Brock, Vitatoe lead HCHS contingent on Area 9 team


John Henson

Harlan County’s Caleb Brock leads the All-Area 9 team as runner of the year.

In a season where both the boys and girls teams at Harlan County High School finished in the top 20 in state competition, the Bears and Lady Bears were well represented on the All-Area 9 Team recently announced by area coaches.
Harlan County senior Caleb Brock was selected as boys runner of the year and Ryan Vitatoe was the choice as coach of the year after the Bears qualified for the state meet for the third straight year and finished 14th out of 36 teams, the best showing for a county team since Evarts placed ninth in 1994.
Daniel Joseph and Matthew Yeary joined Brock on the first team. Lucas Epperson, Andrew Yeary and Kaden Boggs were second-team selections, while Cooper McHargue was honorable mention.
“This boys group was a close-knit, hard-working group,” Vitatoe said. “When you can put your entire varsity crew on the Area 9 team, that’s quite an accomplishment and it speaks to the intensity they brought each day. They had an excellent season, and every single one of them deserves this. It’s a nice way for Caleb to go out as the Area 9 Runner of the Year. It is no surprise to me that he earned this honor based on how hard he’s worked during the off season. Hard work echoes through this group of boys. They are one of the hardest working groups I’ve had as a coach in my 13 seasons at HC. You can drive up 119 almost any time during the weekend and will see Lucas logging miles. He has improved so much because of his discipline and dedication. I passed Cooper nearly every Sunday during my own run, and he had a huge turnaround season that he worked hard for. Matt worked so hard and achieved great times this season and offered a ton of leadership to his teammates. Andrew has only begun to realize what he is capable of and the impact he can make. Kaden is only beginning to see his potential, and he’s going to be a big part of the future. Daniel is so consistent and had a great season, I always knew what I could expect from him. They are just an awesome group, and they are deserving.”
Peyton Lunsford and Leah Taulbee were first-team selections for the HCHS girls, while Riley Key, Summer Farley and Cadance Ferguson made the second team.
“We accomplished a lot on the girls’ team this season as well. I’m really proud of each of these girls for earning this honor,” Vitatoe said. “Peyton had another great season and has only scratched the surface of her ability. Leah was a huge addition to our team this season who didn’t miss a day of training between the track shut down and the start of CC. She and Riley both had incredible seasons while balancing soccer responsibilities as well. Riley’s hard work and steady leadership helped keep us on course throughout the year, she was the heartbeat of our team at the end of the year. Summer was another newcomer who had a huge year for us and gave us a big lift throughout the season. Cadance had a great bounceback season, which shows the character she has. These girls all deserve this honor. I’m very proud of them. They, along with Olivia Kelly and Lainey Garrett, ended a four-year team absence in the state meet. This group of girls got us back on track, and they are a special group.”
DaShaun Smith was selected as runner of the year on the middle school level, with Vitatoe being named coach of the year. Bradley Brock, Braxton Crain and Ethan Lewis joined Smith on the first team. Kaydie Coots was a first-team selection for the girls. Tanner Daniels, Luther Gross and Trey Creech were named to the elementary school first team, while Anna Gross and Alice Gross represented the girls.
“Our middle and elementary kids also had a great season. They were impacted the most by COVID due to our shut down for a week in October and lost four meets during that time, but they still showed up and worked hard every day,” Vitatoe said. “Our middle school guys ran great this year, and I’m proud of them. DaShaun had a breakout season and earned the recognition of Runner of the Year. Bradley ran great all season, he’s always consistent and does a great job. He balanced the expectations of our program with soccer as well. Braxton works super hard every day, and never misses a day of practice. The same can be said for Ethan, who also juggled multiple extracurricular activities during the season. These guys are the future of our program. Kaydie always gives 100 percent. I’m super excited for her to get this honor. She deserves it. Our elementary guys are deserving of their honor. Tanner is one of the best elementary runners around and gives everything he has every race. Luther had a huge improvement this season, and it was due to his hard work. Trey is one of the most competitive kids I’ve coached at any level, he’s on it every day. Anna has improved so much in the last two seasons, she’s always working hard with a smile. The same can be said for Alice. She had a great year.”
Vitatoe said he would never forget the 2020 season because of how well his runners overcame many obstacles.
“I’m so proud of these kids. This was a season unlike any other and there were so many factors we had to navigate throughout the year,” Vitatoe said. “We legitimately would have things change from week to week as procedures were updated, but they kept positive and kept working. For all the issues we’ve had this year due to COVID, I would venture to say it was one of the most enjoyable seasons we’ve had. This was a great group and these accolades show exactly how hard they worked, and how focused they remained despite a year unlike anything we’ve seen.”

Boys varsity
First team
Caleb Brock
Daniel Joseph
Matthew Yeary

Second team
Lucas Epperson
Andrew Yeary
Kaden Boggs

Honorable mention
Cooper McHargue


Girls varsity
First team
Peyton Lunsford
Leah Taulbee

Second team
Riley Key
Summer Farley
Cadance Ferguson

Boys middle school
First team
DaShaun Smith
Bradley Brock
Braxton Crain
Ethan Lewis

Girls middle school
First team
Kaydie Coots

Boys elementary
First team
Tanner Daniels
Luther Gross
Trey Creech

Girls elementary
First team
Anna Gross
Alice Gross

Harlan County cross country and track coach Ryan Vitatoe was named coach of the year on the All-Area 9 team recently announced. (Chris Jones)