By ERIC MAUK
When meeting with his McDonald boys cross country team prior to Saturday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association State Championships, head coach Chris Rupe told his Blue Devils they could end up anywhere from fifth to first in the Division III team rankings, depending on what kind of effort they brought with them to the starting line.
But on a cloudy day in Hebron, the Blue Devils’ effort was not only strong at the starting line, it lasted throughout 5,000 challenging meters as McDonald claimed its eighth state title, besting Trumbull County rival Maplewood by nine points.
“I needed them to understand that if we all didn’t have a good race, we wouldn’t have had a chance to be anywhere near the top,” Rupe said. “What we presented to them was that we had a chance to race. We were going to step on that starting line and get a chance to prove something, and if we showed up to race, we would have a chance to do something great.”
And for the first time in the storied history of McDonald cross country, a team championship was paired with an individual title as senior Bobby Johnson dominated the event to win in a time of 15:54.48. But this was a top-to-bottom victory for the Blue Devils as Johnson’s victory was just part of an effort that saw McDonald’s first five runners all place in the top 32.
McDonald’s 94 points gave the Blue Devils a nine-point win over favored Maplewood, which came into the event as the unanimous first-place team in the state coaches poll. Johnson’s effort was matched by Maplewood’s Tristan Dahmen, who placed second in a time of 16:07.47, but the Rockets also settled for second place.
“We have a very young team and our goal was to get a trophy, so it’s hard to be disappointed with that today,” said Maplewood coach Dave Deeter. “Our top three guys had great races and placed better than we could have hoped, but I have to give it to McDonald. They did a great job.”
While Johnson’s victory set the table for the win, it was strong efforts from senior Allan Coviello (12th) and sophomore Danny Loomis (18th) that put the title within reach. Juniors Zach Hawout (31st) and Bryce Street (32nd) sealed the deal, negating three top-15 finishes for Maplewood.
“Bobby obviously came out and was ready to go but there’s a lot of great runners here and I knew I had to go out hard and get myself into a good spot so I could help the team,” Coviello said. “But it was great to see the young guys step up the way they did. I can’t even express how happy I am with how we did today.”
From Maplewood’s standpoint, it was that strong early charge by Coviello that made the difference in the standings and eventually provided the margin of victory when the Rockets’ final scoring runner ended up in the 50th spot.
“Their senior (Coviello) really put it all out there going out hard like that,” Deeter said. “But he made it stick and that really helped them. We had some good efforts, but there are a lot of great runners here and if you have one misstep, it can make a difference.”
In the end, it may have been the underdog mentality provided by their second-place standing in the coaches’ poll that gave McDonald that little extra confidence. After all, this was a team that was just two years removed from winning a state championship and the team came armed with the knowledge of what it takes to earn a berth on the podium’s top step.
“We felt in our heart of hearts that we were better than we had showed all year,” Rupe said. “In a meet like this, that’s a good feeling to have. It lets you know that you have something in your back pocket that maybe you haven’t shown yet. But even with that, you have to go out and perform and we showed that we have some competitors on this team and they showed a lot of heart.”