riley Key, Summer Farley and Leah Taulbee finished 17th, 18th and 19th, respectively, for Harlan County.
“The girls ran well today,” Vitatoe said. “We are so close to a major breakthrough. Our practices have been fantastic for the last two weeks, and it’s just a matter of time before it translates to the course. One thing we discussed was measuring today to our performance here back in mid-September, and to recognize how far we’ve come. We still have much to work on, but I really like where we are…all things considered. We are learning how to race, and we will work hard in the next two weeks to get ready for region. I thought we battled hard for most of the race and I can definitely see what’s coming. We just have to come together. These girls are seeing they are in much better shape than they think, and once they begin racing that way…look out.”
Cadence Ferguson (22nd), Olivia Kelly (26th), Lainey Garrett (34th) and Abby Vitatoe (39th) rounded out the scoring for Harlan County.
“I’m really proud of my seniors. It was a very emotional day recognizing this would be their last home meet due to us losing next week’s district championship meet due to COVID-19,” Vitatoe said. “Abby has had a tough season. She’s had a lot of hip issues throughout the season that she’s tried to push through because it was her senior year and she missed all of last season with an ankle injury. She’s competed. It hasn’t been at her normal level of competition, but it’s been important to her to be out there for her teammates as their captain. I know she’s disappointed with how her season has been, but I’m very proud of her. She could have very easily called it a season when we first discovered what was going on with her back in September.”
Mia Pace (24th) and Ella Morton (27th) represented Harlan in the race.
North Laurel claimed the top four spots, led by Caleb Caldwell, to win the middle school race. DaShaun Smith led HCHS, finishing fifth with a time of 13:42.46. Bradley Brook placed ninth and Braxton Crain was 13th.
Pikeville won the girls middle school race. North Laurel’s Sienna Sizemore was the individual winner. Harlan County’s Kaydie Coots placed 10th.
Harlan County won the boys elementary school race. Tanner Daniels was first at 9:24.66. Luther Gross and Trey Creech placed third and fourth, respectively. Jayden Sergent was seventh, followed by Zakk Collins 10th and Carson Collins 11th. Tucker Sullivan led Harlan as he placed fifth, followed by Cooper Thomas (sixth) and Michael Lindsey (eighth).
Harlan’s Harper Carmical won the elementary school race for girls with a time of 11:00.91. Harlan’s Zoe Lawson was second. Harlan County’s Anna Gross and Alice Gross placed fifth and sixth, respectively.

“I’m really proud of my elementary and middle school boys and girls. Our elementary kids have been so patient waiting for their opportunity to race due to COVID-19 guidelines and its effect on races. They’ve worked so hard this season without nearly as many opportunities to compete. They are a great group and the future is bright in our program,” Vitatoe said.
All local teams will compete in regional meets later in the month.
“I’m proud of both my teams. We are running well right now and seem to be hitting our stride at the right time in the season,” Vitatoe said. “Coach Boo (Johnson) and I have really tried to distance ourselves from measuring this point of the season with year’s past. This has been such a strange year with the pandemic, the late start and interruptions to pre-season practices that we have had to be more flexible with our methods. That said, our kids have responded really well, and I’m really proud of how well they’ve responded, how hard they’ve worked, and honestly how they have handled all this has been impressive. This has been a tough seven months for everyone, but these kids have shown the resilience necessary for success.”

Harlan’s Mia Pace competed in the Black Bear Invitational on Saturday.


Harlan County coach Ryan Vitatoe talked with his team before Saturday’s race.


Harlan’s Tucker Sullivan (left) and Cooper Thomas competed in the Black Bear Invitational.