By Kevin Connelly
Perhaps nobody knows Boardman’s cross country standout Mark Hadley better than his coach, John Phillips. Phillips has been with the Spartans’ program for six years, the last five as boys varsity head coach.
He said Hadley has always been the kind of kid who has to get out ahead of his competition and maintain a lead, rather than a come from behind runner.
“He’s always been worried that he doesn’t have the finishing kick,” Phillips said.
So when he saw Hadley starting to fall behind Chardon’s Nick Elswick around the two-mile mark of the 3.1-mile race at the Spartan Invitational on Saturday, he knew Hadley was going to have to kick it into overdrive.
“When he came down the finish hill on the other side I was there,” Phillips said. “Elswick had gone ahead a little bit, I told Mark, ‘Be smart, just be there and then make your move when it’s right.’
“I don’t know if he heard me. I kind of think that he did.”
Acknowledgment or not, Hadley did just that and “put it in another gear,” according to Elswick, in the final 400 meters. Hadley crossed the finish line with a time of 15:07.8, beating out Elswick by 0.9 of a second.
“I mean I was just going off of instincts there,” Hadley said. “There was nothing calculated or planned out about it, I was just going with everything I had.”
The result was a new invitational and course record for the Boardman senior. He and Elswick also ran the two fastest high school times in the United States this season.
“I’ll be honest, it’s the first time in four years of coaching Mark where we have the [finishing] kick,” Phillips said. “And for him to be able to get by Elswick is a huge, huge deal.”
Phillips wasn’t the only one second-guessing Hadley’s ability to come from behind and win a race like he did Saturday.
“He made a big move around the two-mile mark and I was just thinking, ‘All right, weather the storm, stay behind him, keep him at a close distance,’” Hadley said. “Just when I was thinking I was gonna give up, I came around that last turn, saw the finish and said, ‘The heck with it, this is my senior year, this is my home course, I’m gonna go get that record.’”
Elswick and Hadley embraced each other moments after crossing the finish line with big smiles on their faces, Hadley’s was slightly wider than Elswick’s.
“Just a big ole’ congrats because we ran a heck of a race,” Elswick said of the exchange. “Nobody can be disappointed with that.”
“I don’t even remember, I was dead,” Hadley said of what he told Elswick. “Probably just, Great job.’”
Olentangy Liberty won the Division I team title with five runners in the top 30. Boardman finished second with two top-10 finishers in Hadley and senior Alan Burns.
Phillips understands the importance of team success, but didn’t want to understate what Hadley accomplished on Saturday.
“It’s a great thing for Mark — I’m thrilled to death for him,” Phillips said. “Having our kid set the course record, obliterate the course record, no matter where we finish as a team this is the best day we’ve ever had as a program here.”