By John Bassetti
Under warm, late summer skies, the 27th Boardman Invitational took on a carnival atmosphere — minus the rides but including strides that put one foot ahead of the other in 14 5k races that brought out a record 132 schools and 5,100 runners.
In Div. III, Maplewood’s boys were champs and McDonald was runner-up. McDonald’s Pat Kunkel and Bobby Johnson were third and fourth, respectively, in 16:03.56 and 16:10.62, and South Range’s Tim Nichols was fifth in 16:15.63.
Led by Eric Harris’ ninth-place finish in 16:52.56, Lakeview was sixth in Div. II.
In finishing second to North Allegheny’s boys in Div. I, Boardman High made a huge step toward bringing its cross country program back to heights attained several decades ago.
“As far as I know, it’s the best we’ve [boys program in the history of the meet] ever done in [the Invitational’s 27 years],” fifth-year coach John Phillips said.
“They’re probably one of the best teams in Pennsylvania, year-in and year-out, if not best,” Phillips said of the North Allegheny Tigers, who had a low 93 points to Boardman’s second-best 156.
“They’re a huge high school that graduates about 800 kids, so they’re definitely a big challenge for us every year,” Phillips said. “They say they come here to make themselves better, but they certainly make us — and everybody else in Ohio — better. For us to be right behind them is a huge goal.”
He put the seemingly wide point differential in perspective.
“A couple years ago when they first came over, we lost to them by 200 points,” Phillips said. “This year we narrowed that to maybe 70 points, which sounds like a lot, but, in cross country, that’s several scoring spots, especially with this many runners. So, it was certainly a big step for our program. This is a group that I feel can bring our program back to what it was in the late 1980s or early ‘90s.”
Leading Boardman was Mark Hadley, a junior who was runner-up to Chardon’s Nick Elswick. Junior Alan Burns was sixth (16:15.15), freshman Nathan Hadley was 24th (16:46.46), junior Justin Maroni was 51st (17:09.42) and senior Sam Sheronovich was 73rd (17:19.95).
At the 3,200-meter mark of the Div. I race, Mark Hadley and Elswick were co-leaders.
“I got off to a really bad start today,” the 17-year-old Hadley said. “I was really nervous because I strained my [left] calf a few weeks earlier. I was trying not to go out with the leaders, so I got boxed in a little bit.”
A half-mile later, Hadley gradually moved up to 20 meters behind the front pack and stayed with them until the two-mile mark when he overtook about four of them. At that point, he was isolated with Elswick, who won in 15:39.83. Once he got into the flow, Hadley, whose time was 15:45.13, said that his calf didn’t bother him.
He and Elswick have a history.
“Last year in the state track meet in the two-mile, he beat me by 0.02,” Hadley said of the state track meet in early June, when temperatures were in the 90s and the humidity just as high. “He’s my age, so we’re pretty good friends.”
In 2011, Hadley finished fourth in the Invitational, which was the best ever by a Boardman cross-country runner. His time as a sophomore was 16:00. As an individual at last year’s cross country state meet, Hadley was fifth.
Burns, a grandson of former Boardman athletic director and boys basketball coach Alan Burns, did better than expected.
“My goal was to get 16:20 and a top 10 and I got both,” the 16-year-old Burns said. “We were the top Ohio team today, so that’s huge because this is the regional site course and the top four go to state.”
Fifteen-year-old Nathan Hadley set a freshman record with his time, which bettered the 16:49 set by his brother in 2010.
“It’s highly unusual for a freshman to run in a varsity race, let alone finish in the top 25,” Phillips said. “That’s phenomenal. He’s definitely following in the footsteps of his brother.”