Last updated: July 18. 2013 7:25PM - 321 Views

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After helping lead their team to a regional championship and trip to the state meet, Harlan County’s Jennifer Graham and Kassie Rouse both signed Thursday to run at Alice Lloyd College next year.

“They are two of the top senior runners in the mountains,” said Alice Lloyd coach and athletic director Gary Stepp. “We strictly recruit the Appalachian area. Jennifer has ran two years and finished sixth in the region both years and qualified for the state. She is an excellent student to go with it. Kassie is a three-time state qualifier. She’s a regional champion this year and easily one of the top five seniors in the area.”

Rouse captured the Class 2A Region 7 individual title in 2012 to cap a standout senior season.

“I am very proud of Kassie. She worked very hard during the summer and was a completely different runner. You could really see the switch flip for her in the early part of the preseason. It led her to the season she had and the opportunity to sign with this college,” said Harlan County cross country coach Ryan Vitatoe.

Despite only competing in cross country for two seasons, Graham finished sixth at the regional meet. She was second among Lady Bears in the race.

“I saw Jennifer when she was an eighth-grader at Cumberland, and I knew that she would be a very good runner. She came out to stay in shape for track and found out that she was a very good cross country runner as well,” Vitatoe said. “We have only had her for two years, so she has a lot of room to grow. I think she will be a very good contributor for Alice Lloyd next year.”

Both runners expressed excitement about the opportunity to sign with Alice Lloyd.

“It’s not a big college. It’s more of a home,” Rouse said of the campus.

“It is really good, not only because I like it there, but because I get to run and continue to do what I love the most,” Graham said. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to run in college. I have always dreamed of it, and I am really grateful to have the opportunity.”

Thursday’s event marked the seventh and eighth Harlan County cross country runners that have signed to compete in college. Several others are also expected to sign this year.

“The trophies that we put in are great and we’re proud of those, but these are the things that change lives,” Vitatoe said. “I am very proud and happy for these kids and their families and what this means for them. This is the kind of thing you want to have happen as a coach.”

The Lady Eagles compete in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference of NAIA.

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