By Mike Blackerby
The 5Star Preps Cross Country Runners of the Year both hail from the same program.
Here’s why we selected Maddie Archdale and Kaden Keller of Hardin Valley Academy as our recipients…
Maddie Archdale – Girls Runner of the Year
The bright lights of big-time high school cross country never really fazed 14-year-old Maddie Archdale of Hardin Valley.
In fact, the 5Star Preps girls cross-country Runner of the Year embraced the spotlight.
The Lady Hawks’ precocious freshman started fast out of the gate back in September and never let her foot off the gas all the way to the state championships in early November.
“She had a great year,” said HVA coach Bryan Brown. “She just got better and better as the season went on.”
It wasn’t just that Archdale rose to the occasion in big meets.
She often dominated.
Archdale won the KIL championships by an eye-opening margin of 39 seconds.
She likewise ran away from the field in the Region 2 Large Schools meet by 22 seconds.
At the state meet, Archdale reached her season-long goal of earning all-state honors for her top-15 finish.
Archdale, who has a cool aplomb that belies her age, said she came into her freshman season with her eyes wide open.
“I really didn’t know what to think,” said Archdale. “I was really determined during workouts and focused hard. I believed in myself and felt confident. I was nervous, but really excited for high school. I didn’t have any doubts and God always has my back.”
Brown said he never doubted Archdale would succeed at a high level as she transitioned from middle school.
“She was experienced in running big meets in middle school,” said Brown. “She has been there and done that before.”
Archdale tried her hand at multiple sports before deciding on cross country at an early age.
“I had tried gymnastics, soccer and all different kinds of sports,” she recounted. “The last one I tried was cross country. I ran my first race in third grade. I remember just talking to friends during the race and laughing.”
Archdale ran her second race and the light came on.
“It just kind of progressed from there. I really liked it – and you have to love what you’re doing.”
By this season’s end, Archdale was certainly having a blast.
In the state meet, she ran the 5K course at Sanders Ferry Parkway in Hendersonville in 18:36.34 to place 12th.
The only other freshman to finish in front of her was Jayne Halterman of Independence, who took 11th in 18:32.
“My goal for state was I wanted to get all-state honors,” said Archdale. “It was my first experience there and I was excited about my finish.”
It was a great wrap-up to her freshman year, but Brown said Archdale is just getting started.
“With any runner you’ve got to stay healthy and continue to train, but she can be one of the best we’ve had here,” said Brown.
“I’m excited to see what she can do.”
Archdale is excited about the future as well, but she would like to reflect on her freshman season just a little bit longer before turning the page.
“It has been a journey all season and I’m really excited,” she said. “I’d like to thank my coaches, family, teammates and friends. They’ve all supported me throughout the season.
“There are a lot of good memories that I’ll always look back on.”
Kaden Keller – Boys Runner of the Year
Kaden Keller and Hardin Valley were on a mission during the 2020 high school cross-country season.
The motivation was driven mostly by lofty internal expectations.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure to go out and get the state title,” said Keller, a junior and the 5Star Preps boys Runner of the Year in cross country.
“It would have been pretty disappointing if we didn’t win state because of all of the work and training we’ve put in under coach (Bryan) Brown,” continued Keller.
“The dedication coach Brown put into this team to make us the best we can be is amazing. It was definitely a relief (that we won state). We just kind of grinded it out all season. The dedication and work ethic of this team has really been great.”
The Hawks scored an unheard of 17 points to coast to the Region 2 title.
At state, Hardin Valley placed four runners in the top 10 on its way to posting a whopping 101-point team win over runner-up Franklin.
Keller was fourth individually in 15:52.61.
The three runners in front of him were all seniors.
Keller’s finish stamped him as the individual favorite pointing to 2021.
Keller’s improvement over the last three years has been reflected by his finishes at the state championships.
He was 32nd as a freshman and 11th as a sophomore.
This season, Keller won four of the six races he ran in.
“Kaden has always been good, he has just gotten better and better,” said Brown, who previously guided the Hawks to the state championship in 2010.
“This was his third state championship meet and his experience is starting to show. I’m excited to see what he can do over the next year and a half,” continued Brown.
Keller said his improvement has been as much mental as physical.
“As a freshman I wasn’t really focused,” explained Keller.
“The mental part of it plays such a big role. You can only run so fast if your mental capacity isn’t up there.”
Keller, who has received college “interest” from Ole Miss, Tennessee, Alabama and Navy, is already looking ahead to 2021.
Despite Hardin Valley’s rousing success this season, Keller said the Hawks are as motivated as ever.
“It definitely feels like we have the ability to get it done again,” said Keller.
“We’re still really hungry and we know how it can be done as long as everyone plays their part.”