By Joe Scalzo
Last October, after missing out on a trip to the state cross country meet by four measly points, Boardman coach John Phillips stood in front of his team in a whisper-quiet locker room and issued a challenge.
“I basically said, ‘You have one year to make this happen,’” he said.
On Saturday, they did.
Behind a dominating performance from senior Mark Hadley, the Spartans cruised to the Division I regional title at Boardman High School, earning their first trip to Columbus since 1990.
“It’s unbelievable and they’re not done yet,” Phillips said. “Our goal was to make it to state and make an impact.
“They could have easily folded their tents after last year and instead they used it as motivation.”
Hadley, who placed second at last year’s regional meet, ran the fastest time in any division, finishing in 15:22.50 to win by nine seconds on a cold, windy day better suited for running on a treadmill.
“I was really trying to save up my energy to run a sub-15 [minute race] at state, so my goal was to jump out to a lead and not waste my legs on this race,” Hadley said. “The support [from the Boardman fans] was great today. We had a tailgate party with a huge group of students and with this double loop course, you’re basically surrounded by fans the whole time.”
Seniors Alan Burns (seventh), Justin Maroni (34th) and Jacob Kelleck (46th) joined sophomore Nathan Hadley (19th) in piling up 94 points, 23 ahead of second-place Chardon.
“What this year’s senior class has done for this program is amazing,” Phillips said. “I joked with them today that when I think back four years ago, I didn’t know if we’d ever win a meet. Now they’ve taken this program to heights we’ve never been before.”
Howland senior Ryan Sullivan placed fifth to earn the area’s only other Division I qualifying spot. The top four teams and individuals in the top 16 not on a qualifying team advanced.
Champion sophomore Allen Sparks was the only area qualifier in Division II thanks to his fifth-place finish. No area teams qualified.
In Division III, McDonald senior Bobby Johnson finished in 16:02.33, topping second-place Tristan Dahmen of Maplewood by more than 17 seconds.
“I felt really good today,” said Johnson, whose Blue Devils placed third and continued a state streak that began in 1999. “Coach [Chris Rupe] wanted me to hold back because it was so windy and save it for next weekend, but it was tough.
“I thought I would have guys right on my butt a little more, but I think it worked out nice the way it did.”
Dahmen’s performance lifted the Rockets to their second straight regional title. They finished with 82 points, while Seneca East had 86 and McDonald 99.
Mineral Ridge junior Logan Smith also earned a state berth by placing sixth overall.
On the girls side, United senior Allison Parks (19:33.67) held off Aquinas sophomore Athena Welsh (19:33.67) to win the individual title in Division III.
“I was pretty nervous,” Parks said. “You can ask anybody — I freak out over these things until the last minute. I thought being a senior I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I got this,’ but I was really nervous for the last two races and and I will be nervous next week.
“But hey, I’m still young. That’s where the jitters come from.”
McDonald sophomore Heidi Hoffman took fourth in 19:46.91 but the Blue Devils missed out on a state berth by one point, with Berkshire scoring 124 to McDonald’s 125. South Range sophomore Mollie Pierson placed 14th and will run in Columbus next week.
No area runners or teams qualified for Columbus in the top two divisions.